Tasty fried mooncakes

Pastry chef Irene Gan makes spiral-shaped Teochew mooncakes which she deep-fries using palm cooking oil, writes Ooi Tee Ching

KLANG, Selangor: THE Mid-Autumn Festival is an important Chinese festival. It falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month and this year the Chinese community celebrated it a couple of days back. Mooncakes and Chinese tea are usually served at this time of family gatherings.

Traditionally, the crust of this delicacy is filled with a sweet paste of lotus seed yam, red bean, pandan and mung bean. Salted egg yolks are often placed in the centre to represent the moon.

I Bakery House founder Irene Gan says Teochew mooncakes are easily distinguishable from the more common Cantonese variety as these have a flaky, crispy crust.

The 34-year-old started her home-based business seven years ago. She has since obtained a diploma in Patisserie from Taiwan and mastered the art of making breads, cakes and desserts. As her business expanded, she moved her bake-from-home business to a mini factory in Klang.

“As a mother and health-conscious consumer, I make sure that my pastries and cake are tasty as well as nutritious. I don’t use preservatives. As for flavourings and colourants, I use natural sources such as pandan and fruit extracts,” says Gan, who adds that her daughter Chloe Khoo is her biggest fan.

When making pastries and confectionery, she says solid fats help give them structure and texture. This is achieved either by using butter or vegetable shortening. Many food companies incorporate palm fats in their natural form to make bakery fats, shortenings and margarine. Palm shortenings, which can withstand high heat of even 200°C, have superb baking characteristics.

Asked about her venture into the mooncake business, she says: “This year, I made four types, including this unique Thousand Layers variant. I usually start making them about a month before the Mid-Autumn Festival. My team works longer hours as the orders stream in closer to the festival date. Mooncakes are so irresistible that I even have clients placing orders after the actual festival date.”

To a question on the Teochew variant, Gan says: “I’ve always enjoyed eating the spiral mooncakes myself, as the crispy pastry wrap is tastier when deepfried.”

The making of the thousand-layer mooncake is a labour of love. The pastry has two layers — an oil-based skin and water-based skin. Gan patiently kneads, folds and rolls out the oil and water-based pastries in thin and round slices and sets them aside.

As for the filling, yam is cut into small pieces, steamed and stirfried in wheat starch and some sugar to taste until cooked. Gan uses palm oil as it is able to withstand stir-fry temperatures better than other vegetable oils such as olive, soya bean, corn, canola and sunflower.

She then places a thin pastry slice on one palm before wrapping salted egg yolk and the yam filling into a spiral design. The process of sealing the dough is tedious.

She then fries the mooncakes. The secret to getting the mooncakes to bloom like a snail shell, according to Gan, is by frying them in oil of low to medium heat for about 20 minutes.

“Palm oil performs better at high temperatures compared with other oils. The end result is very rewarding. The pastry is crispy, crunchy and light,” says Gan as she turns the mooncakes to ensure they cook evenly.

Nutritious cooking oil

PETALING JAYA: MANY households in the country use palm cooking oil without realising that its nutritional value is just as good as other vegetable oils.

Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia chief executive officer Mohammad Jaaffar Ahmad (pictured) says palm cooking oil has been a kitchen staple since the 1980s, when farmers planted more oil palm, harvested the fruits and processed the oil for export.

Over the decades, the refining technology has improved to yield palm oil that retain much of its phyto-nutrients such as vitamins A, D and E. “Although palm oil has a shelf life of two years, it is best for consumers to use the oil within a year,” he says.

Is palm oil less nutritious than other more expensive cooking oils?

One tablespoon of palm cooking oil contains 120 calories and 13.6g of fat. With a balanced combination of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats, palm oil is made up of 44 per cent oleic, 10 per cent linoleic, 40 per cent palmitic and five per cent stearic acids.

While palm oil is the cheapest cooking oil in the world, it is nutritionally comparable to olive oil in its cholesterol-lowering effects.

Palm oil is packed with carotenes such as beta-carotene and lycopene — the same nutrients that give tomatoes, carrots and papayas their reddish-orange colour. Palm oil has the richest natural source of the supervitamin E called tocotrienols. Olive oil does not contain any carotenes or tocotrienols, yet it is marketed as being heart-healthy.

Does palm cooking oil contain cholesterol?

Like all vegetable oils, palm oil does not contain cholesterol. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration has allowed palm-based products sold under the Smart Balance brand (containing up to 50 per cent palm oil and 50 per cent local oils) to carry the US patented label “To help increase HDL (good cholesterol) and improve the cholesterol ratio (HDL/LDL)”.

What kind of oil should I use to deep-fry?

When frying, it is important to choose an oil with a very high smoking point. Fats and oils with a higher smoke point can endure higher heat during the cooking process. The smoke point is the temperature at which the cooking oil will begin to break down, producing a bluish smoke.

High heat changes the structure of the fat molecules, making them toxic and unusable by the body. At this point, the oil becomes harmful to consume.

Palm oil is the most commonly used oil for deep-frying because of its high smoke point.

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