The dessert name of Om Ali, means ‘Ali’s mother’, has its own story. To make a long story short, not wanting to bore you with the detailed war history of Om Ali ….. Ali’s mother, was a powerful feminist of the 13th century Egypt. Her husband tried to cheat on her so she kills him and celebrates with distributing Om Ali dessert declaring her son Ali as successor. As ever, food is a much more than just the act of cooking and eating. Food is culture, history and the stories of a given people and time.
You could think of Om Ali as the Egyptian cousin of bread pudding. Same idea of soaking some type of bread with milk or cream and sugar, then baking it in the oven. Om Ali skips the eggs though, which makes it lighter in texture, looser and milkier as opposed to custardy. Instead of bread, it is traditionally made with baked puff pastry, phyllo or Egyptian flat bread combined with milk and nuts.
Om Ali has become a well loved and celebrated dessert all over the Middle East, being served at many big celebrations and events.
Instead of using the traditional nuts, raisins and coconut, I’m using the ‘Sahale Snack Mix’ which has a very similar blend in my Om Ali pudding.
OM Ali - Egyptian Bread Pudding
Allow puff pastry to thaw before using. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the puff pastry into squares & poke holes in each using a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed & golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
In a saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, spices & whipped topping powder. Allow to come to a gentle simmer; add the vanilla & heavy cream. Remove from heat.
Break the puff pastry into pieces & place half of them in either individual ramekins or an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle each with some of your fruit/nut blend, reserving a bit for topping. Cover with the other half of the pastry pieces.
Slowly add the milk mixture, one ladle at a time until the milk mixture fully covers the puff pastry. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, you'll notice that the puff pastry absorbs some of the milk. Add milk again until it covers the puff pastry.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F. then place under the broiler if you wish, for a couple of minutes to get a golden top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- When baking is 90% done, sprinkle the rest of the fruit/nut mixture on top so they don't burn & taste bitter. It gives a nice eye appeal.
With Victoria Day week-end upon us, many people will be thinking of outdoor events. For some reason, food just tastes better when it is cooked over a campfire (or barbecue).
To date, no one seems to know who actually started toasting marshmallows on a stick, over a campfire. S’mores have been a camp tradition ever since the recipe first appeared in the 1927 edition of the Girl Scout Handbook. No doubt it was given its name ….. short for ‘some more’.
It seems there are endless campfire dessert concoctions such as: dessert pizza, apple pie foil packets, monkey bread, pineapple upside-down cake foil packets, walnut chocolate burritos, cinnamon buns in orange peel cups, etc., etc.
Since Brion & I are not inclined to go camping, I baked these in the oven. The orange peels infuse the chocolate with a fragrant, citrus flavor. Nice!
Chocolate Cupcakes in Orange Peel Cups
Oranges & Cake
Cut oranges in half. Using a grapefruit knife, remove pulp from each half. Juice the pulp & reserve 1 cup for the cake mix.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, oil & 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice. Mix until batter has no lumps.
Place the orange cups into a muffin tin & fill with about 1/4 cup each of the chocolate batter. Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
In a bowl, blend cream cheese, vanilla & orange zest with a hand mixer until smooth. Add butter & mix on medium-high for a couple of minutes. Add powdered sugar & blend until topping is uniformly smooth. Place a dollop of topping on each dessert.
If you wish to bake these desserts over a campfire:
- Wrap each orange loosely in aluminium foil, taking care to keep the oranges upright.
- Place the wrapped oranges on the edge of the camp-fire, out of the direct flame but close enough to the embers so the cakes will bake.
- After 25 - 30 minutes remove the cakes from the heat and carefully unwrap. You should see cooked cake peeking out of the orange cup. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before adding a dollop of topping or just eat as is.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Today as we celebrate Mother’s Day, many special memories come to mind. My mother passed away in 1978 but even after 42 years, time has changed nothing. I still miss the sound of her voice, the wisdom in her advice, the stories of her life and just being in her presence. I miss her today as much as the day she left us and I always will.
