spiced date and almond cigars with saffron honey


Those of you who regularly read this blog would be aware of my long-standing obsession with Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s something to do with the fragrant mix of spices, delicate florals, bleeding saffron and the earthy crunch of nuts, occasionally punctuated by sweet bursts of pomegranate or quince. It’s breathtaking art, both on the plate and the palate. I doubt that my adoration will ever wane.

Recently, my love of Israeli food has translated to an obsession with Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. Two months ago, I purchased both Plenty and Jerusalem; both have subsequently been pored over at least once per week. I’ve made a few of his vegetable recipes, from this green herb salad to an adapted version of braised artichokes with freekeh. However, prior to last weekend I was yet to attempt one of his fragrant desserts.


pistachiosmpCue last Saturday. Aaron and I had invited some friends over for dinner in a ‘Moroccan feasting tent’ (a.k.a an abstract tent of sheets, blankets and rough twine that had initially been assembled for the entertainment of our nephew and nieces who had stayed over the previous weekend). Here’s a small snapshot of the ‘roof’:


I lovingly planned the menu: slow cooked lamb in spices and preserved lemon, flatbread with za’atar, split pea dip, beetroot with labneh, marinated sweet peppers and roasted carrots with pistachios, pomegranate and mint.

After some consideration, I decided to attempt an adaptation of Ottolenghi’s sweet pastry cigars with almond and cinnamon filling for dessert.


For personal reasons, I drastically reduced the sugar in Ottolenghi’s recipe, omitting the saffron icing and exchanging most of the sugar in the filling for chopped Medjool dates. When cooked, the dates formed a beautiful soft caramel that intermingled beautifully with the chopped nuts and spices.

Before serving with vanilla bean ice cream, I drizzled over some saffron and orange blossom infused raw honey, scattering over sweet crushed pistachios and dried rose petals.


The finished dish was a beautiful marriage of textures, colours and flavours. Each bite provided the crunch of fried pastry, the soft complexity of the date and nut filling, sweet fragrant honey and floral rose petals.

We enjoyed the cigars alongside creamy vanilla bean ice cream, however for those of you who avoid dairy, these cigars are perfectly beautiful when eaten on their own. Their natural sweetness would be a perfect pick-me-up on a dreary afternoon.


Spiced Date and Almond Cigars with Saffron Honey

Adapted from this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 8 large or 16 small cigar pastries

  • 40 g finely chopped walnuts
  • 60 g finely chopped almonds
  • 60g Medjool dates (about 4), stoned and chopped
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 20 g raw caster sugar
  • 75 ml water
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt
  • 3 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1 medium egg, separated
  • 16 filo pastry sheets (12 cm x 18 cm)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) sunflower oil (approximately), for frying

To serve:

  • 2 tbsp raw honey (I used Dean’s Bees unprocessed honey from Urban Locavore)
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp roasted, coarsely crushed pistachios
  • unsprayed dried rose petals (optional), crushed

Place the walnuts, almonds, dates, cinnamon, sugar, water and salt into a medium pan.

fillingpotGently heat over a low flame, stirring regularly for about four minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the dates have softened and broken down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Whisk in the lemon rind and the egg yolk (place the white into a small bowl, you will require it to roll the pastries) to create a thick, sticky mixture like this:


Set the filling aside. Place 1 filo pastry sheet onto a clean, dry surface with the longest edge facing you. Spread about three tsp of the nut mixture (15-20g) (about 3 tsp) in a long, thin strip along the edge closest to you (leave a 1cm gap on the right and left sides).


Fold the two sides in, sticking the pastry down over the paste to hold in the filling. Roll the pastry forwards (away from you) to create a compact cigar.

rollingBrush the last 1cm of the pastry with egg white, then fold to seal the end. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.

Pour enough oil into a medium, heavy based frying pan to reach 2cm up the side of the pan (note: I actually added much less oil that this and they cooked beautifully, so use your discretion). Heat to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f) or until a cube of bread sizzles and cooks, turning gently brown in about 20 seconds.

Gently add the cigars to the pan, in batches if necessary, cooking for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp all over (reduce the heat if they start to blacken or burn).


Remove each cigar with a slotted spoon. Drain on some paper towels.


To make the infused honey: gently heat the honey in a small saucepan over low heat until warm and fragrant. Turn off the heat and add in the pinch of saffron, leave for 5-10 minutes to infuse. Splash in a little orange blossom water to taste. Mix well.

Slice each cigar on an angle into two or three pieces to serve. Drizzle with infused honey and scatter with pistachios and rose petals, if desired.


91 responses

  1. Oh, my gosh. I want the entire dinner. I would wallow out, but I wouldn’t care. Slow cooked lamb and these for dessert! I should have jumped on that airplane and made it down so you would make these for me. Alas, I must attempt them for myself. Have a wonderful rest of your week, my dear.

