Roasted Medjool Dates Stuffed with Cashews, Currants, and Candied Citrus
Dates are loaded with natural sweetness, but it is challenging to actually taste their flavor. To bring out the underlying flavor of dates, I like to cook them in a slightly sweet Madeira, a Portuguese fortified wine.
The dates in this recipe are just barely infused with Madeira and vanilla, preserving the dates’ intrinsic and delectable creamy texture. The candied citrus is a necessary extra step, but candied fruit will last in the refrigerator for months. The filling, with its candied Meyer lemon and kumquats, currants, and cashews, provides an acidic, fruity, crunchy, and nutty counterweight to the richness and sweetness of the dates.
Storage: The stuffed dates will keep, wrapped and at room temperature, for 3 days or refrigerated for 1 week.
Dates: The date tree, incredibly tall, a sponge for water, yet easily chopped down, exists in arid climates producing a tiny calorie-laden fruit that enables people to survive in a desert landscape with depleted food resources and water. Medjool date palms were brought to this country from the Middle East in the 1920s and are currently grown in the hot desert areas of Southern California and Arizona. They are an incredibly labor-intensive fruit to grow and harvest. The trees are tall and have enormous thorns that grow along the trunk. The thorns must be removed so that workers can climb the trunks safely in order to manage the fruit throughout the growing season. Once the trees are de-thorned, they have to be hand-pollinated, because the native middle eastern bee that typically pollinates the flowers does not live here.
Dates grow in enormous clusters, and as they develop into pea-to grape-size fruits, the workers must pick out a third of the underdeveloped fruits to thin the bunches out so that the remaining dates can grow into larger fruits. Because these clusters are still crowded, workers must insert metal rings into the bunches to spread out the fruit and allow air to circulate through and around all the fruit. Date clusters, toward the end of their maturity, are yellow or red, hard and crunchy, sweet yet somewhat astringent, and full of water. In middle eastern countries dates are often picked and sold at this point in their maturity.
“Dried dates” as we know them are allowed to stay on the tree and further ripen. Workers wrap the date clusters with a cheesecloth-like material or cover them with brown bags, which protect the dates not only from birds, some insects, and excess rain or humidity but also from some sun, yielding the unique texture of a fruit matured and “dried” on the tree-moist, creamy, yet slightly wrinkled, chewy, and browned. Unlike other dried fruits, once dates are harvested, there is no further drying process, so they’re ready to eat once picked.
Serves12 to 14
Total Timeunder 2 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionBuffet, Cocktail Party, Formal Dinner Party
Equipmentbaking/gratin dish, food processor
Taste and Texturechewy, crunchy, fruity, nutty, sweet
Type of Dishdessert, fruit
- 12 to 14 Medjool dates (12 ounces) (see Notes)
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup Madeira, medium sweetness
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup (2½ ounces) roasted, unsalted cashews
- ¼ cup (1 ounce) packed currants
- 1 teaspoon dark rum
- 1 tablespoon chopped candied kumquat (or candied orange)
- 1 tablespoon chopped candied Meyer lemon
- 1 tablespoon candied Meyer lemon syrup
- Small glass or metal baking dish large enough to hold the dates in one layer
- Food processor or coffee grinder
Prepare the dates:
Preheat the oven to 325°F. With a paring knife, make a slit down the long side of each date. Gently pry open the date and remove the pit. Place the dates, cut side down, in a baking dish.
Run a paring knife down the center of 1 vanilla bean. Split it open with your fingers and use the knife to scrape out the tiny black seeds into a small saucepan. Add the vanilla pod (or vanilla extract), Madeira, and sugar and simmer over medium heat for 4 minutes. Pour the hot syrup over the dates and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the dates from the oven, flip them over so that the cut side faces up, cover, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, uncover, and allow the dates to cool. Remove the vanilla bean, dry it, and save it for another use.
Prepare the filling:
Grind the cashews in a food processor or coffee grinder. Place the currants in a bowl and sprinkle the rum over them. Add the cashews, candied citrus, and cadied citrus syrup and mix together to form a paste.
Stuff the dates:
Remove the dates from the syrup and arrange them on a tray, cut side up. Stuff a small portion of filling into the cavity of the date, allowing some filling to mound on the top. Press the 2 halves of the date together a round the filling.
Serve these dates warm, with the Madeira cooking syrup drizzled on the plate. A small dollop of crème fraîche will complement these sweet dates perfectly. At Chanterelle we serve these dates with the Goat Cheesecake.
2006 Kate Zuckerman