Date and Nut Truffles
Back in November when I was doing a brief (but godforsaken) pre-wedding cleanse, the only ‘indulgence’ they allowed was a mid-morning snack or 1/4 cup dried fruit and nuts. At the time, I was so hungry that a dirty sock would have tasted good, yet I was still surprised by how that scant portion of sugar and protein managed to stabilize my nerves and thwart the hunger pains until I could scarf down my dinner of steamed cabbage and brown rice.
Man oh man, I am never doing that again.
Anyway, my point is that there’s something innately satisfying about a quick munch of fruit and nuts, and you end up feeling far more virtuous afterward than if the 2pm blues happen to slide a chocolate bar across your desk, or a package of salty and delicious crisps that leave greasy finger print marks on the keyboard.
These date and nut ‘truffles’ are a variation of a classic Middle Eastern sweet treat that often shares space on the dessert tray beside baklawa (baklava), halva, and nammoura. My mother’s favorite Lebanese confection is mahmoul, a rich shortbread like pastry stuffed with dates, walnut and pistachio and dusted with a light coating of icing sugar. The inside of mahmoul is sweet from the fruit and gently scented with orange blossom water, and the sugary rich dates against the ground nuts tastes simply divine.
For a simple and easy ‘no bake’ version, I omit all that pesky cookie dough and bring us right back in to focus on the good stuff; sweet fruit and a rich nut filling. Spiced with cardamon and cinnamon, these little truffles are a delicious way to bring the flavors of a Middle East bakery into your home, with the added bonus of knowing that you’re doing something good for your body…even if they taste so sweet that they must be wicked.
Date and Nut Truffles
Makes appx 50-60 small balls
- 3.5 cups pitted dried dates (1.2 lb/550 g)
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup unsalted almonds
- 3/4 cup unsalted shelled pistachios
- 3-4 tbsp warm water
- 1 tsp orange blossom water *
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamon **
- 1/8 tsp salt
*Orange blossom water can be found in most Middle Eastern groceries or specialty shops. If you absolutely cannot find orange blossom water, substitute 1 tsp of finely grated orange peel.
** Ground cardamon is one of the first spices to lose its flair when left sitting unattended in your pantry for too long, so always buy smaller quantities and use it as quickly as possible. If your cardamon is starting to age, increase the amount to 1/2 tsp or more as you see fit.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF. Spread the almonds in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 3-4 minutes or until they’re starting to glisten and smell fragrant. Shake the pan halfway through to ensure that the nuts toast evenly and do not burn.
If you don’t feel like heating up your oven for a single pan of nuts, feel free to toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over medium heat until they smell nutty.
Let the nuts cool slightly and then pulse the almond and pistachio in a food processor until you they are coarsely ground and still have a few rather substantial chunks.
Set the chopped nuts aside and measure 3/4 cup back into the food processor. Pulse this portion until you have fine crumbs. Set the crumbs aside in a separate bowl from the coarse nuts.
Coarsely chop the pitted dates to make things about easier on your poor beleaguered food processor, and add the salt, ground spices and orange blossom water. Pour in 3 tablespoons of water and pulse the mixture until it starts to form a rough paste.
Your food processor will not like this too much because the dates are going to gum it up and make the chopping rather difficult, so pulse rather than trying to blend and stop to scrape down the sides and bottom every couple of seconds. If the mixture seems dry rather than tacky, add another 1 tablespoon of water to the mix.
Add the dried cranberries and coarsely ground nuts to the bowl of your food processor and pulse again until combined. Adding the nuts will actually help the mixture to hold together and grind better than when the dates were alone. Pulse just until everything is well mixed but the nuts are still chunky.
With the date and nut mixture in one bowl and your ground nuts in another, pinch off about a teaspoon full of the date mixture and roll it into a ball. Press the balls into the ground nuts and then space them apart on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.
When you’re forming the balls, be sure to keep your hands moist and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time. The date mixture is rather sticky, to say the least.
The balls can be left at room temperature for up to 2 days, or pack them into a container in your fridge for over a week.
As perfect for an on-the-go snack in the morning as they are with thick and bold Turkish coffee in the afternoon, these are one sweet treat that you won’t feel guilty about.
My favorite part of these truffles is how decadent they taste without a lick of extra fat or sugar in the mix. I brought a batch to a friend’s house last weekend, and every time someone started to complement me on how delicious they were I felt compelled to interrupt and crow, “NO extra sugar! That’s just dates, baby! OOOH-yeah!!! GO DATE BALLS, GO!!”
I think I’m going to make these for my Dad next week. Not because it’s Father’s Day or anything, just because I love him and I know that he’ll adore these little confections as much as we do. Well, and also because I think I owe him one after this.