salted tahini date caramel slice

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It’s been a couple of years since I first discovered date caramel, initially as a filling for some sort of decadent raw truffle at a friend’s dinner party. Since that day, I’ve mostly thought about date caramel rather than making it, for the simple reason that… well, I’d probably eat the whole batch. Straight from the mixing bowl, with sticky fingers and a caramel-smudged grin.

It’s that delicious, particularly with the addition of smooth nut butter and crunchy sea salt flakes. Dangerously addictive.

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But despite the best of intentions, it’s been that kind of week. I’ve had frazzled nerves and an exhausted brain that hasn’t wanted to sleep. Trips to the gym didn’t work (it’s usually a massive stress reliever for me) and neither did the odd glass of wine. Finally, when I did achieve some semblance of normality, this happened.

Ah, heck. I think it’s time for cake.

nectarI don’t often desire cake. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my sweet tooth left many years ago with my milk teeth and teenage demeanour. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a soft spot for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (largely due to childhood associations and sentimentality) however, upon eating it’s tooth-achingly sweet. Despite the glass-and-a-half slogan, it’s also got little nutrition to speak of (you need to eat an entire 200g to get that calcium, darn it).

Give me a hunk of protein-rich cheese any day. Even better, some smoked roasted almonds.

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Anyway, I’m digressing (mmm, cheese): let’s talk cake.

On the occasions when I bake, I usually lean towards bitter cacao or a fruit-driven puddings made with rice malt or maple syrup. Yes, there’s an element of sugar, but additional nutrients result in a lower glycemic index and more benefits for my mind and body.

A good example of this is my previous recipe for sweet potato brownies with raw cacao and rice malt syrup. They’re completely delicious, refined sugar free and naturally nourishing with just the right amount of natural sweetness. However, it’s presently mid-summer. Even evenings are warm and sticky, so I’m gravitating towards refrigerator treats such as today’s recipe: salted tahini date caramel slice with glossy bitter cacao and a chewy oat and walnut base.

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As far as sweet treats go, this slice strikes a pretty good balance between deliciousness and nutrition. It’s full of dietary fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from the dates alongside plant protein and good fats (monounsaturated, omega 3, good cholesterol) from the nuts, cacao and coconut oil.

It tastes deliciously rich without being overpoweringly sweet. Definitely a winner in my book.

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cacao

In terms of honest dialogue, this slice isn’t nutritionally perfect. I’m not going to shout ‘…it’s guilt free!‘ from the rooftop in my yoga gear. Both dates and coconut nectar contribute a reasonable dose of fructose* to this recipe which, in real terms, is just a form of sugar. And any sugar, in excess (whether that be in the form of fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose or maltose) is still bad for your body and mind.

However, let’s talk about small amounts. A couple of tahini-stuffed dates, a Honeycrisp apple, a square or two of dark chocolate or a coconut banana smoothie. They’re okay, right? I definitely think so, unless you have a medical condition specifying otherwise (e.g. diabetes, fructose malabsorption; that’s an entirely different story).

For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that some natural sugar in the form of whole foods (such as dried or fresh fruits, carbohydrates and dairy products) is both acceptable and beneficial in a balanced, predominantly unrefined diet. The body needs fuel, particularly if you’re combining this diet with regular physical activity.

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So, where to next? I’m not about to tell you that ten pieces of this salted caramel thing are beneficial with one session of sweaty cardio, but if you want a small sweet treat, go for it. Eat. Eat with a sticky smile on your face.

Be thankful. Moderation is the key.

*If you want to read more about fructose, metabolism and energy, take a look here and here (or even better, consult a qualified dietitian or nutritionist on the issue). 

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Salted Tahini Date Caramel Slice

Makes approximately 18 squares

This slice is ridiculously easy to make. It involves a fair bit of food processing but otherwise contains no complexity. Don’t fret if your raw chocolate cracks after setting (this happens 99% of the time. Just heat your knife, breathe and try again). Just embrace the imperfections and how good that gosh-darn-salted-date-caramel tastes. 

Base:

  • 1 cup organic, raw rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw walnuts (or almonds, whichever you prefer)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates
  • a few drops of hot water, as required

Tahini date caramel:

  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates, about 11 dates
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • fine sea salt, to taste (I added around 1/4 tsp)

Raw chocolate:

  • 6 tbsp raw cacao
  • 2 tsp carob powder
  • 4-6 tbsp coconut nectar or rice malt syrup (to taste, I add as little as possible, a slightly bitter chocolate layer works perfectly with the date caramel)
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil or cacao butter (my coconut oil was liquid at room temperature, being summer in Australia, but melt it on low heat in a saucepan first if necessary)

Blend the oats and nuts together in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add in the dates and a little pinch of salt, pulsing again until well mixed and cohesive. If your mix is looking a little dry, add in a few drops of hot water and process until the mixture comes together. Press into an 18x27cm greased and lined tin.

