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  • Writer's pictureHila

Candy does grow on trees


In the late 18th century, European Jews were required to adopt fixed family names. Demonstrating their connection to the holy land, my ancestors chose "Teitelbaum," a name inspired by a tree native to that region. In German, "Teitelbaum" means "date palm tree."


My grandfather, Yaakov Teitelbaum, immigrated to Israel with his wife, Shoshana, in 1936. Two years later, they welcomed their first son—my father—in Tel Aviv, a city dotted with palm trees whose tall, unbranched trunks and lollipop-like crowns of leaves characterized the landscape. In the early 1950s, many families Hebraized their surnames as part of a movement to foster a sense of identity with the newly established state. Embracing this trend, the Teitelbaums changed their name to Tamari, a variation of "Tamar," the Hebrew word for "date," the fruit the palm tree bears.


Dates have been cultivated in the Middle East since ancient times and are mentioned in the Bible as one of the seven species unique to the Land of Israel. When the Promised Land is depicted as "a land flowing with milk and honey..." (Exodus 3:8), it is widely believed that "honey" refers to date honey, not bee honey. One interpretation suggests that manna, the edible substance that "fell from the sky" (Exodus 16) and sustained the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, was palm tree nectar dripping from the fruit clusters beneath 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, harvested fully ripe when the sun has 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.


However, dates are a natural, tree-grown alternative, unlike heavily processed candy made from refined sugar, artificial colors, and wrapped in cellophane. Their edible skin serves as a natural wrapping, and although they are very sweet, dates are also highly nutritious. They are rich in dietary fibers, proteins, minerals, and B vitamins and are an excellent source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants.


The fruit that had been a staple in Middle Eastern cuisines for thousands of years has found its way into the modern US mainstream as an ingredient in energy bars and nutritious desserts. At Sweet Tahini, tahini, we embrace dates in every possible way. We blend dates into our products and use dates and date syrup (made by simmering dates in water until soft, blending and straining out the pits, and then cooking down the liquid until all the water evaporates) in various recipes we share on our blog and cooking classes.


My grandfather passed away in 2000, just after the new millennium began. The palm tree we planted as children in front of his house has grown tall and still stands today. Two years later, my father, his eldest son, passed away, and we planted a dwarf palm tree next to his gravestone. My brothers' families have carried the name Tamari into the next generation, and I have continued this tradition by naming my youngest daughter Tamar.


Top photo: The fourth generation of the Tamari family stands on a date-harvesting vehicle in a palm tree orchard in Ein Yahav, Israel. (December 2019)


Now, 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, 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 unique mold for a pretty design. This very time-consuming process required a lot of patience. I use a similar buttery, crispy dough to make these cookies; roll the dough, spread dates and tahini, then roll it into a log and slice it into small pieces.

Combining butter and vegetable oil gives the cookies a tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture. They're not overly sweet; 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 filling layer on the dough to make it notable in every bite.


Makes 40 cookies


Ingredients

Dough:

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

·       2 teaspoons (6 gr) baking powder

·       1 Tablespoon (10 gr) confection (powdered) sugar.

·       1 cup (200 gr) canola or other neutral oil

·       1/3 cup (80 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.     Prepare the dough: Combine all ingredients in a mixer bowl with the dough hook attachment. Mix 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 and divide it into 4 pieces. 

3.     Prepare the filling: Mix all ingredients in a glass bowl and add water to break the date paste apart. Heat the paste in the microwave for 30 seconds if it is too hard. Repeat until the mixture is soft and spreadable but not too runny. If the mixture is too thick, blend in a bit of water.

4.     Preheat the oven to 350F and line 2 baking pans with baking paper.

5.     Roll each dough 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.     Cut the rectangle into 1 “straps and roll each into a cookie.

7. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, just until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly golden brown. The tops should be pale and not browned at all.

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

 

Notes

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

If you somehow didn't have enough filling for all four dough parts, improvise with any other spread you have at home: fruit jam, 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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