    • Aw, I wish you, Stephie and the family could’ve been here Julie. It would have been a grand occasion! Maybe one day when we get a rich benefactor who will fly us everywhere :) We were definitely full afterwards. We ended up leaving the dessert for an hour after eating, that’s a rare thing for me! Hope that the rest of your week goes well too xx

  2. I love Ottolenghi as well—something’s going on these days–it’s Ottolenghi fever! Your dinner party sounds amazing. I’m impressed you did all that. What lucky guests! Beautiful blog and photos.

    • Haha, you’re so right… I think Ottolenghi’s books are taking over the world! I hadn’t heard of him prior to one year ago but I greatly admire his way with vegetables. The party was heaps of fun, I’d definitely do it again soon! Thanks for the kind words. So nice to ‘meet’ you! x

  3. That really does sound delicious. And I’m so glad to read that you drastically reduced the sugar. The dates are incredibly sweet all by themselves. Talking of which I’ve been meaning to do a date crunch since summer, and almost made it a couple of days ago. Yet, with trying hard to rid this wretched cold I didn’t get around to making them. Or is it simply called sheer laziness?! Anyway, must try and do them this week, as I need to stuff my face with as much vegetarian food, dried fruit and nuts as poss! I would ask for some leftovers to be sent my way…hmm, doubt – very much – if there are any left :)

    • Thanks Johnny. Yeah, I completely agree… I don’t like sickeningly sweet filo pastries, though it seems to be the common way to serve them. The dates added just enough sweetness whilst the natural honey was mellowed by the saffron somewhat (I always find that saffron adds a ‘savoury’ flavour to sweet dishes in a beautiful way). The date crunch sounds divine. Sorry to hear that you’re plagued with a cold. I had a virus last week too and ended up doing very little cooking, I just couldn’t be bothered. I think a bit of fatigue is allowed when you’re still recovering! I’ll look forward to seeing your post. Yes yes yes to wholesome vegetarian food! :)

  4. I share your obsession with the food of Israel and the Middle East and my two favorite cookbooks are both that you mentioned, What a feast you prepared, all of which I would love. The dessert is especially exotic and delicious, the flavors and textures make me swoon,

    • Thanks so much Suzanne. You do an incredible job with the Middle Eastern food, particularly the Persian stuff :) The dinner was heaps of fun to make, I’d do it every day if I didn’t have to work (but in that situation I’d probably be very fat also, haha) x

    • Haha, Brydie it was pretty slap-dash but heaps of fun to sit in! I think sitting on coloured cushions in a tent whilst eating Moroccan food is something that everyone should do once in their life! Wish you could’ve been there! x

  5. Love the feasting tent!! And the cigars of course. Really stunning photos. We have been talking about a similar dinner party with carpet and cushions, I may need to look into a tent too – feasting tents make everything better!

    • Haha, yep feasting tents rock! You should definitely go the whole way and create a tent (or at least a canopy) for the event too, we loved it. Thanks for the kind words, the cigars were delicious but the atmosphere made everything better for sure! x

  6. Gorgeous as always Laura! My Christmas pressie under the tree is Ottalenghi’s three books. Lucky me, a local independent bookseller had the bundle at a super special price for 1 day only.

    • Woop, what an awesome deal on the book pack… mine were pretty expensive and I still haven’t got the third volume of his recipes. Completely worth it though, I love the books and use them all the time. Enjoy using your new books (great start to the new year!) xx

    • Thank you Namrata! Haha, for a minute there I did think that I was going to end up with odd-shaped cigars but I soon got the hang of it :) Hope that you’re doing well lovely xx

  7. Oh wow. This is mouth-watering. I love that you replaced heaps of sugar with dates, I love dates and I am sure they were enough to sweeten the filling. Your pictures are amazing too! You know I share your love for Middle-Eastern food, and yet, I hardly ever make desserts (I find them too rich and too sweet). But this sounds like something I might enjoy making and eating!

    • Thanks Darya! Yes, I’m exactly the same. I adore Middle Eastern food but so many of the desserts seem to be drenched in sugar or some sort of fragrant syrup. Delicious, but sickening if eaten in too large a quantity. These were just the right level of sweetness for me. They honey had savoury notes from the saffron and orange, whilst the cigars themselves (when eaten without the honey) were just inching about savoury with the inclusion of the dates. I loved them, hopefully you’ll enjoy them too xx

  8. Very special! This is one of those desserts you just don’t forget and your’s turned out beautiful Laura. You must have been so pleased and grinning while eating this. I think the vanilla bean ice cream was a perfect companion to your cigars! :)

    • Thanks so much lovely. It was definitely a relief when they turned out beautifully (I did have a moment earlier where I was a bit worried they’d be very ugly, haha) xx

  9. Love this recipe and yes, (I love Ottolenghi’s wonderful food!) there’s such a craft to using those flakey layers of Filo pastry, and you handle it so well, absolutely no cracks! Love the vibrant and exotic colours too. It’s a stunning end to a meal.

