If “snow skin” mooncakes have become the new face of traditional pastry in Singapore, it would come as no surprise that the old-school “baked skin” varieties are also going through a facelift in the mooncake-mad Lion City.
Although there is little a pastry chef can do to change the surface beauty of these age-old delights, one would be astonished to discover how many types of fillings one can find in mooncakes these days. Originally, mooncakes were made with lotus paste and salted egg yolk and encased within a sweet pastry flavoured by golden syrup. Melon seeds were the most exotic addition in years gone by. Today the myriad of choices, from bird’s nest custard filling to charcoal skin dusted with gold powder, are just mind-boggling.
Consider Parma, Iberico and Serrano ham in a Chinese dessert. It shouldn’t be surprising as bakwa, or barbecued sweet meat, has been added to the Five Nuts – a Cantonese variety of mooncakes – to replace the rarer and more expensive Jinhua ham for some time. Now enter the French – this year the newly opened Sofitel Singapore City Centre has joined in the fray with their own interpretation that blends foie gras and truffle oil into the Five Nuts composition. And I don’t believe we have seen the end of it yet.
As some hanker for new tastes, others retain their fondness for the simple plain flavours that remind them of childhood and tradition. At this stage there isn’t a camp that seems to be getting the upper hand in this contest of old and new, but as long as the culture of meaningful practices can be extended through these sweet and surprising parcels, let a thousand mooncake flavours glow I say!
After sampling more than 40 new and classic flavours, here are some of the most outstanding interpretations of the traditional baked skin mooncakes from 11 of Singapore’s best mooncake brands.
1. Wan Hao, Marriott Singapore Tang Plaza Hotel
As a quintessentially Cantonese restaurant, Wan Hao’s baked skin mooncakes reflect traditional tastes with mostly lotus seed paste versions updated with choices of macadamia and pine nuts. The stand-out new flavours crafted by innovative chef Brian Wong this year are cempedak paste with pumpkin seed and lotus seed paste with chrysanthemum, mixed grains and Serrano ham, which we absolutely love.
2. Li Bai, Sheraton Towers Singapore
Li Bai is a restaurant that stands for all things traditionally Cantonese and it is also one of the best places to revisit the classic white lotus paste with salted egg yolk mooncake, which is masterfully created with just the right balance of textures (light baked skin, smooth paste) and flavours (moderate sweetness well contrasted by salted egg yolks).
3. Summer Palace, Regent Singapore
Another renowned Cantonese fine dining restaurant, Summer Palace’s baked skin treats only come in three flavours – the classic white lotus paste with single or double yolk, and the wonderfully savoury Parma ham with assorted nuts, which is one of the best salty-sweet mooncakes we’ve sampled.
4. Jiang Nan Chun, Four Seasons Singapore
Unlike other Cantonese fine-dining restaurants in Singapore, Jiang Nan Chun’s baked skin mooncakes come with modern flavours like the subtly fragrant osmanthus Oo Long tea paste and the citrus yuzu with melon seed. The smoked duck with assorted nuts and lime is another savoury-sweet treat we find irresistible.
5. Hai Tian Lo, Pan Pacific Singapore
Fine-dining restaurant Hai Tien Lo covers the ground with a mixture of new flavours like charcoal melon seeds with black sesame paste and healthy options like low sugar pandan paste and white lotus paste with macadamia nuts. The black sesame paste mooncake, generously flecked with gold powder, is a winner with the creamy richness of the filling enhanced by the crunch of the melon seeds, so rarely found in mooncakes today.
6. Yan Ting, The St. Regis Singapore
Yan Ting does a very good job with its signature white lotus paste with assorted nuts and Yunnan ham, another savoury mooncake that gets it just right, but for those opting for healthier low sugar treats, its reduced sugar white lotus paste with macadamia nuts still maintains a good taste of tradition without the cost in calories. And the LED lighted box is oh so pretty.
7. Peach Blossoms, Marina Mandarin Singapore by Meritus
Peach Blossoms only specialises in baked skin mooncakes and is not very adventurous playing with flavours. Its white lotus paste comes with a choice of single or salted egg yolk, or macadamia nuts for those preferring a lighter taste. The charcoal black sesame paste with pine nuts is very good though, with the pine nuts lending a luxurious touch.
8. Mandarin Orchard by Meritus
Unlike its sibling at Marina Bay, Mandarin Orchard is more adventurous with its mooncakes flavours and this year it has also brought back its delicious signature mixed nuts with jamón Ibérico as well as the Azuki red bean paste with pine nuts. You can also opt for limited editions mini baked versions with premium flavours like cempedak and Japanese yuzu with pistachios.
9. Shang-Palace, Shangri-La Singapore
Shang Palace Singapore under celebrity chef Mok Kit Keung is focusing on premium mooncakes as well as healthier choices as the single or double yolk versions this year are all made with reduced sugar lotus paste. For a luxurious treat, opt for the baked custard with bird’s nest, a rich creamy confection, or the mini baked mooncakes consisting of chocolate with assorted nuts and salted taro with red bean and almond flavours, which is heavenly.
10. Sofitel Singapore City Centre
A new entrant into the mooncake market of Singapore, Sofitel Singapore City Centre has chosen to stir things up by introducing subtle French accents into this traditional Chinese pastry. Of the four flavours of mooncakes available in its Les Fleurs de Lumière mooncake collection, the most outstanding is naturally the French foie gras and truffle oil with assorted nuts. We know that foie gras, truffles and nuts are a match made in heaven but who would have thought of finding them in a mooncake?
11. The Fullerton Hotel Singapore
Not entirely reflective of its adventurous snow skin flavours that includes one crafted from a local drink, the Fullerton Hotel’s baked skin mooncakes are classic thoroughfares that are all white lotus paste with either one or two yolks, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts. They are, however, well baked treats that convey the grand taste of tradition.