It is also with very loving thoughts, I celebrate my mother-in-law, Dolores, for her loving and kind ways and for raising that ‘special’ man I love sharing my life with. Love to my sisters, who gave so much of themselves to be the great mom’s they are.
Babka ….. an old world beauty with roots in both the Jewish and Eastern European communities. A cake like, sweet yeast bread, richer than that of a cinnamon bun but not as rich as a Danish pastry. The name Babka means ‘little grandmother’ in many European languages.
Traditionally, babka was filled with seeds, nuts and sometimes even honey or filled with layers of cinnamon sugar or chocolate. This classic baked good has been making its way into every corner of the food world. A great babka dough is a blank canvas for almost any filling. Many other flavors have been developed and have become equally popular.
Fruit lovers can now indulge in apple-cinnamon or raspberry and apricot cream cheese babkas. There is also a Middle Eastern favorite using halva (sesame candy) or a completely savory version with sun-dried tomatoes.
This bread seems very fitting on our Mother’s Day blog.
Blueberry Babka Rolls
In a small bowl, place water & sprinkle with the yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir to combine. Allow to stand until frothy, about 5-10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar & salt. Make a well in the center of the flour & add eggs, yolk & oil. Whisk to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs & flour with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface & knead for about 10 minutes. If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, smooth & holds a ball-shape.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap & place in a draft-free area. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugars & salt. Add water & blueberries; cook until clear & bubbling. Remove from heat & add lemon juice; cool completely.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, powdered sugar, salt & baking powdered. Cut butter into small chunks & add the flour mixture. Using your fingertips, work the butter into the flour mixture until it forms LARGE, coarse crumbs. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough into a rectangle, roughly 40 X 60 cm (15" X 24"). Spread half of the filling on center third of the dough. Fold one of the sides over the center & spread the remaining filling on top. Next, put opposite side of the dough over all & gently press together.
Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut 15 strips, between 2 - 2.5 cm (3/4"-1") thick. Twist each strand of dough a few times then, holding one end between you thumb & forefinger, coil the dough to form a circle. Finish by pinching the outer end to the ring, so it holds the circular shape when baking. Repeat with remaining strips. Place rolls on lined baking sheet as you make them. Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap & set in a draft-free place until rolls have doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush rolls with egg wash. Sprinkle streusel & chopped nuts evenly over the tops, pressing lightly so the crumbs adhere to the rolls. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & place on a cooling rack.
This is a spring version of summertime fresh blueberry tarts. Even though we are a long way from blueberry season, nothing wrong with using some frozen ones. At our house we use a lot of lemons which means there are always lemon peels available. Candied lemon peel is an excellent way of using up the flavorful but not as tasty peel.
Candied or crystallized fruit, has been around since the 14th century as a method of food preservation. It seems to have started out in the Arab culture, being served at banquets. Candied fruit as a whole, would reach the west where they became the key part of some of the most well known cakes and breads of European tradition, such as Italian Panettone and German Stollen.
Candied lemon peels are a very versatile ingredient. Chopped up, they can be used in baked goods for a lemony flavor boost, whereas whole strips can be dipped in chocolate and used as an edible gift.
For my blueberry tarts, I thought some candied lemon curls would make a pretty garnish not to mention the additional flavor they give.
Blueberry Custard Tarts w/ Candied Lemon Curls
Candied Lemon Curls (MAKE ONE DAY EARLIER)
In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk sugar, eggs, yolks, & cornstarch together until smooth. When milk is simmering, whisk half of it into the egg mixture then gradually add the egg/milk mixture to the rest of the milk.
Return saucepan to the heat & cook, whisking constantly until very thick. Whisk in the butter & vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate. Be sure the plastic is touching the top of the custard to prevent it from forming a film over it. When custard is cooled & you are ready to use it, whip with an electric mixer for a couple of minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine butter & sugar; cream well. Add vanilla & combine. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients; gradually add to creamed mixture. Blend well. Divide dough into 8 portions. Press each portion into a 4 X 3/4-inch mini tart pan. Using a fork, poke some holes in the bottom of each shell. Bake about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & cool before filling.
In a saucepan, whisk all ingredients together & cook over medium-high heat until thickened.
