Dates are not just for Christmas: featured here in a wonderful dessert that must be cut into small squares or bars - it is divinely rich.
Dates, the Christmas thing
Dates and figs always appeared in my childhood home at Christmas time. Nobody particularly liked either but somehow you were supposed to buy or gift them. A fraction of the stock was used in my Mother’s Christmas fruitcake and I remember methodically picking them out of my cake slice – the ‘fruit’ in the fruitcake in my books were raisins and sultanas, not weird jammy or pippy things.
Of course, I was convinced dates grew dried, or at least I didn’t spare it much thought. Subsequently I learned of the gorgeousness of fresh figs but I thought I’d yet, long as I’ve lived, to encounter fresh dates.
Are fresh dates good to eat?
And that’s where I was wrong. Dates, the fruit of a date palm tree, can be wrinkled and slightly shrivelled even when they are fresh. I was completely unaware that the arguable king of dates, Medjool, is actually fresh and so the most expensive.
Dates come in three categories: soft (Medjool), semi-dry (Deglet Noor) and dry (no-name dates sold in the baking section). The semi- and dry varieties are delicate and easily spoilt so in Europe we only get them in their dried, Christmas form. Medjools are high in moisture and though they may appear dry, they are not dehydrated in any way.
Dates and nutrition
Just like most delicious things, dates have high calorie and sugar content. Apart from that though they are a good source of fibre and antioxidants so really good to eat – in moderation.
You can use them as a natural sweetener, pureed into a paste added to baking or cooking. The recipe below however has nothing to do with natural sweetening or limiting sugar intake, but the date and nut squares are drop dead gorgeous.
Date and nut squares recipe
They are based on a Filipino dessert recipe nicknamed ‘food for the gods’, which I found via Tejal Rao’s NY Times Cooking interpretation. I cut the ingredients by half. I reduced the sugar a little. And they still came out so rich, I could only manage one square at a time – which by my standards is positively abstemious.
They are rich but, ye gods, are they divine. Slightly less like squares or bars than I’d been expecting; more like cake. The dates do not dissolve as they would in an English sticky toffee style bake, but remain in chunks though do drop to the bottom of the tin. That does no harm to the end product, especially that the nuts and almonds spread evenly throughout the batter.
How to make the date nut squares
The original recipe has only walnuts in it; I mixed almonds, pecans and pistachios and you can use whichever nuts are your preference – or whatever you can find in the cupboard. I also use electric mixer but the batter can easily be mixed with a wooden spoon.
The squares keep very well – no wonder considering all the sugar and butter that goes in there. They also freeze very well and that’s what I did with my batch. Defrosting one square at a time seemed the correct thing to do with those little calorie bombs. Food for gods they are indeed – but unlike mortals, gods need count no calories…