It’s a date!

We’ve been talking about dates in the Kitchen this week – the fruit not the romantic type – and eating quite a few. Dates seem to divide opinion. Some love the flavour and texture, they taste like toffee, caramel, sticky toffee pudding… Others find them weird in the mouth and too sweet.

Dates have been a staple food in the Middle East for thousands of years, and are now one of the most abundant fruit in the world. 100 million date trees produce 8.5 million tonnes every year (that’s about the same weight as all the plastic that’s dumped in the sea every year, by the way.)

There are dozens of different types of date, grown in countries from Turkey to Morocco, Yemen to Sri Lanka.

Dates are high in fibre and antioxidants. They’re also high in natural sugar of course (about 80% of the ripe date is sugar) and that’s why our Steph has put on weight since Christmas, having discovered medjool dates in the local supermarket.

A stuffed date is a glorious thing, we particularly love marzipan and almonds in ours.  We came across these fabulous suggestions by food blogger Cardamom & Tea.

Here’s a recipe for sticky date cake that we regularly use at Chequers Kitchen and based on one you can enjoy at Café Mauresque in Canterbury:

Sticky Date Cake Recipe

200g pitted dates

1 tsp fresh or dried ginger – if using fresh ginger grate it

125gr caster sugar

80gr self-raising flour

200ml water

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda

60gr butter

1 large egg

1 level tsp mixed spice

Line the base and lightly oil a sprung cake tin. Chop the dates and put them in a pan with the water. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda and ginger. Leave to stand for 5 minutes.

Cream together the butter and sugar then beat in the egg. Sift in the flour and the spices and fold in. Add the dates and mix thoroughly but gently.

Pour into the cake tin. Bake at 170C (fan oven) for 35/40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. (You may need to cover the cake in with foil while in the oven, after 15 to 20 minutes, to stop it over browning or burning. )

After removing from the oven, let the cake cool. Cut into slices and serve with salted caramel.

Salted Caramel recipe (makes about 300ml)

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup heavy/double cream

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2  teaspoon fleur de sel (or coarse kosher salt)

Place the sugar in a saucepan and allow to melt. Once the sugar starts to caramelize, watch the pan carefully as it burns very quickly.  When the sugar has caramelized into a lovely golden colour, remove the pan from the stove and start to beat in the butter and cream. Keep stirring until it thickens. Add the salt and cool.