Who am I to refuse an offer of the gorgeous, the glorious Medjool dates? Can you tell I like them? They’re the dessert, sweet, ultimate gift of the fruit world. When the lovely peeps from Medjool sent me a pack to see what I could come up with, it was all I could do not to shove my face in the, very pretty, box and inhale them right there and then. But that would have been rude and ungrateful. So I eat just one, and these are stunning, I savour the sweet toffee flavour and slightly crisp skin breaking to melty, sticky, fudgy softness. They make a particulourly good treat stuffed simply with marzipan as an accompaniament to a good coffee.
My mind initially turns to savoury dishes and I toy with making a beautifully sweet and rich lamb tagine. Fairly frequently I make a flatbread studded with dates that I top with a spiced minced lamb as a kind of Lahmacun or Turkish pizza. I imagine they’d pair particularly well with whisky, having the same honeyed characteristics, I reckon whisky soaked dates would be ace dipped in dark chocolate or in a rich brownie. But in the end I decide to try something completely different and thoughts, as they often do, turned to my old (relatively new actually) friend the deep fat fryer.
Predictible I know, but I have the need to make doughnuts and I turn to those romantic and faintly exotic pairings of pistachio and rose. Pistachios often lack a satisfying crunch or bite, especially when baked so I caramelise for texture and to enhance their flavour. I’ve been using Dan Lepard’s recipe for doughnuts in Short and Sweet from the very start of my little journey and don’t feel the need to deviate as it works so well for me. I do often tweak a few of the details though; here I’ve replaced 50g of the flour with wholemeal spelt and the sugar for light muscovado, both work together to add depth and work well with the sticky sweetness of the dates, I also can’t resist adding a couple of teaspoons of fragrant mahlep powder to the dough, it’s my magical secret ingredient and the same spice Honey & Co use in their beautiful buns. The pistachios just need toasting in a pan, I used about 50g, until they start to release their aroma and brown, then chuck in some light muscovado sugar to cover, stiring all the while so it doesn’t burn, until all the nuts are coated, then turn out onto a pan to cool. Smash the cooled mixture in a plastic bag to break into little pieces, I add most of these to the dough with 4 or 5 chopped dates on the final knead, the last little smishy bits I add to caster sugar for rolling the doughnuts in when they’re out of the fryer. I stir icing sugar and rosewater, both to taste, into some greek yoghurt and top with rose petals for pretty factor, as a dip. It’s a romantic, sweet and fragrant combination, a snack fit surely for a faerie queen.
The instant I had the idea for these next nibbles I had to make them. A little bit crazy? A whole lot delicious I reckon. A kind of souped up devils on horseback and the perfect party food, nibble, canape, whatever, unless that is you’re not into marzipan as I understand many aren’t (what’s wrong with you?!). It did make for a slightly odd Monday night dinner but the boy’s slowly getting used to these somewhat crazy and incoherent meals. I made two variations on the idea creating a bit of a russian roulette depending on your preferences.
I slice dates lengthways, removing the stones, and fill half of them with a good chunk of marzipan and the other half with gorgonzola and a basil leaf, wrap each in half a slice of prociutto and secure with a cocktail stick. For the batter I’m afraid I don’t really have a precise recipe, rather I chuck things in a bowl till they look about right, in this instance; around 60g plain flour, tablespoon cornflour, teaspoon baking powder, glug of maple syrup, half a beaten egg, salt, then enough cold water till you get a good consistency. Dip the dates to cover then deep fry till the batter is cooked and golden. I did deep fry them ‘naked’ which has the benefit of crisping up the prosciutto, but lets face it is nowhere near as fun!
The end result ticks all the canape boxes for me; sweet, salty, crispy and gooey all in one bite.