Caesar would have liked my date muffins. I think you will, too.

Breads and Muffins / March 2, 2016

When I travel to Europe for the very first time, I’m not sure I will opt for the obvious choices of Italy and France. I believe I will want to immerse myself in cultures that are far less familiar. Perhaps in the Middle East or Africa, where food is exotic and mysterious and history literally bulges from every grain of sand. And while there, I might request a taste of something transcendent; something that has been around for millennia. And that would be the Medjool date.

There’s so much to learn about dates. They are known to be more than 6,000 years old, which is why I implied the Roman Emporer might have considered these a great power snack between battles. And as the story goes, the first Medjool date trees were planted in America in the Coachella Valley in the 1920’s. Today 75 percent of the Medjool dates are grown in this region. And still you may say you’e never had one!? (Want to buy some direct? Here’s the link!)

Growing up in Southern California, with a father who was raised in the desert city of Indio, which is right smack dab in the middle of the Coachella Valley, afforded me the chance to grow up enjoying this rare treat on a very regular basis. When you bite into a date it explodes in your mouth with velvety sweetness. The grainy sugars are so smooth and they sensually impart their flavors of honey, cinnamon, and caramel without begging or ceremony.

As a teenager my maternal grandmother used to make date preserves to create her famous stuffed date cookies. I devoured them as fast as they came out of the oven. Even now I can smell them and recall exactly what it’s like to bit into one.

Today, my father still orders his dates, with the seeds, from the Coachella Valley. He says they’re better unseeded and in reality, the seeds pop right out so de-seeding is a no-labor proposition. When he does buy a huge pack on the internet, he always offers me a bag of them to enjoy as treats or to use in my cooking.

Such was the case this weekend when I created my fresh date muffins with toasted almonds. I found that just a hint of cardamom made them so amazing that you found yourself swooning with every bite. It seems to change where you taste them, transporting the sweetness up into the top of your palette and out through your eyes and nose. It is just an amazing experience. And they’re easy to make.

​Caesar would be so proud…or jealous?


Medjool Date and Brown Sugar Muffins

With Toasted Almonds and a Maple Glaze

Ingredients:

1C fresh pitted and chopped Medjool dates
2 1/3 C self-rising flour
¼ C sugar
¼ C brown sugar
1 t baking powder
¼ t cardamom powder
½ t kosher salt
1 t vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 C 2% milk
1 T light oil (such as sunflower)
½ C thinly sliced almonds (I used Trader
Joe’s brand)
Butter to great muffin tins


Glaze:
  • 2 T maple syrup, ½ C powdered sugar, dash of kosher salt, and milk, just a bit at a time, to moisten to glaze consistency.

Direction:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Toss the chopped dates in a little flour, and work with your hands to gently coat and separate most if not all the individual pieces of the chopped dates. In a separate large mixing bowl, add the flour, sugars, salt, baking powder, and cardamom and mix well with a fork. In another bowl combine the egg, milk and vanilla and whisk until the egg is blended. Now, add the liquid to the flour mixture and stir just until combines. No aggressive stirring. Just get all the flour incorporated. Now using a spatula, fold in the dates until mixed throughout, folding from the bottom as you go and blending well.
  • Grease the bottoms of a 6-count jumbo muffin tin with butter. Divide the batter evenly among the 6 openings. Sprinkle each with about 1 T of the almonds and cook for about 25 minutes of 375 degrees, then lower to 350 degrees and cook for another 5-6 minutes or until the almonds are toasted and the muffins are browned. Muffins are done when you a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove and cool on a rack. Drizzle with glaze, serve.


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