Dates are truly natures caramel and its why many vegan and health conscious recipes use them as a caramel base in bakes and goodies. They are naturally sweet and molassesy and have a pleasant chewy texture which is delicious when contrasted with a crunchy toasty nuts.
With Ramadan in full swing I have been thinking plenty of my childhood and the food we ate during this very special time. The daily fast was always broken with dates and some nuts to offer energy and sustenance to carry us through the evening prayer before we ate a proper meal. I will never forget how incredible those dates tasted and how I savoured every moment of having them in my mouth after sometimes 15 hours without nourishment. They are such an incredible food – rich in so many nutrients and fibre and when you have natures toffee right there – why make it from scratch?
In the run up to Eid (the celebration and feast at the end of the month of fasting) we would start receiving gifts at the house for my parents and one of the gifts I always looked out for were these mountains of extravagant pyramids studded with dates that were stuffed with nuts and marzipan. They would all go to my fathers separate office and I would steal in occasionally in the evening and swipe one – rearranging the configuration of the tower so no one noticed!
I often take Medjoul dates and stuff them with creamy nut butters or toasted almonds as a tea time treat. This time however I wanted to create something that could be used for gifting and as a real spoil. Stuffing some of the dates with a homemade rosewater marzipan and some with toasted macadamia nuts just made them extra special! This is also quite a fun thing to do and is more “crafty” than cooking so get your kids involved too.
Ingredients for marzipan
1 1/2 cups very finely ground almond flour
1 cup icing sugar ( I love Natura Sugars Demerara icing sugar)
1 teaspoon quality pure almond extract
1 teaspoon quality food grade rose water or orange blossom water
1 egg white (for a vegan version use a tablespoon of agave and combine – you may need more)
Place the almond flour and sugar in a food processor and pulse until all lumps are broken up. Add the extract, rose water and egg white and process until a thick dough is formed. If the mass is still too wet and sticky, add more powdered sugar and ground almonds. Remember that it will become firmer after it’s been refrigerated.
Turn the almond marzipan out onto a work surface and knead it a few times. Make a ball or a log shape and wrap it up in cling film and refrigerate.
This marzipan will keep for at least a month in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before using it. This recipe makes about 350g.
Ingredients for chocolate covering & stuffing the dates
1/2 cup Dark chocolate, 1/4 cup White Chocolate & Milk chocolate buttons or chocolate of your choice ( I prefer to make mine mostly dark chocolate)
400g Zamli or smaller soft dates
100g Macadamia nuts or Almonds (toasted in a 180C oven for 10-15 mins)
Powder food colouring or fruit powders
Crushed pistachios or other nuts for toppings
Once you have taken the pips from the dates you can stuff half with little balls of marzipan and the rest with the toasted nuts of your choice.
Place to one side while you melt your chocolate. I melt my chocolate over a pot with simmering water and then drop the dates in one by one using a fork to lift out and place on a rack with greaseproof paper underneath to drip. This will get messy – and make sure you let the melted chocolate drip off first n the bowl so as not to waste.
White chocolate doesn’t get very thin when it melts and if yours is too thick you can add a little coconut oil. I find the dates are very sweet on their own and prefer the contrast of dark or milk chocolate to white – but it’s fun to use and very attractive.
You can then sprinkle food powders like raspberry powder or mango and even mix a bit of food colouring with some white chocolate to create any effect you like! Have some fun here and be creative!
I rest my dates at room temp – which is cold these days – as putting them in the fridge can dull them out – so be careful!
I would love to let you have the exact shelf life of these dates but we always eat them all up within a couple of weeks. I should expect they would last a month or so if stored correctly in an airtight container and in a dark cool place. ENJOY!