Today is the date of the Moon Festival, and chances are, you've already been given or re-gifted at least one mooncake, which is still sitting on your kitchen counter, wrapped in its hermetically sealed plastic packet, where it will keep for another month or four.
Dry, dense prepackaged cakes, some imported from China, are everywhere. But several San Francisco bakeries make their own. Are they any better?
SFoodie drove around town on Friday looking for artisanal, local mooncakes, finding three (for comparison purposes, we bought mooncakes filled with lotus-seed paste and salted egg yolk). According to the Chronicle, Koi Palace in Daly City also makes its own mooncakes, boxes of which are available at Vital Tea Leaf stores in Chinatown.
Sheng Kee, the Irving branch of a Taiwanese pastry chain, sells miniature ($2) and 3-inch mooncakes ($4.50) filled with coconut, lotus seed paste, and various bean pastes. We actually weren't able to find out whether they were made in-house or brought in from a central bakery, but the lotus seed with salted egg yolk we picked up was middle-of the-road in quality, with a tender shell, sugary core, and a dry egg that broke apart in shards.
Eastern Bakery in Chinatown posts a sign on its door asserting that it's the only bakery in town to make its own fillings. The shell of the mooncake ($5.60) SFoodie picked up was shoddily formed, the embossed design practically flat. However, the paste inside was lighter, more delicate, and a shade less cloying than the other cakes we tried, and the bright-gold yolk at the center was sharply salted. This is the cake we finished, though not the one we'd give as a gift.
That one would come from Golden Gate Bakery, which makes mooncakes in a dozen different varieties that are almost as popular as its custard tarts. On Friday, we waited in line for 40 minutes to order a single mooncake (almost $7 for one with one yolk). It was big and photogenic, with a glossy gold crust -- flakier than you rarely find -- and the name of the bakery embossed in relief. The filling was thick and jarringly sweet, with a more pronounced peanut-y flavor than the others. Not necessarily a mooncake you want to devour, but still better than the four-month-old boxed variety. Besides, a few slices are all you need, right?
Sheng Kee: 1941 Irving, 564-4800
Eastern Bakery: 720 Grant, 433-7973
Golden Gate Bakery: 1029 Grant, 781-2627