Chef’s Corner: Dates a sweet addition to Tu B’Shevat recipes

Tu B’Shevat, or the New Year of the Trees, is meant to signify a change in season from winter’s cold to the renewal of spring. While it may still be cold and wintery where you live, in Israel the trees are already beginning to blossom.
Foods mentioned in the Bible include figs, dates, raisins, pomegranates and olives; these are often included in a Tu B’Shevat seder.
Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years. They grow on the date palm tree and are an important traditional crop in places as far away as Turkey and Morocco. They’re also cultivated here in the United States in the warmer climates of California, Arizona and Florida. Dates have a rich honeyed flavor that makes them a sweet and chewy addition baked into cakes and cookies. They are also great when used as an accompaniment arranged on a savory cheese platter.
Dates contain a single pit that must be removed before using. I find Medjool dates to be the best choice because of their tender, soft texture. Dates have a sticky surface that can attract impurities, so look for dates that have been packaged and processed properly so that they remain moist and supple and not dried out. It is also a good idea to rinse them thoroughly before using.
The chopped dates used in this recipe seem to melt away in this dense and flavorful cake. The warm caramel sauce that is drizzled over each slice makes it even more moist and super delicious. Topped with vanilla-scented whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, this cake makes a spectacular dessert.
I bake it in a traditional Bundt pan, but individual one-cup Bundt pan molds would also make a pretty presentation. And here is a great tip: spray both sides of your knife with non-stick cooking spray before chopping the dates. By doing this, they slip right off your knife instead of sticking to the blade!

Medjool Date Cake with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Makes one Bundt cake
For the Cake
1½ cup pitted and chopped Medjool dates
1¼ cup water
1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 large eggs
For the Bourbon Caramel Sauce
1¼ cups packed light brown sugar
½ cup whipping cream
¼ cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 tsp bourbon
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan. Place 1¼ cups water in a medium sized sauce pan, add chopped dates and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp baking soda. Mixture will foam a bit. Set aside and allow dates to cool. In a small bowl, (I like to use a sheet of aluminum foil), sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add 1 egg and vanilla and stir to blend. Add half of the flour mixture, then half of the dates. Add second egg and the rest of the dry ingredients along with the rest of the dates. Pour into Bundt pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for about 15-20 minutes, then invert onto serving plate. When cooled, dust cake with powdered sugar.
To make Bourbon Caramel Sauce, place sugar, butter and cream into a medium sauce pan. Bring mixture to a boil and cook for 3 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla and bourbon. Place in a small pitcher until ready to serve.
Slice cake and drizzle each serving with caramel sauce. Serve topped with vanilla-scented whipped cream or ice cream.

Lisa Glickman is a private chef and lives in Bend. She is a contributing writer and teacher and also does a weekly cooking segment for COTV’s “Good Morning Central Oregon.” She can be reached via email through her website at lisa@lisaglickman.com.

 

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