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paleo mooncakes

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I’ve missed eating mooncakes for the last three years as I’ve been away from my family at College in Baltimore. I decided to make these while I was still in NYC with my family over the summer to share with my parents and older brother before the official date of the Mid-Autumn/Lunar Festival, which is Monday, September 8 this year (2014). I kinda just came up with this recipe as I went along with assembling the ingredients, and didn’t know what to quite expect. Realistically speaking, there’s no way these mooncakes will ever taste as rich as our family (and probably 95% of Hong Kong)’s preferred brand, Wing Wah, because the real deal simply can’t be replaced— But I love paying homage to tradition in my own special way through cooking and baking. And by way of a miracle, my mom actually really enjoyed these! The mild and light sweetness from the dates added another dimension for her that sets these apart from conventional mooncakes, which tend to be a bit denser and heavier (that’s why usually one mooncake is enough to be shared with several members of the family)

Although we did eat these faux-mooncakes on a day far from when the actual holiday occurred, I justify it by remembering that the point of the Lunar Festival is really to get your family together for a consciously present meal, and it shouldn’t quite matter if it’s on the right date or if you’re eating the right mooncakes. Be present, spend the time, and talk to one another. You’d be surprised how many meals we’ve gone through with our loved ones that actually miss out on those simple elements.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 lb halved dried lotus seeds (with skin or without is both fine)

lotus paste:

  • 12 medjool dates
  • 25 ml melted butter or ghee (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) (dairy-free option: coconut cream)
  • 50 ml macadamia or walnut oil (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoon honey
  • 4 salted egg yolks (you can find this at an oriental supermarket, but beware of fakes!)

lotus cookie skin:

egg wash:

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Instructions

1. To begin, soak your lotus seeds overnight in a large container with at least three times as much water. The lotus seeds will expand overnight and double in weight and triple in volume.

2. After the lotus seeds have soaked, pick through them and remove any of the green sprouts pictured here. They’re awfully bitter and has no place in our mooncakes!

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3. Next, pour boiling water over all the lotus seeds and allow to stand for 1 minute. Drain and remove any skins that have come loose. (Some people prefer to go through the trouble of removing all of the skins, which is required in the making of white lotus seed paste, but my family enjoys the richer taste of yellow lotus seed paste, which includes the skins, so I decided not to bother too much with meticulously taking off all the skins.)

4. Drain and remove 1 heaping cup of lotus seeds for the making of the crust. Set aside the rest for the paste filling.

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5. To make the lotus seed-based crust, take the 1 cup of lotus seeds, blot dry with a paper towel and toast in a large frying pan on medium-low heat, tossing occasionally, until completely dried and golden brown.

6. Let your toasted lotus seeds cool with you gather your other crust ingredients.

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7. In a high-speed blender or food processor, grind the toasted lotus seeds into a flour. Add in the coconut flour, tapioca/arrowroot starch, and baking soda and pulse to combine.

8. Remove the flour mixture from the blender and into a large bowl. Loosen with a fork. In a small container, whisk together the egg and honey. Slowly pour this wet mixture into the dry while combining with a fork.

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9. Cut up your cold butter (or lard) into small pieces and add to the crumb mixture. Using your dominant hand, gently combine all of it together.

10. When the crumbs pull together into a mass, knead it into a ball, and let chill in the bowl, covered, in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

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11. Place the rest of your lotus seeds into a large pot of water, and bring to a boil. Let boil on high heat for half an hour, uncovered, refilling with more water as the water boils off. I poured in extra water about two times.

12. After about half an hour (its fine if it takes ten or fifteen more minutes than that) the lotus seeds should be very soft, such that it can be squished between your fingers. If that’s the case, drain it, and set aside in the drainer to cool off a bit for about ten minutes.

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13. Meanwhile, if your medjool dates have pits, remove them.

14. Let the pitted dates soak in room temperature water for 2 minutes to soften (do not leave in the water for any longer or its flavor will start to seep into the water and go to waste!)

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15. In a high speed blender, place in all of the warm softened lotus seeds, as well as the dates, melted butter and nut oil. Blend until a uniform paste forms, scraping down the blender as needed.

16. Place the lotus paste into a medium saucepan, and turn to a low heat. Keep stirring the lotus paste around (don’t stop, the bottom burns fast!) until it heats up into a ball that leaves the sides of the pan when folded over. It should no longer be a sticky paste. About 10-15 minutes.

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17. Remove the lotus paste and transfer to a bowl to cool. Make SURE it is covered so it doesn’t dry out. To efficiently (and more quickly) cool your paste, place it on a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten with a rubber spatula until about 1″ thick. Place plastic wrap on top too and chill in the fridge. More surface area = faster cooling. (Don’t have a photo for this step— sorry!)

18. When your lotus paste is cooled, divide it into four even pieces (I took the total weight via digital scale and divided it in four.) Take your 4 salted egg yolks and wrap each with a portion of lotus paste.

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19. Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees. Take your crust dough out from the fridge and do the same as we did with the lotus paste, divide into 4 even pieces. Now you should have 4 pieces of dough for the crust and 4 pieces of lotus paste with a salted egg yolk inside.

20. On a large sheet of plastic wrap, place the crust dough. Roll out into a flat circle. If you have trouble with the dough cracking and crumbling, use the plastic wrap as anchor as you roll out (As in lift the plastic wrap up so the dough can only roll out onto itself and not crack) Place the lotus paste in the center and again, using the plastic wrap as your guide, wrap it all up together into a ball. Push the dough up from its folds and onto the top to cover the lotus paste completely. Form a ball with your hands, then flatten the top and bottom. Unwrap from the plastic wrap and set aside. Repeat with the other three pieces.

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21. Combine one egg and 1 teaspoon water to create an egg wash. Place 1/4 cup sesame seeds into a shallow plate. Take each mooncake and brush the top with eggwash, then gently invert this side onto the sesame seeds. You can also choose to lightly sprinkle them onto the mooncake free-hand or not use them at all. (Traditionally, Cantonese mooncakes do not have sesame seeds on top, only the egg wash. But I figured the tops needed something because I didn’t have a fancy mooncake press)

22. When the mooncakes are ready, bake in a preheated oven at 350 F degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

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23. Let cool completely before serving. I made the mistake of brushing the egg wash on a second time mid-way into the baking, which explains the weird puddle you see there… oh, well. You guys can learn from my mistake!)

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Happy Mid-Autumn Lunar festival, everyone! Spend it with family, and if you can’t, call ’em up, facebook ’em, snapchat, instagram shout-out, write an old fashioned letter… just let ’em know you’re not too busy to drop a line.

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Enjoy!!