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Moon Cake
Photograph: Courtesy Ann Chiu

Handmade mooncakes: Hong Kong's sweet tradition

Celebrating Mid-Autumn festival with one of Hong Kong's best-loved desserts

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

It’s that time of year when we stand in awe and take in spectacular fire dragon dances, meander around picturesque, lantern-lit parks, and begin to count the days until the oppressive heat and humidity of the summer give way to autumnal cool. To celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, we investigated some of those behind the event’s most ubiquitous snack, the mooncake, and the processes involved in crafting this widely loved dessert. By Emily Chau. Translated by Angel Hong

Year after year, mooncakes get more experimental and extravagant – from ice cream and durian fillings to fiercely sought-after flavours like lava egg custard and luxury chocolate. While out-of-the- box interpretations of the Mid-Autumn eats have found their followings, nothing holds a candle to the OG: Sham Shui Po’s Pat Sin Bakery. Despite ever-changing trends and customers’ thirst for the latest and greatest, the 50-year-old bakery insists on sticking to traditional mooncake recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Made by the skilful hands of master chefs, Pat Sin’s signature mooncake with red bean, lotus seed paste, nuts, two egg yolks and Chinese ham continue to stand the test of time.

In the kitchen, bakers operate with machine- like precision and efficiency, each a specialist at his own part of the process: kneading dough, blending the lotus seed paste, filling, weighing, wrapping and moulding. The bakery is particular about the ingredients it uses to make the filling for its mooncakes. Despite the higher costs and longer production times, the shop uses fresh, raw materials to make its own syrup and lotus seed paste at its workshop in Kwai Chung rather than using pre-made – and preservative-laden – ingredients from suppliers.
“We are insanely busy at the shop in the two weeks before Mid-Autumn Festival,” says the bakery’s second- generation owner Cheung Chi-wing, who started to learn how to manage the business when he was 12. “We might go through up to 100,000 salted egg yolks, and we might sell 60,000 mooncakes.”

Even after the holiday, Pat Sin Bakery remains busy. The bakery sells a range of other traditional Chinese treats such as walnut cakes, coconut cookies, banana cakes and ‘wife’ cakes. As customers queue out the door, workers inside the pastry kitchen are busy baking these treats all day long.

It’s a remarkable rise for the time-honoured business. Pat Sin Bakery was actually founded in the 1960s as a Chinese restaurant; Cheung’s father was the manager of the pastry kitchen. When the restaurant took a turn for the worse in 1978, the owner relocated only the restaurant, but Cheung’s father opted to keep the bakery alive, investing his own time and money into the business. The bakery thrived and has been family-owned ever since.

Despite changes in staff over the years, Pat Sin Bakery’s style of operation and ethos remains the same. Today, Cheung keeps the bakery humming along while paying homage to its unique beginnings – the shop still features a teapot- shaped logo, a nod to its roots as a restaurant, and Cheung always hangs pig lanterns and flower baskets on the front door during Mid-Autumn Festival. Though they may seem kitsch to some customers, these old-school decorations are a symbol for what the bakery stands for: tradition, community and family.

Pat Sin Bakery, G/F, 197 Nam Cheong St, Sham Shui Po, (+852) 2729 9440

Over the moon for mooncakes?

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