    • Thanks so much lovely. I’m not an expert at filo but I was definitely happy with the results! Glad to see that everyone else loves Ottolenghi as much as me… I’m hoping to cook my way through Jerusalem in 2014. We’ll see how that goes! xxx

    • Sofia! Thanks for the lovely comments. It was heaps of fun to make the cigars… there’s something therapeutic about working with pastry. I do hope to make it to the Middle East one day. Particularly Israel and Persia xx

      • I’ve been to Lebanon, Jordan and Iran. Even though they were only work trips, I must say that the people are incredibly lovely and hospitable and make sure you eat well! :)

    • Thanks so much Maria, I feel exactly the same! There’s something so beautiful about Middle Eastern flavours, I always feel like I’m going on a mini holiday when I create a proper meal. Hope your pre-Christmas prep is going well! xx

  10. Laura! What a complete masterpiece! Sounds like host the BEST dinner parties. I love that tent–it looks so fun! Probably a dumb question, but was that built outside? It almost looks like you could have made it inside your living room or something. Anyhoo: kudos! What’s been your favorite dish from Ottolenghi’s books so far?

    • Haha, thanks so much Erika. Yep, the tent was created inside (we have no outside unfortunately, we’re in a tiny apartment on the third floor) with the aid of the ceiling vents and light fixtures, haha. I’d love to create an outdoors bigger feasting tent though. It’d be so much fun! And as for Ottolenghi’s recipes, my fave has been this blackened eggplant dish with buttermilk dressing and pomegranate. AMAZING. I can’t remember if it was in the Jerusalem or Plenty book though? I need to have a look. How about you? xx

      • Ooooh that sounds so fun!!! As does the outdoors feasting tent :) I want to come!

        And omg that eggplant dish sounds amazing. I haven’t cooked anything from Ottolenghi yet, but I might ask for the cookbook for Christmas so I can start!! :)

    • Naw, thanks so much Pamela. I love your blog equally, I love the stories, nourishing recipes and your humour. Wish we could be neighbour friends instead of just internet friends! I’d help you pod the edamame stash (and anything else, for that matter!) xxx

  11. LOVE your Moroccan feasting tent! Lovely photos, as always Laura. Those cigars look restaurant-worthy. Can’t wait to give them a try. Plenty is one of my favourite books, and is positively heaving with sticky tabs and folded corners. Unlike most of my cookbooks, it’s one I cook from regularly.

    • It’s a wonderful cookbook isn’t it Sas? I can tell that I’ll be using it for years to come. The cigars were pretty easy to make actually, but they seem ridiculously special when you eat them. I love dishes like that. Thanks for the sweet comments as always! xx

  12. What a fantastic dessert, Laura! I doubt your dinner guests expected anything like this and isn’t that the best? I love to see their faces when I set before them something completely new and unexpected. :)

    • So true John! I love helping my dinner guests feel like they’ve escaped somewhere special for a while. The menu was heaps of fun to cook and even better to eat. Always so nice to hear from you John :)

  13. Laura these look and sound so amazing and delicious!! I’ve never seen anything like them. Serving them with ice cream sounds like just pure heaven. I bet the crunch from the nuts is just fantastic, wow!

    • Thanks so, so much Brandi!! I appreciate the kind words always. I’m thinking of making them without the egg binder (maybe some flax in the fruit and nut mix) and with some coconut cream and agave syrup next time my vegan friends come over. I can imagine that they’d be just as delicious!! xx

  14. Laura – I pretty much LOVE anything Ottolenghi has done and have all three of his books. Like you, I have reduced sugar and butter in a few recipes but, for the most part, I think he is my favorite chef! These are such a treat for the eyes – and I really like the changes you made. As there are Julia Child and Dorie groups, I wonder how long it will be before we start and Ottolenghi group!

    • Haha, we definitely should David! He’s fast becoming my favourite chef too. I don’t have his self-titled book yet but it’s on my list for the next purchase. I can definitely see myself using his recipes for years to come :)

  15. Laura, you are killing me … woman you are such a brilliant chef .. and this dessert – those cigars wouldn’t even end up in the bowl with the ice cream if I had been around. Love nuts, love honey … love saffron.

    • Naw, Viveka you are too kind! Thanks for the lovely words. I definitely agree that the nuts, honey and saffron are a match made in heaven. So delicious! Hope you’ve been going ok xx

      • Laura, had a couple of rough weeks lately – thanks for asking. But seeing a specialist today for the first time and hopefully he will be able to give me something for relief.

  16. What a special dessert this is! I love it all! Beautiful folded cigars,…These type of sweet cigars, I will love! :)
    Beautiful appetizing pictures, too, dear Laura! :)

  17. Laura, we have such similar taste in food! I love everything in this recipe! Of course, Israeli and Middle Eastern food is terrific. There is no such thing as too much za’atar, either… or pistachios. I will have to try your Middle Eastern recipes, starting with this sweet treat. Thank you for sharing! Best regards, Shanna

  18. Pingback: in my kitchen + april « Laura's Mess

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