Chapter 188: Venturing into the Palace (1)
Upon hearing that Third Young Madam was thinking about a new type of confection, all the handmaids grew excited. They went about making the preparations with wide grins on their faces, clearing out the kitchen in order to make space as well as readying the ingredients for assembly and baking.
It wasn’t too hard to make mooncakes. As long as they had the right ingredients, it was much simpler than the Eight Confections.
Since there was a limit to the ingredients they could prepare on such short notice, Chu Lian’s mooncake stuffing was limited to egg yolk, ham, bean paste, and pine nuts with jujube paste.
She had Xiyan retrieve the previously prepared moulds for the mooncakes. Next, she wrapped the stuffing inside the mooncake skin and carved an auspicious image on top of the soft skin. Finally, they put the mooncakes into the oven to finish them off.
It was easy to shape the Cantonese-style mooncakes. After baking, the outer layer of skin was crisp and fluffy with delicate, lovely forms.
Since it wasn’t one of the Great Wu Dynasty’s traditional mid-autumn desserts, Chu Lian didn’t make many mooncakes, for fear that they would outshine the round cakes. She didn’t send any mooncakes to the other branches of the family either, and only prepared enough for herself to eat in her own courtyard, just to satisfy her cravings.
Chu Lian made each mooncake about the size of a lychee, even with the stuffing inside. You could finish one piece in two or three bites, so it was very convenient.
When she was done making mooncakes, Chu Lian changed into her court dress befitting a fifth-ranked honoured lady. She let Jingyan dress her up with all the accessories that came in the set. When she was done, Senior Servant Liu had come over to invite her to the outer court.
Before she left, Xiyan glanced at the mooncakes sitting on a tray on the table and asked, “Third Young Madam, do you want to bring some mooncakes to eat on the way there?”
Senior Servant Liu had just told Chu Lian that the entire banquet would probably last until night time, and they would likely return to the estate at a very late hour. She had to bring everything she needed, as the palace wasn’t like any other normal estate; there were many rules and inconveniences. After keeping that in consideration, Chu Lian nodded. “Bring some. Pack some extra clothes just in case, too.”
Xiyan filled up a small exquisite box with a whole plate of mooncakes and took out a pale pinkish-purple coloured purse embroidered with autumn lotuses. She then quickly stuffed three mooncakes within and shoved it into Chu Lian’s hands.
As Chu Lian watched Xiyan’s actions, she almost burst out into laughter. “Why, are you afraid that your master will starve to death?”
Xiyan’s face flushed a little. Actually, the blame for Xiyan’s strange habit of bringing Chu Lian snacks laid with Chu Lian herself. It was all thanks to Chu Lian always bringing some snacks along with her whenever she left the estate. It had also been Chu Lian who had ordered the maidservants to make these small purses in the first place.
Chu Lian took the purse and even added a few pieces of jerky inside. Senior Servant Gui held back the urge to sigh at this. Thinking she might need a reminder, Senior Servant Gui piped up, “Third Young Madam, it’s getting late; it’s about time to leave.”
By the time they reached the outer court, the steward had already finished preparing the carriages. Matriarch He was already seated in the parlour waiting with her handmaid Muxiang and Senior Servant Zhou. Seated next to her was Madam Zou.
Madam Zou hadn’t changed into a court dress. The Mid-Autumn Banquet banquet started in the late afternoon, so she would have to wait until then to enter the palace. Matriarch He was accompanying Chu Lian into the palace this early in the afternoon for a few reasons. Firstly, she was afraid that Chu Lian would mess up somehow while giving thanks to the emperor on her first venture into the palace. Secondly, she wanted to take this chance to chat with her old friend, the Empress Dowager. She could also take her youngest granddaughter-in-law to meet the Empress Dowager on the way.
When Madam Zou noticed that Chu Lian had entered the parlour with her servants, she couldn’t resist looking this third sister-in-law of hers up and down.
Chu Lian was wearing an honoured lady’s court dress. Although it was just a fifth-ranked title, it was very different from the court dress of a normal noble madam.