Candied Lemon Curls
Cut the ends off of the lemon. Carefully cut down ONE side of the lemon. Continue the same cut through the FRUIT of the lemon, stopping at the peel. Do NOT cut through the peel.
Carefully open up the lemon & make more cuts through the FRUIT so that it will lay flat; remove the fruit from the peel. Turn the peel over & trim the edges & carefully remove all of the white pith from the inside of the peel. Cut the peel into strips about 1/8-inch wide.
In a small saucepan, add sugar & water & bring to a simmer. Add peels & gently simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, lay peels on a cooling rack. Allow to cool slightly, then toss in a bit of granulated sugar. They will slightly curl as they cool.
Divide custard between tart shells, top with blueberries & garnish with candied lemon curls.
- I find this recipe works the best if everything is made a day earlier than needed. That way each component has a chance to cool well before you assemble & serve.
The quintessential Mexican ‘Conchas’ are a type of sweet roll topped with a cookie crust, shaped for it’s namesake, a seashell. Though its precise origin is not known, all conchas are made from an enriched, yeasted dough similar to brioche or challah. What isn’t really clear, is the point at which a baker decided to cover a small round of sweet dough with a thin layer of cookie dough and then bake it.
Traditionally, the bread roll itself is not flavored, but the cookie dough topping has either a vanilla or chocolate flavor. This topping is an essential element on the sweet roll but the color or the way it is scored or decorated can be done in many different ways. Sometimes, brown or white sugar or even colorful sprinkles are dusted over the topping.
Conchas are sometimes split in half horizontally and filled with anything from whipped cream, custard or even refried beans. Some bakeries have been experimenting with new concha flavors. Cinnamon, walnut, agave nectar with golden raisins and pecan flavor are some that have been introduced.
It seems that conchas are at their best when eaten fresh which makes good sense being made from a yeast dough. It’s going to be interesting to see if I can create some of these little conchas with such a mysterious past.
Mexican Sweet Buns or 'Conchas'
In a dish, add yeast to lukewarm WATER & allow to sit for 5 minutes so yeast can activate. In a large bowl, whisk together lukewarm MILK, sugar, butter, salt & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine. Add flour, about a 1/3 at a time, combining after each addition. Once all the flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes. The dough should be elastic & slightly sticky but easy to handle.
Place dough in a large greased bowl & turn the dough over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
In a bowl, beat the sugar, margarine & vanilla together until light & fluffy. Stir in flour & mix until a thick dough forms. Add additional flour if needed. Divide dough into 3 or 4 even pieces & tint each with food color. If the dough becomes sticky from the food color, add more flour. Cover pieces with plastic wrap until ready to use.
When dough is ready, turn out on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces ( press dough into a 14 x 14-inch rectangle; with a sharp knife cut into 4 strips in each direction). Shape each dough piece into a ball by tucking the corners under ( don't roll between your palms, this will just deflate the dough & make it tough). Place dough buns on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.
Roll out the topping pieces on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter or pastry ring. Use the pastry ring to score lines into the dough to resemble the ridges on a seashell (concha).
Transfer the scored topping dough rounds to the buns using an offset spatula. If the topping doesn't adhere naturally, use a pastry brush to apply a few dots of water on the underside before applying to the buns.
Allow the buns to rise for about 40 minutes. Before its time to bake, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake buns for 18-20 minutes or until they are just lightly browned on the bottom.
- The topping is made with margarine as it will yield a crunchy & flaky texture.
Today, March 28th is the birth date of my mother. Her imprint on my life was huge and I will forever miss her. I read an article recently which I would like to share with you today. It read:
‘I’ve met two kinds of strong women. The first kind is snippy, closed off and only too happy to point out when something isn’t up to their standards. The second kind is like a majestic tree with roots firmly planted and arms open wide. They plant and nurture the seeds of the future and parts of them are passed on through the generations’. My mother was definitely the second type of woman.
When I was thinking about what I wanted to post today, my mind drifted to the recipe archive that lives in my head, eventually making its way to the yeast breads. This is an area my mother had mastered down to a science.