Soak dates in the hot water for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water for later. Puree all the filling ingredients except the sea salt in a food processor, streaming in a little of the soaking water until you obtain a creamy consistency (add as little water as possible – too much and the filling won’t set properly. I added about 2 tbsp worth of soaking liquid). Add a little sea salt, pulse and taste, adjusting the level of ‘saltiness’ to your preference. Spread over the prepared base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before preparing the raw chocolate topping.

Blend all of the raw chocolate ingredients together in a food processor, pulsing for at least 30 seconds to ensure the coconut oil is emulsified. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary. Remove slice from refrigerator and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture, tilting the tray to ensure even distribution (try not to touch the chocolate layer or you’ll probably end up with splotches of separated coconut oil rather than a smooth, glossy layer). Return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill.

After 10 minutes, score the chocolate into 18 pieces (this will make it much easier to cut without cracks later). When the chocolate layer is completely set, cut through with a heated knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen (this is also amazing straight from the freezer!) in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Medjool dates are larger and softer than traditional dried dates, with a more complex caramel-y flavour. However, they’re also a bit more expensive than the regular packaged supermarket dates (which are usually the Empress or Deglet Noor varieties, click here for more info). If you’re trying to save cash, I’d recommend splashing out on Medjool dates for the salted caramel layer whilst using traditional dates for the oat and nut base. Please note: I soaked and drained all of the dates that I used in the recipe above (separate to and including those specified in the salted caramel layer) as mine were a little dry. However, if you have extra soft and moist dates, feel free to skip the soaking. Just ensure you have a little hot water on hand to stream into the food processor if your mixture/s aren’t the correct consistency.

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the moroccan table

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Blogging is a funny thing. When I first began Laura’s Mess back in May 2012, it was predominantly intended as a personal record of my scribbled recipes, photographs and stories. Twenty months later, I’ve produced eighty six posts, learned how to use photo editing programs and formed friendships all around the world that are predominantly based on a mutual passion for home cooking, writing, local produce and nourishing those we love.

In recent months, one of the most precious benefits of blogging has been the formation of new friendships with a group of talented Perth bloggers, most of whom I met at the Eat Drink Blog conference in November 2013. To name just a few, there’s Laura (Laura Moseley), Bryton (Food in Literature), Whitney (Dine Whit Me), Matt (Abstract Gourmet) and Ai-Ling (Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse).

However, among the crowd of eighty-odd people, there were two bloggers that I instantly hit it off with: Matt (Inspired Food) and Jemima (Feed Your Soul, Perth). Since the conference, we’ve kept up a continued foodie dialogue whilst also meeting on occasions for good eats and company.

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APPLEMINT

I expect it’s something to do with our youthful enthusiasm, a mutual love of food (evidence below) and our growing cookbook collections. Whatever it is, I feel blessed and inspired to be part of it.

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Where there’s food, there’s us.

A few weeks ago, Matt, Jem and I decided that it was time to hold a joint dinner party for our favourite long-suffering taste testers: Matt’s girlfriend Alyssa, Jem’s sister Lexi and my Aaron. After some initial brainstorming, we decided on a loose Moroccan theme packed with spices, nuts and grains.

The date was set for Sunday, 19th January 2014. Matt and Jem chose mains whilst I volunteered for appetizers and dessert. The excitement grew. And we waited.

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The day finally arrived in a flurry of heat, sweat and activity. Matt and I completed most of the food preparation at our respective homes before arriving with Alyssa and Aaron at Jem and Lexi’s in the late afternoon. The evening was warm, sticky and bright. We sipped on apple and gin cocktails, waiting for the sun to set whilst chatting about our dishes, food blogging and life in general.

Aaron, Lexi and Alyssa chatted too; mostly about the shared pains of living with a food blogger (and the benefits, thank goodness!).

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As the night continued, we cooked, laughed and consumed a beautiful array of dishes ranging from spiced chicken tagine to delicate orange salad. Jem and Lexi’s home smelt like a Middle Eastern market, rich with cinnamon, vine fruits and orange blossom.

