Cardamom Orange Date Squares

Cardamom Orange Date Squares 25I know we’ve already done some truly decadent date squares at Ali Does It, but I wanted to do another one to emphasize how truly great dates are. They’re so underrated. And in date squares? My, my, my. Date squares always seem like some kind of old people food when you’re just looking at them, but then you bite into that crumbly, sticky, gooey-ness and you remember that they’re just pretty much amazeballs, regardless of how old you are. Cardamom Orange Date Squares 23

I was making these for that shindig business that’s coming along and I sent the Pie out to buy dates – I wanted the ones in a block, not the ones I would have to pit and chop up. Because I’m lazy. And the Pie, knowing my penchant for doubling and tripling every recipe, picked up the biggest block of dates he could find. IT’S A KILOGRAM. A whole kilogram of dates. So here’s what I came up with in order to deal with a KILOGRAM of dates.

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Start with your kilogram of dates. Unwrap them from the triple-wrapped wrapping craziness. I guess they’re pretty sticky if you let ’em.

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Then slice your block up a bit.

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Chuck that in a pot with 3 cups water. Bring that to a boil and then simmer it for like 10 minutes.

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It’s gonna be all squidgy and icky and gross. Take that off the heat and let it cool slightly. Zest and juice 2 oranges.

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Tip the juice, as well as 2 teaspoons ground cardamom and 4 teaspoons vanilla, into your date goo. Give it a stir.

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If you want, shove it in a food processor. I like my dates to be smooth but I’ll leave that up to you.

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And buzz it until it’s all super sludge.

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Now preheat the oven to 350°F and butter and line some baking dishes with parchment paper.

While that’s heating up, whisk together 3 cups flour, 3 cups oats, 2 cups brown sugar1 teaspoon baking powder, and that orange zest you have on hand.

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Cube up 2 cups room temperature butter and dump that in the flour. Mix it in with your hands until it’s all crumbly and you want to eat it.

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Scoop half that mixture into the bottoms of the dishes and press it down.

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Scoop the date mix into the dishes as well and smooth it over.

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Add the rest of the oat mixture to the top and press it down slightly.

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Shove those into the oven for 45 minutes, until everything is golden brown.

Cardamom Orange Date Squares 20Let those cool slightly in the dish, on a rack, and then lift them out to cool completely on the rack before cutting into eatable-sized squares. I won’t judge you on the size of said squares. Whatever works for you! Cardamom Orange Date Squares 24

Treats Week: All Truffles, All the Time

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I think I would lead a happier life if every Wednesday was a truffle day.  Just sayin’.

I have an easy kind of truffles for you today, delicious to the max.  They make great nibblies to have on hand for guests who drop by, and also elegant little gifts.  And the best part of this recipe (which I have modified from here and here), aside from its simplicity and versatility, is that they’re totally vegan and gluten-free.  So you can make everyone happy.  Serve them with chokladboll for fika and it will be even more impressive.

Soak about 15 medjool dates (those are the big ones) for about 15 minutes.

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While the dates are relaxing in their nice bath, take about 1 cup dessicated coconut, and chuck it in your food processor.  Pulse that until you have teeny flakes, and set half of it aside for coating the finished truffles.

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Do the same with 1 cup walnuts, almonds, pecans, or nut of your choosing, reserving half for coating.  I toasted these ones first.

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Dump the other half of the coconut and nuts back in the food processor.

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Add the soaked dates to the food processor, as well as 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk.  Alternately, you can use a few tablespoons of coconut oil.

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Now what you should know here is that I both doubled the recipe and my food processor is really small, so I did this in batches and mixed it together in a bowl.

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Pulse that gooey mass until it’s all finely combined and forming a huge ball.  Chuck that in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

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Then you can start making truffles balls with your hands.  Take about 2 tablespoons of the mixture and roll it in your palms to form a rough sphere. This was my hand after doing the whole batch.

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Roll about a third of your truffles in unsweetened cocoa powder (with an extra sprinkling of cayenne if you wish), another third in your coconut flakes, and the last third in the crushed nuts.

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Keep these in the fridge, or freeze them for later on down the road. My doubled recipe made 48 truffles.

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They’re so pretty and tasty and spicy!

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Toffee Bundt Cake

I got tired of making cookies and squares for my research participants, so one weekend I pulled out this toffee cake, also from January’s Canadian Living magazine.

It’s moist and rich and sweet and satisfying, and for all that is pretty easy to concoct. It’s really good warm, but keeps up to three days.

So let’s begin, shall we?

Take yourself a 12oz/375g package of dried, pitted dates and plop them in a saucepan with 2 1/2 cups water

Bring the water to a boil and stir it around a bit, then let it cool.

Mash up the dates until smooth.  I found this was easiest in a food processor.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Grease a 10″ or 3L Bundt pan (you know, the one with the fluted sides and a hole in the middle).

In a large bowl, beat together 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, 1/2 cup softened butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind until light and fluffy. 

One at a time, beat in 4 eggs, then add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

In another bowl or measuring cup, whisk together 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 2 teaspoons baking soda.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture.

Stir in the dates as well. It’s funny how it’s the dates that give it that lovely toffee taste.

Scrape the batter into your greased Bundt pan.

Bake in the bottom third of your oven for about 55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for about 15 minutes, then tip it out onto a plate.

While the cake is cooking and cooling, you can work on your toffee sauce.  Mine didn’t turn out toffee coloured, but still tasted fantastic. 

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 3/4 cup butter.  Whisk in 1 cup granulated sugar until dissolved, and cook, whisking the whole time, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is caramel-coloured.  Whisk in 3/4 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons lemon juice (be careful to avert your face, as adding cream can make it explosive — I’m serious).

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until thickened, about 3-5 minutes.  Whisk in 2 tablespoons brandy or cognac.

Pour about 3/4 cup of the toffee sauce over your cake and let it stand to absorb. 

When you are ready to serve, drizzle it with the reserved warm sauce, slice and serve.

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Monolithic Date Squares

The Pie and I spent several long hot days in the kitchen, doing the prep-work for my brother’s wedding celebration.  One of the confections we produced were some rich, tall date squares.

Interesting fact for you: date squares are a Canadian invention.  I kid you not.  If you look up date squares in some of the older cookbooks you’ll find it under “matrimonial date squares”.  If anyone knows the reason for this, I’d love to hear it.

As a bit of a preparation for this, zest an orange.

While you’re at it get the juice from it as well.

And take 1/4 cup of hazelnuts and pulse them in a food processor until you have some lovely crumbs.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Now you start with the filling.

In a saucepan, stir together 2 cups water with 1 package (375g) pitted dates, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and the juice from your orange, about 4 tablespoons.  Let that stand for about 30 minutes.

Afterwards, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, stirring often, until it’s thickened.  This will take about ten minutes.  And when it bubbles it will more resemble swamp goo than anything else.  Let it cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 1/4 cups flour, and 1 cup packed brown sugar.

Cut in 1 cup cold cubed butter.  Keep going until the mixture is in coarse crumbs.

Press half (or slightly more than half) the oat mixture evenly into an 8-inch (2L) square pan lined with parchment paper.

Spread the mixture with your date goo.

Add the hazelnuts to your remaining oat mixture and toss well.

Pile the remaining mixture on top of the date goo and press it down lightly.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown on top, and let it cool before cutting into squares.

If you keep it covered it will last for weeks.  You can also freeze the squares before baking, wrapped in aluminum foil.