Bread is such a staple food in the diet of most populations and will have featured heavily in most people’s childhoods. This explains why it is one of those smells that evokes such strong memories, particularly of family, childhood and comfort.
I love yeast breads that have spices and dried fruits in them. I recall a combination I had used in another way sometime back so I decided to see if I could make it work in my bread today.
WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF OUR BEAUTIFUL MOTHER!
Moroccan Spiced Fruit Bread
In a small bowl, combine fruit, juice & spices. Set aside to marinate.
In a small dish, heat milk to lukewarm. Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar; let sit for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture & stir to combine.
In another bowl, whisk together flour & salt. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture 1 cup at a time, combining after each addition. Once all flour has been added, knead on a lightly floured surface for about 2 minutes.
Lightly grease the large bowl, place dough in it & cover with plastic wrap & a tea towel. Allow to rest for at least one hour, in a draft-free place until doubled in volume.
Punch dough down & place on a lightly floured surface. With your hand, pat & shape the dough into a rectangle 14 X 12-inches in size & about 1/2-inch thick. Using a ruler & a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 5 strips. Cut each strip into diamonds about 2-inches long. With a pastry brush, lightly butter tops of 'diamonds' as well as the bottom & sides of a bundt pan with the melted butter.
Arrange a layer of diamonds side by side in a ring on the bottom of the bundt pan. Divide fruit mixture in half & sprinkle half over diamonds in pan. Repeat with another layer of buttered diamonds & sprinkle with remaining fruit. Top with last buttered diamonds, arranging each successive layer so that it fits over the spaces left in the previous ring.
Don't concern that the diamonds do not fill all the available space; as they rise & bake they will expand. Cover bundt pan with plastic wrap & a tea towel & allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in volume.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake bread for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. To test for doneness, turn bread out & rap the bottom sharply with your knuckles. The bread should sound hollow; if it doesn't, return it to the pan & bake for 5-10 minutes longer. When baked, turn out on a wire rack to cool slightly.
In a small bowl, beat together drizzle ingredients until smooth, adding only enough milk to make preferred drizzle consistency. Spread or drizzle over warm fruit bread & sprinkle with reserved orange zest.
Today, February 25th is Shrove Tuesday. The date can be anytime between February 3rd & March 9th. It is exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday, based on the cycles of the moon.
For centuries, the consumption of pancakes has widely been regarded as a popular way to celebrate Shrove Tuesday, which takes place the day before Ash Wednesday in preparation for Lent. However, the day is celebrated in a variety of ways around the world with many different foods.
Today’s recipe idea comes from the bettycrocker.com website. I printed this pancake recipe out a very long time ago but never got around to trying it. So today’s the day … You notice it uses General Foods Bisquick mix. I don’t use a huge amount of this baking mix but its handy once in a while.
I was curious (as usual) about the history of the product. It seems a salesperson for General Foods, was on a train to San Francisco late one evening in the 1930‘s. Since the dining car was already closed and he was quite hungry, he asked the chef if he could make him something quickly, nothing fancy and not too much fuss. He was served a plate full of piping hot biscuits. When asked how this was possible so fast, the chef said he had a pre-mixed blend of lard, baking powder, flour and salt that he stored in an ice chest. This became the inspiration for a product that is still convenient more than 80+ years later. Today, Bisquick’s product line has grown to include flavored biscuit mixes, easy shake ‘n pour pancake mix and even gluten-free Bisquick. Interesting!
This turned out to be real good, but of course you have to like pumpkin to enjoy it and we do.
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pancake Bake
In a large bowl, combine Bisquick mix, & 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk, 2 eggs, pumpkin & 1 tsp vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet, mixing ONLY until just combined.
Heat griddle to about 325 F. Pour batter by 1/3 cupfuls onto griddle. Cook until edges appear dry, about 2 minutes, then turn & cook 1 minute. Repeat with remaining batter; let pancakes cool completely.
Lightly butter a 13 X 9-inch baking dish. Spread each cooled pancake with cream cheese, then cut in half & place cut side down into baking dish.
