Remember the post about Middle Eastern (Arab) date biscuits? A memory of that, plus a cupboard full of dates, pushed me to try my talents with date fingers. Outcome: a pile of deliciousness which caused my boyfriend’s delighted sigh.
The recipe was found on and adapted from a Washington Post blog – it originally came from the book “The Arab Table” by May S. Bsisu. I managed to do without a food processor or mahlab. Next time I’m also going to skip the cardamom as its flavour was too strong for me.
Middle Eastern Date Fingers (Assabeh Tamr)
3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mahlab/mahleb*
1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and clarified
1 cup (200 ml) whole milk
1 pound (450 g) pitted Medjool dates
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cardamom*
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 saffron thread
sesame seeds to sprinkle on biscuits
Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, anise, salt and mahlab in a bowl, mix. In a separate bowl, mix the melted butter with milk. Gradually add wet ingredients to the dry mixture, and pulse in a food processor until dough comes together. (In reality you don’t even need a food processor for this dough – I just use a big spoon and then my hands to finish). Transfer dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for two hours.
Meanwhile make the filling: combine the dates, butter, cardamom and cinnamon in bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade, and pulse until mixture forms a smooth paste. (Again, with the lack of food processor what I do is chop the dates, throw them in a pot, heat a little bit with the butter and spices and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a paste – about 5 minutes.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F /about 200°C. Prepare ideally a flat baking tray with a sheet of non-stick paper on it.
Divide dough into thirds, as well as filling. On a lightly floured surface, use hand to roll one piece of the dough into a 3/4 inch /2 cm thick rope. Flatten with the tips of your fingers until it is two inches wide. On a clean surface, roll one piece of the date filling into a 1/4 inch-thick rope. Place date rope down the middle of the dough, and pinch dough together to conceal it. Roll filled dough under your hands to seal and smooth the rope. Using the back of a fork, make a decorative pattern along the length of the dough. Cut the dough into 1-inch ” fingers ” and place them close together on prepared baking sheet. Brush each cookie with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds; bake until golden, about 20 minutes (check after 17 minutes just in case!). Cool on wire racks – or by an open window.
Cookies will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before serving.
*The recipe works well if you only use cinnamon. Mahlab can be hard to find in the shops and I find that cardamom tastes too strong for me.