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It was a privilege to see my friends ‘in action’, cooking and styling their dishes for service and photographic presentation. After cooking together, I’ve been even more inspired by their natural talent, culinary knowledge and genuine love of food.

I’ve included the full menu from our night below. As the appetizer and dessert recipes were mine, you’ll find them attached at the base of this post. For main dish recipes (and to say hello to Jemima and Matt) please click on the hyperlinks below.

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Drink:

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Appetizer:

  • Split pea bessara dip with smoked paprika
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate
  • Moroccan flat bread (khobz) with za’atar

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Mains:

icecream

Dessert:

  • Pistachio and rose ice cream
  • Cardamom and orange blossom ice cream
  • Almond pistachio shortbread cookies

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is one of the longest posts I’ve ever written, containing five recipes in detail. However, after reading through and following the hyperlinks, I assure you that you’ll have everything you need to throw a Moroccan-themed dinner party just like we did.

I do hope you enjoy our recipe link-up as you join us around our virtual shared ‘Moroccan Table’. Thanks again to Matt, Alyssa, Jemima, Lexi and Aaron for the beautiful company, conversation, foodie inspiration and wonderful, fragrant dishes that entice the senses.

breaddips

Split Pea Bessara Dip

Adapted from a recipe by Hassan M’Souli

  • 125 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 250g dried green peas, rinsed
  • 45g harissa (Moroccan chili paste)
  • 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
  • sea salt

Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the olive oil and crushed garlic, cooking for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add in the peas and cumin; cook, stirring regularly, for 3 minutes. Pour in 2 cups (500ml) of water and bring to the boil.

Cook for 10 minutes or until the mixture starts looking dry and the peas have absorbed most of the water. Add in another 2 cups (500ml) of water and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the peas are soft and easily pressed between your fingers.

Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 15 minutes. At this stage, you can puree the dip if you’d like it smooth. Otherwise, return the pan to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the peas start to split and completely soft. Stir in the harissa, then season to taste.

Cool slightly before serving, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with smoked paprika.

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Burnt Aubergine with Tahini and Pomegranate

This recipe was made exactly from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook. I’m not going to rewrite it here, however many other bloggers have including Brian Samuels (see link here). It’s a beautiful, bold and piquant dip. If you’d like a tutorial for something similar, see my baba ghanouj post.

Moroccan flatbread (Khobz)

This is a slightly bastardized version, seeing as I’ve never been to Morocco. It’s been adapted from several recipes around the web, including this one.

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 7g envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • 4 cups bread flour flour
  • 2-3 tsp flaked sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil
  • optional: 1 free-range egg + 1 tbsp water, to brush
  • optional: 1 tbsp za’atar, to sprinkle

In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup of the warm water and the raw honey. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes, or until foamy.

Place the flour into a large bowl and stir in the salt and caraway seeds. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil and yeast mixture.

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Start mixing the dough together, adding small amounts of the remaining water until you have a smooth, soft dough that can be easily handled (I had about 1/4 cup water left over).

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Return the flour to a clean, oiled bowl before covering with a wet tea towel. Place in a warm, draught-free position and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

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Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f) and heat two flat, heavy-based oven trays. Deflate the risen dough before dividing it into two equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten into an oval that is about 2cm thick. Use a butter knife to draw three slashes upon the top of each loaf.

If glazing your loaves, quickly beat together the egg and water in a small bowl. Brush each loaf with the mixture and sprinkle with za’atar.

Splash each hot tray with a little oil, then carefully transfer your loaves onto the trays. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the loaves are shiny and golden brown. Serve warm with the above dips or some good-quality olive oil for dipping.

baked

Pistachio and Almond Shortbread

Makes about 16 cookies

  • 115g butter, room temperature
  • 110g icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • 1 pinch flaked sea salt
  • 165g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup toasted mixed pistachios and almonds, crushed coarsely

Place the plain flour into a bowl with the icing sugar, cinnamon and salt. Rub in the butter until you have a firm dough. Mix through the toasted nuts.

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Shape the dough into one long log (about 8 inches long) and tightly wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (365 degrees f). Line a heavy-based baking tray or cookie sheet. Cut the dough into 1cm thick slices and transfer each slice to the lined tray.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set and slightly golden at the edges. Cool on wire racks before serving, sprinkled with a little extra cinnamon if desired.

