Sugar Poached Dates

The late summer heat has me dreaming of all things Moorish; exotic spices, grassy mint tea, souks with dark corners shrouded in silk -thread canopies, and gorgeous sweets like these. fresh dates have a pleasant albeit astringent taste. The longer they sit on your counter, the softer and sweeter they become. But, they are meant to be eaten as is. Dried dates are sweet and chewy and are great fodder for nuts, cheese and other salty bits. These fresh dates are really best left plain or poached to soft submission. The process is lengthy, but I promise the reward is a pot full of golden amber fruit, stuffed with nuts, in a pool of rich treacle heady with spice.

Sugar Poached Dates
this recipe takes 2 days to complete

Step One
100 fresh dates–peeled
water to cover
3 Tbs orange blossom water
parchment paper
100 non-pareil almonds
Place the dates in a pot large enough to hold the dates and water enough water to cover. You will want the water to come about 1 1/2 inches higher than the top of the dates. Add the orange blossom water. Cut the parchment paper to a round that will fit just inside of the pot, and then cut a small 1/2″ circle out of the middle of it. Place it on top of the water and simmer the dates, about an hour, until they are soft but not gushy. the parchment paper will keep the dates submerged in the water. drain and let cool–discard parchment. Using a small knife cut a slit in the date and remove the pit. do not cut completely in half, just enough to remove the pit. Replace the pit with an almond, and close the date around it.

Step Two
3″ lemon peel-pith removed
3″ orange peel-pith removed
1 cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods–lightly crushed
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 vanilla bean
3 Tbs honey
1 Tbs orange blossom water
3 cups water
3 cups sugar
Place all ingredients in a heavy pot. Cook to dissolve the sugar. Add back dates and simmer on low for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 12 hours or overnight-covered–once cooled, place in the refrigerator.

Step Three
Remove the dates from the syrup once again, reserving and measuring syrup. Add enough water to make 5 cups. However much water you added, add an equal amount of sugar. (example, if you needed to add 1 cup of water to equal 5 cups total syrup, then also add 1 cup of sugar). Stir
add back the dates and simmer, very gently, until the syrup is very thick and dates are a nice amber color. This may take 1 to 2 hours. Do not just let it boil away–keep a good eye on it. The syrup should not get any more dense than corn syrup.

Serve as is or sprinkle grated pistachio nuts and dress with gold leaf. Place a few over a bowl of plain yogurt or serve with a simple lemon tea cake. I can’t help but think these would make a delicious amuse bouche before a colorful Moroccan meal of cumin and carrot soup, lamb tagine and lemon couscous


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