If anyone were to ask me about my favourite snack in 2015, I would have to say anything involving medjool dates. Work has been busy these past few months with plenty of late nights eating take-away sushi in the office. Yet however late I get home from the office I always want little bit of time for myself before going to bed. If time allows, my favourite way to wind down after a busy day at work is to curl up on the sofa, even if only for 30 minutes, a cup of tea in one hand and a new cookbook to browse in my lap. And because I have a raging sweet tooth, I will often also eat a medjool date with a square or two of dark chocolate and a pinch of sea salt. I would never claim that medjool dates taste exactly like caramel (they don’t, they just taste like dates). But the combination of dark chocolate, dates and sea salt is terrific in its own right (and, at least in my eyes, not unlike the good old Rolo chocolates). So after I kept on buying box after box of the sweetest and plumpest medjool dates at my local organic supermarket (I adore them so much I even took a box home to my parents in Germany), I started thinking about using dates, dark chocolate and sea salt in a dessert. A date ‘caramel’ twist on Millionaire’s Shortbread soon popped into my head. It sounded delicious but I also wanted to make sure the end result would not feel like a lesser version of the original. Eventually I settled on this tahini and date caramel version with plenty of tahini and sesame seeds and I am glad I did. The cardamom shortbread layer is wonderfully fragrant, the medjool date and tahini ‘caramel’ layer is as tooth-achingly sweet and gooey as the original and the tahini adds richness while also cutting through some of the sweetness of the medjool dates. And the toasted sesame seeds? Not only do they make these bars look pretty, they also provide a bit of bite – a nice contrast against the crumble shortbread, the soft date ‘caramel’ and the fudgey ganache.
Summer is dragging its heels a bit in Brussels this year, yet we are being told that temperatures will reach the thirties next week and I cannot wait. Alessandro and I haven’t quite finalised our summer holiday plans yet. And until we do I am looking forward to slow mornings sipping iced coffee on my balcony, sunny morning runs around the lakes here in Brussels and impromptu picnics in one of Brussels’ many parks. And as much as I adore this season for all the sweet-as-candy strawberries, lip-staining cherries and apricots so ripe and soft they barley survive the walk home from the farmers market and that are all shouting to be turned into pies, galettes and ice cream, nothing beats a decadent chocolate-based treat and these Tahini and Date Caramel Shortbread Bars fit that bill perfectly. Tahini and Date Caramel Shortbread Bars
Note: These were inspired by my love for the combination of medjool dates, dark chocolate and sea salt. And then this conversation happened with Sarah and Milli. You probably have to be a medjool date lover to enjoy these. If medjool dates are not your thing, I would suggest replacing the date ‘caramel’ layer with an equal amount of dulce de leche into which you can stir the tahini and sea salt.
For the Cardamom Shortbread
125g butter, at room temperature
125g spelt flour or all purpose flour
50g rice flour (alternatively you can use corn flour or tapioca starch)
Seeds of 2 cardamom pods, finely ground
A pinch of salt
150g dark chocolate (70 per cent), finely chopped
Pinch of salt
For the Date ‘Caramel’
200g pitted medjool dates
Salt to taste
To garnish: 50g toasted white sesame seeds, sea salt
Start with the shortbread. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a round tart pan with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (the softer the butter is, the quicker this will be – in any event this should take no more than ca. 5 minutes). In a separate bowl whisk together the spelt flour, the rice flour, the ground cardamom and the salt. Add to your mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or a plastic spatula work the flour into the beaten butter. At first the mixture will seem impossibly dry and as though the dough will never absorb all the flour, but just persevere, sooner or later almost all of the butter will have been absorbed into the dough. To mix the last remaining bits of flour into the dough, I like using a silicone spatula in a cutting motion. Once all the flour has been absorbed, press the dough into the tart pan until it covers the base of the tart pan and has an even thickness of around 1/2cm. Prick the dough with a fork all over, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to firm up for ca. 15 minutes. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until just starting to colour. Set aside to cool (and firm up).
While the shortbread is baking, prepare the ganache. Melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler. In a separate bowl mix the tahini with the sea salt, then stir in the melted chocolate until combined. Set aside.
Place the pitted dates into a bowl and pour enough boiling water into the bowl to just cover the dates. Set aside to soak for 10 minutes (this will help soften the dates). Drain and discard the water and add the dates to the bowl of a food processor, followed by the tahini and the sea salt. Pulse until the mixture is completely smooth (this should take no more than ca. 1 minute). Set aside.
Once the shortbread base has come to room temperature, spread the date ‘caramel’ in an even layer all over its base. Next, pour the tahini ganache over the date ‘caramel’. Set aside to allow the ganache to firm up a little bit then scatter the toasted sesame seeds and the sea salt over the chocolate ganache (if you do this while the ganache is still very liquid, the sesame seeds and the sea salt will simply sink and disappear into the ganache). Set aside until completely firm before cutting the shortbread into square bars.