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  • Writer's pictureHila

Candy does grow on trees

Updated: Dec 31, 2023


In the late 18th century, it was mandatory for Jews in Europe to adopt fixed family names. My ancestors, expressing their affinity to the holy land, chose the name of a tree that grows there: Teitelbaum, which means date palm tree in German.


My grandfather, Yaakov Teitelbaum, immigrated with his wife Shoshana to Israel in 1936. Their first son (my father) was born two years later in Tel Aviv, where towering unbranched trunks crowned with spreading leaves resembling lollipops were part of the surrounding landscape. Early in the 1950s the Teitelbaum family joined the widespread trend of surnames Hebraization, which aimed to provide a feeling of belonging to the new state, and adopted the name Tamari- a variation of the word Tamar, which means in Hebrew date- the fruit of the palm tree.


Dates have been cultivated in the Middle East since ancient times. They are listed in the bible as one of the seven species- the special products of the Land of Israel, and when the promised land of Israel is described as “a land flowing with milk and honey..." (Exodus 3:8), it is generally believed that it is referring to date honey rather than bee honey. According to one interpretation, manna, the edible substance that “fell from the sky” (Exodus 16) and energized the Israelites during their 40 years of traveling in the desert was palm tree nectar dripping from the clusters of fruit hanging underneath the tree's fronds.


There are hundreds of types of dates. Some are soft and not as sweet and tender as the semi-dry and dry variants, which are harvested fully ripe when the sun has already dried them on the tree. With a chewy fudgy interior, these dates resemble candy. They naturally grow in a snack size, can be eaten out of hand, and are packed with sugar.


But, unlike heavily processed candy that consists of refined sugar, artificial bright colors, and is wrapped in cellophane paper, candy-like dates grow on trees; Their thin wrap (their skin) is edible, and despite being very sweet, they are very nutritious. Dates are rich in dietary fibers, proteins, minerals, and B vitamins. They are also a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants.


The fruit that had been a staple in Middle Eastern cuisines for thousands of years has recently found its way into the US mainstream as an ingredient in energy bars and nutritious desserts. In Sweettahini, we embrace dates in every possible way, and along with using them as the base ingredient for our rolls, we also use Silan (date syrup produced by heating dates in water to soften, then blended and strained to remove pits and cooked again until all the water has been evaporated) to add a sweet note or to enhance the flavors in many of our recipes.


My grandfather passed away in 2000, shortly after the new millennium began. The palm tree we planted as kids in front of his house grew tall and to this day still stands. His eldest son, my father, passed away two years later and we planted a dwarf palm tree next to his gravestone. My brothers’ families carry the name Tamari to the next generation, and I kept this name in the family by naming my youngest daughter Tamar.


Top photo: The 4th generation of the Tamari family standing on a dates harvesting vehicle in a palm tree orchard in Ein Yahav, Israel. (Dec. 2019)


Let's get into the kitchen!





Date & Tahini Rolled Cookies


These cookies are inspired by Ma'amoul - a Middle Eastern cookie stuffed with date paste or chopped walnuts or pistachios and dusted with powdered sugar. The traditional Ma'amoul is pinched after being shaped into a ball or pressed into a special mold for a pretty design, a very time-consuming process that required a lot of patience. I use a similar buttery crispy dough to make these cookies, roll the dough and spread a dates and tahini, then roll it into a log and sliced into small pieces.

A combination of both butter and vegetable oil gives the cookies a tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture. It's not an overly sweet cookie, no sugar is added to the dough, and the tahini in the filling balances the sweetness of the dates. Be generous and spread a thick layer of filling on the dough to make it truly notable in every single bite.


Makes 40 cookies


Ingredients

Dough:

  • 3.5 cups (500 gr) unbleached all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons (6 gr) baking powder

  • 200 gr butter, soften

  • 1/4 cup (50 gr) canola, or other neutral oil

  • 1/2 cup (120 gr) water, at room temperature

Filling:

  • 290 gr date paste (available in Middle Eastern grocery stores)

  • 1/2 cup (120 gr) tahini Paste

  • 1 1/2 (4 gr) teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 cup of water, more if needed


Preparation

  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixer bowl with the dough hook attachment. Mix just until large and moist lumps of dough have formed (do not overmix, it will result in a very tough chewy cookie), then stop the mixer and bring it all together with your hands.

  2. Remove the dough from the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour or overnight.

  3. Prepare the filling: mix all ingredients in a glass bowl, and add a bit of water to break the date paste apart, you can also heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds pulses if the paste is too tough. Repeat until the mixture is soft and spreadable, but not too runny.

  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F and line 2 baking pans with baking paper.

  5. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, roll each piece into a 12″x8″ rectangle, and spread a thin layer of the filling, leaving a 1" surface with no filling at the far end.

  6. Roll the dough starting from the end closer to you. Once you have rolled the dough, place it in the baking pan seam side down. Use a sharp knife to make deep 1″ wide cuts along with the entire roll. No need to separate the cookies, leave them as is on the sheet. Repeat the same with the rest of the dough parts.

  7. Bake just until the bottom of the cookies is lightly golden brown (check after about 15 mins, then rotate the pans and bake for extra 10 mins or so ), the top of the cookies should be pale, and not browned at all.

  8. Remove from the oven and cool completely, then separate the cookies and dust with confection sugar.

  9. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, it also freezes well.


Notes

If you have an extra filling left, freeze it for next time or use it as a spread on toast or blend it into plain yogurt.

If you somehow ended up not having enough filling for all 4 dough parts, improvise with any other spread you have at home: fruit jam, or tahini mixed with an equal amount of honey (add some chopped nuts or almond flour, so the filling won't be too runny), peanut butter or commercial chocolate spread will work too.



























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