Mooncakes have become like Japanese oseibo, those expensive year-end gifts to relatives, business associates. The high price tag, ingredients and packaging is generally taken to be commensurate with your expression of appreciation. Every year, hotels and bakeries in Singapore vie for a slice of this lucrative pie with innovative creations. It can get mind-boggling, especially when you want to place your dollars on the brands that will impress best.
Luxury hotel St Regis held a mooncake-tasting session yesterday at Yan Ting, its Cantonese restaurant. I was in marvellous company - DimSumDolly, Superfinefeline, DSLR Queen MilkMilk, and Ivan of Recentrunes fame. All of us use Flickr for our food photos, and that's how we got invited - via Flickr's product manager in Singapore (who turned out to be a long lost friend of mine!). Oh, Mr.Brown was supposed to have come too, but he couldn't make it in the end. Just as well, I would have been too awed to eat, if he did arrive.
The hotel paired each of its mooncakes with specialty teas from Dammann Frères, a Parisian teahouse. The teas are available for consumption at Yan Ting but the tea products aren't not sold at the restaurant. However, two tins of loose leaf tea come in the limited edition premium gift box (with six mini snow skin mooncakes, S$98).
We started the taste test with the six different snow skin mooncakes, going from mildest to strongest in flavour.
Almond Snow Skin With Premium Bird's Nest and Custard Paste (S$228 for box of 8 minis): This mooncake is the ultimate one here. Apart from the edible gold foil decoration, it boasts a complete strand of bird's nest embedded within the custard paste. Most restaurants use gelatine to bind loose shreds, but here they have managed to hold the structure of the entire strand. You can really taste the bird's nest texture. The custard paste is light, not too sweet. Real almond milk is used for the snow skin, giving it that strong nutty aroma.
Suggested tea: chrysanthemum with wolfberries (this was really fragrant and tasty!)
Almond Snow Skin with Advocaat Egg Liqueur Truffle and Black Sesame Paste (S$43 for 8 minis): Clearly the evening's winner. Everyone liked this ensemble of unusual egg liquer truffle with muted black sesame paste. The truffle's made of egg custard, egg yolk and Advocaat - a symphony of sweet and savoury. The liquer gave a delightful buzz on the tongue like a finishing crescendo.
Suggested tea: Paul & Virgine (a gorgeous vanilla scented tea with hints of caramel, cherry, strawberry and raspberry), although the chef himself prefers coffee with this mooncake!
Seven Perfumes Snow Skin with Single Yolk and White Lotus Paste (S$48 for 8 minis): At first glance, this looks like a baked mooncake, but the light brown exterior is actually snow skin tinged brown with Dammann's Seven Perfumes tea. Here's the tea description:
Blend of China and Ceylon teas. Flowery and fruity, improved with flavours of lemon, bergamot, fresh fig, lotus flowers, pitanga and peel of orange. Sprinkled with petals of red and white roses.The scent of the tea is subtle but distinct. Perhaps they deliberately toned down the sugar in the lotus paste to allow the fragrance to stand out. Yes, this is a "sugar-free" mooncake but diabetics shouldn't take this as licence to freely indulge. There is still sugar in the snow skin.
Suggested tea: sau mei (white tea)
Seven Perfumes Snow Skin with Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac Truffle and White Lotus paste (S$68 for 8 minis): The Seven Perfumes snow skin do an encore but this time their subtle fragrance is no match for the cognac-laden truffle which overwhelmed everything. Fans of Martell Cordon Bleu however, may vote this their favourite.
Suggested tea: Earl Grey Yin Zhen, it helps neutralise the alcohol a bit
Almond Snow Skin with Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac Truffle and Custard Paste (S$64 for 8 minis): Cognac truffles again, but this time dressed in custard paste and almond skin. Apparently the cognac can be even more overwhelming in this version, as lotus paste is more dense and harder to penetrate.
Suggested tea: hmm, obviously I got too drunk at this stage to jot down the right tea. Oh, is this the Soleil Vert, that blood orange infused sencha?
Bloody Mary Snow Skin with Custard Paste (S$42 for 8 minis): supposed star of the show, since the St Regis in New York is known to have invented the Bloody Mary. Journalists love it (what is it with press and booze?). But very few of us liked this. The redness of the skin is from tomatoes. Tabasco adds a smoky tartness and mild spicy aftertaste, both of which I did not relish. I love spicy foods, but I think here it only served to confuse the palate. Chili in mooncakes? No, thanks.
Suggested tea: L'Oriental, a citrusy rhubarb tea
Some of the tea leaves are gorgeous. Here are some quality Jasmine Pearls - tea leaves rolled up into balls that will unfurl when steeped in hot water. There were some others I didn't take photos of, regretfully.
And now we come to the traditional baked mooncakes. These are slightly larger, and are sold 4 in a box. For all these, Pu Erh tea is recommended. The Pu Erh served seemed well-aged enough. It carried a strong, woodsy fragrance of fermented bark.
Double Yolk And Black Sesame Paste (S$52): I was quite intrigued by this one. The paste is a mixture of black sesame and black beans, which gave it a complex but pleasing flavour.
Single Yolk and White Lotus Seed Paste (S$48 for 4): normally I prefer white lotus, but found the red or golden lotus paste here more tasty. I learned at the session that white lotus paste is made using the same ingredients as red lotus. It's just that the latter is much more caramelized when roasted, thus giving it that darker colour and more intense flavour.
Jin Hua Ham and Assorted Nuts and Seeds (S$64 for 4): I have to say that these are not bad. I usually do not like this variety of mooncake but the St Regis one is much more clean-tasting. Not cloyingly sweet at all. They certainly use quality ingredients.
So there you have it. It was amazing, that at the end of the session, I could identify every mooncake type. When we first started, I wasn't sure which was which, and whether I had taken photos of it already or not!
The teas nearly threatened to steal the show, actually. Each with their own distinct bouquet and taste. One tea for each mooncake also meant cups all over the table! This is only part of the picture.
Big thanks to St Regis for hosting this educational mooncake tasting session. Yan Ting Manager and Sommelier Danny Chan (centre), was most affable, and entertaining with his treasure-house of knowledge. Executive Chef Chan Siu Kong (right) and Dim Sum Chef Lee Yung Fai (left) too, came in for introductions. Also thanks to the St Regis marketing communications team, Flickr and Yahoo Singapore who invited us.
YAN TING, ST REGIS
29 Tanglin Road, Singapore 247911
Open daily 11:45 AM - 3:00 PM;
6:00 PM - 11:00 PM (last order at 10:30 PM)
Mooncakes available from:
Yan Ting restaurant: daily during opening hours (until Sept 14)
St Regis lobby: daily 11am - 9pm (until Sept 14)
Retail booth at Change Alley: Mon-Fri, 11am - 7pm (until Sept 12)