Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dates: Luscious and Local

When I saw the big boxes of slightly dusty, fresh picked dates at the farmer's market, I had to buy some. At $10 per pound, they were not cheap—although I don’t know, maybe that is not too bad for dates. But they were beautiful.  There were two varieties, Hadrawi and Halawi. The Halawi is golden-brown, plump and fleshy, soft and caramel-y sweet; the larger Hadrawi is darker, almost mahogany in color, an oblong, rich, smokey-sweet fruit.

I don’t usually eat dates out of hand; to me, they are for putting into things like date-nut bread. But the farmer offered me to taste them so I could decide which of the varieties to buy, and I was really surprised by how wonderful they were: luxurious, rich, luscious are words that come to mind. Here, clearly, was a case—as in so many other foods from fish to potatoes—where local really makes a difference, even the difference between whether you eat it or not.

I ended up buying half Hadrawi and half Halawi dates, and that is the combination I used in this cake. It is an adaptation of a recipe from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, adjusted to accommodate what I had on hand.

Chocolate Date Pistachio Cake

You can substitute 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate for the cocoa and eliminate the 2 T water, and walnuts or pecans for the pistachios. Serves 9.

6 oz very fresh dates
1/3 tea baking soda
¼ boiling water

1 oz semisweet chocolate
2 T unsweetened cocoa
2 T water

4 oz (1 stick) butter, softened
¼ tea salt
2/3 cup sugar
½ tea vanilla
1 large egg
¾ cup sifted a-p flour
1/3 c sour cream
½ cup unsalted, shelled roasted pistachios

Line an 8” square pan with foil and butter it generously. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Pit the dates (I use my fingers). With a very sharp knife, slice the dates thinly, then cut them crosswise into small pieces. Sprinkle the baking soda and water over; stir and set aside.

Combine the chocolate, cocoa, and water in a small bowl or cup, and microwave for a minute or two, til the chocolate is melted. Stir to combine; add more water if needed to make a smooth paste.

Cream the butter with the salt and sugar. Add the vanilla, chocolate, and egg and beat until just combined. Add the flour and sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the dates with their liquid and the pistachios.

Pour/spoon into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes.  Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes; turn out and remove the foil. Let cool completely before cutting into squares or thick slices. Serve plain or with a little butter.



Anonymous said...

Dates grow in southern California around the Salton Sea. The trees are beautiful, date palms and they net the trees prior to the fruit forming to discourage birds from feasting.
Glad you ran into them to give us a yummy recipe.

Jane said...

You are lucky if you are near them; the nets of course are needed, who wouldn't want to eat them?