Ever since my visit to Vienna, my family is hooked on fresh dates. I brought home a box of fresh dates from Nasch Markt and once home I introduced my parents to really good fleshy dates filled with walnuts. Knowing only the dried out skinny dates sold here in supermarkets they weren't too eager to try. I insisted...they sampled...and were hooked as well. I already knew where I have to go and look for really good dates here in Holland (not in the supermarkets ;-)).
Try to find those carton boxes from Persia/Iraq, (Medhjool!) in whole sale markets or Turkish stores, open the box and check the content, take them home and enjoy! If you grew up on those thready skinny ones you are in for a surprise! A very 70's way of serving dates is to fill them with cream cheese, but I would strongly recommend to just squeeze a walnut in, pop in your mouth. Delicious. Or...wrap some bacon around and grill for a minute or two... heaven!
As it is, crushes on certain kinds of food come and go with my children, and all of a sudden the dates weren't disappearing but instead this orphaned half filled box stood there. I decided to make little date filled pastries.
Ba'a'be or Date Pastries
(Adapted from A Blessing of Bread, by Maggie Glezer)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 + 2 tbs cold water (85 gr)
1/2 ts baking powder
about 1.3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (250gr + 1 heaped tbs)
8 tbs butter/dairy free margarine (I think the dairy-free is religious based and not exactly necessary for the recipe? I used half butter, half margarine)
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 cup pitted soft dates
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
To coat and brush:
1 egg, beaten
Make the dough:
Stir the salt into the water until it dissolves. Put the flour in the work bowl of a food processor, add baking powder and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until all the flour is coated with the butter and the mixture has a crumbly texture. Pour in oil and salted water and pulse until ingredients form a ball. This is where I added the extra tbs of flour, but be careful, the heat generated by the food processor mixing will warm the butter and thus, soften your dough. Don't be tempted to add too much flour. Your dough ball is very, very soft and supple but still holds together very well. Let this rest (I bagged it and refrigerated) while you make the filling.
Make the filling:
In a saute pan over low heat, heat the dates just until they are warm to the touch, then turn off the heat. Using your hands, knead the dates into the oil in the pan. When the filling is smooth and cohesive, roll the filling up into 16 tablespoon-sized balls with your hands, setting the balls on a plate. You'll end up with a warm, gooey sticky mass and it helps a lot to wet your hands while forming balls. Repeat when necessary.
Shape and bake the ba'a'be: Arrange the oven racks on the upper- and lower-third positions. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200C). Lightly flour a work surface and have more flour available. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper, or oil or butter them. Have ready the date balls, the beaten egg and the sesame seeds. Roll out the dough into an 18-inch-square. Cut out circles of dough, using a 3- to 4-inch-diameter (10 cm) glass, teacup or cookie cutter, cut out circles of the dough. Put a slightly flattened date ball in the center of each and seal the dough around the ball.
Pinching each pastry by the seal, dip the smooth half first in the beaten egg, then in the sesame seeds. On your work surface, with the seeded-side up, flatten each pastry into a 2-inch disk with a rolling pin. Punch a decorative pattern into the pastry with the end of a wooden spoon. Arrange the ba'a'be on the baking sheet, leaving room for expansion.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until light brown. Cool thoroughly on a rack, then store them in a sealed container. Yield: about 16 date-filled pastries.
They will keep for up to 2 days at room temperature (sealed container) or up to two weeks in the refrigerator. (They can also be frozen, in a tightly sealed container, for several months).
Verdict: I like them a lot. At first I wasn't too sure. The pastry, although very easy to work with, seemingly needed the flavour of some delicious filling and the dates, simple as it is, didn't promise to add much in the way of flavour..... I was so wrong! The pastry dough is light and crumbly and sets off the filling beautifully, each of them complementing the other. Absolutely a keeper!
(And if you have the chance read Maggie Glezer's story on Mrs. Horesh from which she learned this recipe, it's fun!)