Dates are the precious jewels of the Muslim Ummah. They are most prominent in the month of Ramadhan, when the iftar is opened with an odd number of dates and water, following the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (SAW). Dates are, however, not forgotten in the other months. In Arabian culture, it is customary to greet guests with a platter of fresh dates and qahwa. They are also the first food to touch a newborn’s mouth when, in the Prophetic tradition of tahneek, a softened date is rubbed on the palate of the newborn soon after birth.
Many recipes call for chopped dates as a sweetener, but sometimes the sweetness doesn’t evenly distribute in the final product. Also, some people don’t like the taste of chopped fruit in their mouth – and most people don’t want to spend ages chopping sticky fruits and getting their hands dirty! That’s when raw, homemade date paste comes in handy. Date paste is a natural fruit sweetener, giving cakes a moist texture and making them extremely flavourful. Date paste can be used in a multitude of recipes, such as over pancakes in place of maple syrup, and is especially tasty in milkshakes or mixed with hot milk during the cold months.
Storage: It’s a good idea to make date paste in bulk to have at hand when you need it. It will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months. You can store it in an airtight plastic container and break off chunks when you need it.
This recipe yields 2 cups of date paste.
• 40 good quality dates
• Warm water for soaking
• 2 tbsp filtered water
1. Soak dates in warm water until tender.
2. Remove from water and remove all stones by hand.
3. Combine all the dates and 2 tbsp water in food processor. Puree.
4. Stop the food processor at intervals and scrape down the sides.
5. Puree until thick and creamy.
Tip: you can add a squeeze of lemon juice instead of water for a tangy sweetener. Or try adding a vanilla bean to your date paste before processing.
Sweet Date Biscuits
‘Meethi tikya’ are biscuits found in Pakistani cuisine, literally translating into ‘sweet flat cakes’. Housewives usually make them in Ramadhan for iftar and also in the other months to serve at tea time. I have combined the recipe for meethi tikya with ma’moul, a shortbread pastry found in the Gulf countries. It’s best to make a big batch – these fragrant cookies don’t last long!
½ cup date paste
1 tsp cinnamon powder
2 cups plain/all purpose flour
2 tbsp fine semolina powder
¾ tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp desiccated coconut
8 tbsp sugar
½ tsp cardamom powder
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp fine milk powder, such as NIDO
1 tsp vanilla essence OR 1 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
2 tbsp ghee
1. Mix date paste with cinnamon powder in separate bowl.
2. Pour oil into a small pot for deep frying; leave on low heat to heat up.
3. Mix rest of the ingredients together by hand to form a dough. If the dough is too dry and not coming together, add whole milk 1 tsp at a time until it comes together.
4. Rub a little ghee on your hands. Make balls a little smaller than a golf ball and flatten into disc shape. Put a little bit of date mixture in the middle. Join with another disc and flatten with your palm. Lay the discs on a plate.
5. When all the dough has been used up, deep fry the biscuits on low to medium heat. The biscuits will float up if the oil is the correct temperature.
6. When golden brown, remove from oil with a slotted spoon and lay on a paper towel. When cooled, put biscuits in a container with a lid. Add 2 tbsp powdered sugar in the container, close the lid and shake to coat all biscuits.
7. Take a bite!
Decadent Date and Chocolate Cake with Sticky Toffee Glaze
As with all cakes, this cake is even tastier the next day. The date paste contributes to its moist texture while the glaze sets to create a satiny finish. The glaze is so tasty and beautiful to look at that it’s now my go-to glaze for all cakes. Present it with a flourish at your next dinner and the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ will make it worth the effort.
• 1 cup date paste
• 1¼ cup hot coffee
• ¾ cup butter
• ½ cup white sugar
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 1 tsp vanilla essence
• 1 cup flour
• ½ cup cocoa powder
• 1 tsp baking soda
• ½ tsp salt
• 1 tsp cinnamon powder
• Juice and zest of 1 orange
• ½ cup good quality chocolate, roughly chopped
1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
2. Grease a 22.5cm cake tin with butter. Put the tin on baking parchment and, with a pencil, mark a circle on the parchment. Cut and insert parchment in pan. Butter the paper.
3. Cover date paste with hot coffee and leave to soak.
4. With a mixer, beat butter and brown and white sugar in bowl for 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and beat. Add vanilla and beat.
5. Place a fine sieve over the bowl. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon powder into the bowl. Mix well.
6. Puree coffee and date paste in blender. Pour in batter. Add orange juice and zest, mix well. Fold in chopped chocolate.
7. Pour in prepared pan. Bake for 55–60 minutes until edges begin to pull away and cake is done. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Turn out onto serving plate.
The Sticky Toffee Glaze
The brown sugar in the glaze provides a caramel flavour. If you’re not a fan of caramel, substitute the brown sugar with white sugar.
• 3½ tbsp butter
• ¼ cup dark brown sugar
• 1 tbsp water
• Pinch salt
• 1⁄3 cup cream
• ½ cup chocolate pieces
1. Add butter, sugar, water and salt to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 2-3 minutes.
2. Remove from heat. Whisk in cream, then chocolate. Let cool until thickened.
3. Pour over cake, letting the silky glaze drip down the sides. It will set almost immediately.
Umm-e-Ismaeel has lived in Saudi Arabia, N. America, and now resides in Pakistan. She is an ESL teacher and freelance writer; her work has been published in various magazines and e-zines. In her free time she enjoys baking and painting, and having fun doing creative things with her son.