In a large bowl, beat 6 eggs, 1 1/2 cups milk, cream, sugar & 1 Tbsp vanilla. Pour over pancakes. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours but no longer than 8 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Remove baking dish from refrigerator. In a small bowl, mix flour, brown sugar & 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or finger tips until the size of small peas. Sprinkle on top of pancakes in baking dish.
Bake about 1 hour or until topping is golden & filling is set. If topping browns to quickly, cover with foil. Allow to stand 15 minutes before serving.
Yucatan food is markedly different from Mexican food as most of us know it. One reason is, of course, the pronounced Mayan influence, but numerous other cultures have left their mark on the cuisine as well. From the British and Spanish to the Lebanese and even the Dutch with their Edam cheese. No one knows for sure how the Dutch cheese got to this part of Mexico … some attribute it to Caribbean trade routes, others claim wealthy Yucatan hacienda owners who grew ‘henequen’, (a fiber used to make rope), brought it back from their European travels.
Like many desserts and culinary traditions around the world, the invention of ‘marquesitas’ has its own unique story. Legend has it that the marquesita was invented in the city of Merida, Mexico. During one cold (??) winter when ice cream sales were down, an ice cream vendor started experimenting with ideas to use the waffle cone in a different way. It was then that the marquesita began to take shape.
Marquesitas are like crunchy crepes: a batter is poured into what looks like a waffle maker, sweet or savory add-ins are tossed in, then the whole thing is rolled up once its crispy. The crepe itself tastes like a waffle cone with hints of vanilla and almond … but its all about what sweet and savory fillings you choose. Traditionally, Dutch Edam cheese was shaved right into the crepe.
In a blender, place all ingredients EXCEPT cheese & puree until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes or cover & refrigerate up to 12 hours. Stir before using.
If a marquesita iron is not available a 10-inch crepe pan or even just a flat bottomed non-stick skillet will do just fine. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, pour about 1/4 cup batter out in a 10-inch circular shape. You want to create a very thin layer. Once the bottom begins to become toasted & golden , loosen the edges with a spatula & flip to toast the other side.
Sprinkle the marquesita with some grated cheese while it is still pliable. Roll up into a big, wide roll. Finish with some gated cheese on top. You can add whatever filling you choose ... sweet or savory!
The tradition of a New Year’s Cake is one that spans countless cultures and is meant to symbolize wealth, prosperity, health and good luck for the coming year. The cake or bread usually contains symbolic items baked inside which is believed to give good luck to the receiver.
Most of the cakes are consumed at midnight on new year’s eve … though some cultures cut their cake on Christmas or the Epiphany on January 6th.
In January of 2019, Brion and I spent some vacation time in Merida, Mexico. We stayed at a wonderful boutique hotel called Hotel Del Peregrino. On the morning of January 6th we were served some Rosca de Reyes (cake/bread) at breakfast. This was the first time either of us had tasted this traditional bread. It was absolutely delicious and yes, you might have known, I would not only have to make some, but learn the history behind it.
January the 6th is a special day in Mexico, known as ‘Three Kings Day’, which represents the height of the Christmas season. This date marks the culmination of the 12 days of Christmas and commemorates the three wise men who traveled from afar, bearing gifts for the infant baby Jesus. The day when the wise men found the baby Jesus is known as Epiphany which is the event represented by the Rosca de Reyes.
The circular form of the rosca represents God’s eternal love which has no beginning or end. The dried candied fruits that adorn the bread symbolize the King’s crown, while the traditional figurines placed inside the bread represent the baby Jesus. Whoever finds this token is obligated to host an upcoming party on the occasion of ‘Candlemas Day’, a Christian holiday which occurs each year on February 2nd. The traditional menu for this event would be tamales and hot chocolate.
In researching the internet for a traditional recipe for the cake/bread it seems orange and vanilla were usually in the actual dough but as for the decorations, there were a lot of fruit and nut choices. Apart from the circular shape it looked like personal preference dictated your decoration design. Here’s my best interpretation of Rosca de Reyes!
Rosca de Reyes
In a small bowl, combine lukewarm water, yeast & a pinch of sugar; stir with a fork until dissolved. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes in a warm place until frothy.
