The Starry River of the Sky has many parallels to the tales told during the Chinese Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival (you can learn more about the Moon Festival in my picturebook Thanking the Moon). The Moon Festival falls every year on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is at its most bright.
Mooncakes are an important part of the Moon Festival. Exchanged as gifts, mooncakes are a round pastry with some sort of rich filling inside. The preparation of this pastry is very complex, and many of the fancier versions feature an imprint of the Chinese characters for ‚"longevity‚" or "harmony." Pictures of the moon, the lady in the moon, or a rabbit (a symbol of the moon) are also often imprinted in the top.
Mooncakes are such labor-intensive pastries that many who celebrate the Moon Festival now rely on specialty bakers and mail order. But here is a simple version mooncake recipe courtesy of the wonderful folks at Asia for Kids (look for their Asian languages and cultures resources at www.afk.com):
1/2 cup salted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 can red bean paste or 1 cup jam
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar and 1 egg yolk. Stir until creamy and combine completely.
2. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Form the dough into one large ball and wrap it in aluminum foil. Put this in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
3. Unwrap the chilled dough and, with clean hands, form small balls in the palms of your hands. These are the mooncakes.
4. Make a hole with your thumb gently in the center of each mooncake and fill with about half a teaspoon of your favorite jam or red bean paste.
5. Brush each cake with the other beaten egg yolk.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the mooncakes for about 20 minutes or just until the outside edges are slightly brown. Makes about 24 mooncakes.
Other Mooncake-related activities you can do:
Chinese Character Treasure Hunt
An online search or a Chinese bakery visit near Moon Festival will show you beautiful examples of these traditional pastries. You might have your reader do a treasure hunt through those images or pastry cases to see if he or she can find the Chinese characters for‚"longevity‚" or "harmony."
What is common in all mooncakes, either simple or complex, is the round shape and the inclusion of a surprise filling in the center. Can you help your readers make a connection between the shape of the cake and the moon? What could the unexpected filling represent?
Older readers may want to research the folk tale about how mooncakes were used as a tool of espionage in the overthrow of Mongolian rulers in the 14th century.
For your convenience, this activity is available in a downloadable format HERE.