You either love ‘em, or you hate ‘em. When I was young, it was definitely a no from me. In fact, anyone that dished them out on Halloween was swiftly relegated to the “stink house” list that was circulated around the neighbourhood kids, never to be visited again. Thanks for nothing, old man Pickins!
As I’ve grown up, I’ve realised I’ve subliminally taken inspiration from the old fellas who gave out dates. Since becoming a chef I’ve been incorporating dates as a staple in some of my most iconic recipes that are still in my tool kit today. A fresh, hot buttered date and orange scone on Saturday morning after the boy’s sport, with a coffee, of course, is a timeless thing of beauty.
As an ingredient, dates set a rich, caramelly, sweet baseline. It’s versatile and works well with so many different flavours.
These little nuggets boast a pretty impressive list of benefits. The top of the list in my eyes is fibre. Now, if you’ve been paying attention to the big man and me over the last few years, you’ll know that if you are going to consume sugar, the best way to do this is in its most natural form. I’m talking about eating an apple instead of guzzling apple juice. This is down to fibre. Dates are arguably the best representation of this concept. There’s over 10% of your recommended daily fibre intake in about 4 dates. It’s for this reason that you’ll feel fuller for longer and due to the fibre acting as a buffer in your gut, sugar will be absorbed slower and more sustainably. Add to this a great source of potassium, which is fabulous for the ticker – and all muscles for that matter – and a group of hero compounds called polyphenols – micronutrients packed with antioxidants and potential health benefits. Dates are an absolute winner!
From a chef’s perspective, I love that we can incorporate dates into our products because they don’t dominate the other flavours we use. When added in the right quantities, they actually balance and enhance the likes of citrus, chocolate and peanut butter. Just as you add salt to your cooking to bring out natural flavours, natural sugars yield the same effect. Now, I’m not saying go and throw vast amounts of sugar into everything because we all know that’s not a good thing, but… if you need to sweeten something I know I’d rather be using a product that was nutritionally balanced over anything refined. Go with a date. It just feels right.
Maybe those “stink houses” were onto something. Food for thought.
Date and Orange Scones
Makes 12 big scones
This is a recipe that harks back to the days when I owned a Café with my mate. He’s an amazing baker, and these scones were a huge seller. I’m no baker but these are pretty easy.
- 1 ½ chopped oranges (skin and all)
- 225g chopped dates
- 15g mixed peel
- 400g orange juice.
- 720g Soft flour
- 32g Baking powder
- 13g Salt
- 8g Cinnamon
- 1/8 cup muscovado sugar
First, in a container add the orange, dates, mixed peel and OJ and soak for a few hours. This softens the dates and makes it easier to mix. Grab a big bowl and add all dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre and pour in your wet ingredients. Mix gently and carefully as not to over work the flour (you don’t want a tough scone) This mix wants to be only just incorporated. It’s better to under mix. When the mix looks mostly together tip out on to a surface. There’s going to be a few loose pieces and maybe some flour still to incorporate. Form the dough into a big square about 4 to 5 cm thick and cut into 12 (I like triangles). Transfer to a baking sheet.
Oven at 170c and chuck them in for around 20 mins in the middle of the oven. Feel free to rotate the tray half way through to get a good even doneness. They are ready when they spring back to the touch and have a golden-brown look to them. Great with a coffee.