In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, salt, anise seed & cinnamon. Make a well in the center of the flour & add eggs, yolk, cooled butter, orange zest & vanilla. Whisk to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry; using a wooden spoon, mix until a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix forms.
Place on a lightly floured work surface & start kneading until you have a smooth dough. It will take about 10 minutes to get good results. Be careful not to add to much flour to your work area, the texture should be soft, smooth & holds a ball shape.
Place in an buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to proof in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 -2 hours.
In a bowl, cream butter with sugar; add egg yolk & mix until combined. Add flour & continue to mix until a soft dough forms. Refrigerate if your not quite ready to use it yet.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. When dough has doubled in size, turn onto a lightly floured surface & knead a few times. Shape the dough into a large ring & place it on the prepared baking sheet. Seal the ends to close the ring. Loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or more until almost doubled in volume.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a small dish, whisk together egg wash. Divide the 'decoration dough' into 4-6 equal sections. Roll each with your hands until you get a strip long enough to decorate the ring. Brush dough with egg wash.
Place the 'decoration dough' strips around the ring, try to place them facing one another, then decorate the ring with candied or dry fruit such as mango, pineapple, cherries, figs, citron, orange or lemon peel or quince paste strips or any personal choice you wish. Once the ring is decorated, sprinkle it with sugar & sliced almonds.
Bake the bread for 20 minutes or until the bread is a nice golden brown color. Ovens vary so it may take a bit longer. Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool. After bread has cooled insert the plastic baby dolls from the bottom of bread. Some times the plastic dolls are inserted into the bread before baking, personally I think inserting them afterwards works just fine.
There are so many culinary uses for Medjool dates, in both sweet and savory dishes, whether served hot or cold. Often called the king of dates, not only because they are quite expensive but are highly treasured for their size and rich, intensely sweet flesh.
These special fruits are pricey because their cultivation is incredibly labor-intensive. In order to ensure quality and yield, Medjool date palms need to be hand pollinated, pruned, protected and hand picked. While growing, the date bunches are wrapped in bags to prevent the birds from snacking on them and to keep them from falling on the ground.
Dates are usually left to dry on the tree before being harvested, which accounts for their wrinkly appearance. This places them in a peculiar category of being both dried and fresh. Different types of dates have different textures that fall into three categories: soft (like Medjool); semi-soft, which are chewy and are pitted before packaging to dry a little more; and dry, which are often sun-dried after harvest and sold chopped.
Dates can be paired with lamb or chicken and spiced with Middle Eastern flavors or added to dried apricots, cranberries and toasted walnuts in rice or couscous accompaniments. Their caramel-like flavor adds a hint of the exotic to whatever you choose to use them in.
We had some extra apples I needed to do something with. The thought of pairing them with some Medjool dates and walnuts …. Yum!
Medjool Date & Apple Flans
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, & salt. Cut in white & yellow Crisco shortening. In a dish, whisk together water, egg & apple cider vinegar. Make a well in flour mixture & pour all wet ingredients in it. Combine just until pastry pulls away from the bowl.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry; cut out eight 6-inch pastry circles. They should fit nicely into the mini flan pans that measure about 4 1/2-inches in diameter & are 3/4-inch in height. Once you have the pastry you need for the shells, form the remaining pastry in a 'tube' shape. Set the pastry shells in the fridge while you prepare the filling. FREEZE THE TUBE OF PASTRY. This you will use to GRATE on top of the flans for the top crust.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add prepared apples & saute until they start to soften, about 10 minutes. Add spices & honey, combine & cook 1 minute. Take off heat & allow to cool to lukewarm.
Assembly & Baking
Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove mini flan shells from refrigerator & place on a baking sheet. Spoon some apple mixture in the bottom of each shell. Top each with a portion of the dates & walnuts, then evenly divide the remaining apple mixture between them. Remove the frozen 'tube' of pastry from freezer & grate (on a cheese grater). Sprinkle over mini flans.
Bake until nice & golden, about 35 minutes. Cool slightly. Whip cream with sugar, cinnamon & vanilla until stiff & serve on warm flans.