Pistachio and Rosewater Ice Cream

Adapted from this recipe by The Food Network

Makes about 1 litre

  • 150g shelled, toasted pistachios, crushed finely
  • 450ml whole (full fat) milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g sugar, divided into two
  • Pinch of flaked sea salt
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • 4 free-range egg yolks

Place the pistachios, milk, cream, half the sugar and salt into a large saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Allow to boil for 1 minute before removing the pot from the heat and covering it with a lid. Allow the mixture to infuse for 30-60 minutes, or until the milk clearly tastes like pistachio nuts.

Pour the mixture through a fine strainer and discard the nut pulp.

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Place the milk mixture back into the pan over medium heat. Bring to the boil. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks into a medium bowl with the sugar and whisk until pale and thick.

When the milk starts to boil, take it off the heat and slowly add about half of it to your egg mixture, whisking continuously. Add the egg and milk mixture back into the rest of the milk in the saucepan, whisking well until combined. Return the pan to the heat, continually whisking until thickened slightly (the mix should coat the back of a spoon). Allow to cool, then add in the rosewater.

Chill well (preferably overnight) before processing the custard in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve topped with some more crushed, toasted pistachios and crumbled dried rose petals.

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Cardamom and Orange Blossom Fleur de Lait Ice Cream

Adapted from this recipe by Food 52. ‘Fleur de Lait’ is ice cream with custard that is made from cornflour instead of egg yolks.

Makes about 1 litre

  • 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (250ml) whole (full fat) milk
  • 2/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 pinch sea salt flakes
  • 3-4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp Cointreau, Grand Marnier or another triple sec (substitute another tbsp of orange blossom water)

Combine the cream over medium heat with the honey, salt and cardamom pods.

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Whisk the cornflour into the milk until well dissolved, then add to the warmed cream. Heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a bowl and leave to cool. Add the orange blossom water, then chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or preferably overnight.When adequately cooled, process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If using alcohol, add the triple sec to the mixture just as the ice cream begins to freeze.

Store in the freezer or serve immediately (be aware that this ice cream melts much quicker than those made with egg yolk custard. Don’t leave it out for too long).

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baba ghanouj

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that I have a slight obsession with smoky, creamy baba ghanouj. It’s become a staple favourite for weeknight dinners, games nights, picnics and after work snacks. I’d almost go as far as saying that it’s replaced my hummus addiction, but… well, it hasn’t. Yet.

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lemonBaba ghanouj is a Levantine dish made from mashed aubergines mixed with olive oil, garlic, tahini and other seasonings. It’s eaten in various forms all over the Middle East as a starter, appetizer or side dish, occasionally topped with pomegranate molasses, mint, fruity olive oil or spiced tomatoes.

Though baba ghanouj is traditionally made with raw garlic, I recently tried it with roasted, sweet garlic cloves for a softer, more fragrant result. If you’re unaccustomed to eating raw garlic, I’d encourage you to try this method for a less in-your-face garlic sweetness: just splash a good amount of olive oil into a small pan, toss in some unpeeled garlic cloves and roast the lot on medium heat (180 degrees C/360 degrees f) for 15-20 minutes or until the cloves are softened and slightly golden. Squeeze the cloves from their skins before use (these roasted garlic cloves are also fantastic spread onto charred ciabatta with some sea salt, avocado slices and extra virgin olive oil. Yum).

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Despite the charring process, baba ghanouj is relatively easy to make. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and each second is completely worth the investment.

Try it next time you intend to make hummus as a smoky, creamy and delicious alternative. You’ll be glad that you did.

tahini

dip4Baba Ghanouj

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 medium aubergines (eggplant)
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • juice and zest of half a lemon (equivalent to about 1 tbsp juice)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed (roast prior to crushing for a milder garlic flavour)
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if roasting your garlic cloves, use the oil from the roasting pan)
  • 1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • to serve: extra virgin olive oil, za’atar, sumac or smoked paprika

Carefully grill the aubergines over an open gas flame, turning them with tongs until the skin is evenly blistered and the flesh is soft.

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Refrigerate or soak in cold water for ten minutes to cool.

Peel the blackened skin from the aubergines and place them into a bowl or colander. Leave them to drain for 20-30 minutes.

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When drained of fluid, chop coarsely and place into the bowl of a food processor.

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Pound lemon zest, chilli flakes and cumin in a mortar and pestle, then add to the food processor bowl with the remaining ingredients. Process until well combined and creamy.

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Taste and adjust flavours as required; you may wish to add extra tahini, lemon juice, chilli or salt.

Scoop the baba ghanouj into a serving bowl and make a small ‘well’ in the centre. Pour over some extra olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar, sumac or smoked paprika to serve.

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