Friday, February 6, 2015

Date Walnut Chocolate Slices

I’m pretty sure people who say they don’t like dates have never tasted a Medjool.  There are several varieties of dates but Medjools have come into fashion in the last decade because they are large, soft, moist and plump with more of a caramel overtone.

Southern European countries primarily consume the Deglet Noor variety as a result of trade with Tunisia and Algeria, where 90% of Deglet Noors are produced.  The United States and Israel are the primary exporters of Medjool dates.  The California Coachella Valley produces 70% of the Medjool crop in the U.S., which all began with offshoots brought from the Bou Denib Oasis in French Morocco in 1927.  The California season runs from the end of August to the end of November but dates keep very well and are enjoyed any time of the year.

These pastry slices take full advantage of the wonderful marriage of dates, walnuts and chocolate.  I simmer Medjools with coffee and a hint of cinnamon and orange zest until they become a chunky paste.  The walnut pastry dough is borrowed from Rose Levy Berenbaum and is very easy to work with in this application.  

The combination of these flavors and textures are a particularly fun way to savor our prized Medjool dates.  Serve a slice perhaps with a small tip of Rainwater Madeira or a strong cup of your favorite java. 

Bench notes:
- Lightly toast the walnuts at 350 degrees F for about 8 - 10 minutes or until they just start to turn golden and give off a light toasty aroma.  Watch them closely so they don’t burn and become bitter.
- Berenbaum advises against substituting almonds (too hard) or pistachios (too soft) for the walnuts in the pastry dough.
- The pastry dough has less sugar and less butter to make it less fragile and easier to handle.  The walnuts in the dough should be finely ground to make handing and rolling the dough easy peasy.
- After chilling, let the dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes. The dough is ready to roll out if it doesn’t crack when you try to roll it out.  
- I think the dough is easy to work with but if you find it softens too much, chill it just long enough to let it firm it up but still be pliable.  I didn’t need a lot of flour to roll it out but be sure to use enough so the dough isn’t sticking.  Use a pastry brush to dust off any excess flour remaining on the surface of the pastry. 
- You can prepare the pastry and/or the filling separately a day or two ahead and store in your refrigerator.  If you make the filling ahead, leave out the walnuts to prevent them from softening.  Add them when you’re ready to assemble.
- You may sometimes see a white powdery film forming on the surface of dates. This is due to their high level of natural sugar and is not a cause for alarm. It’s just sugar crystal formation. You can warm them in the oven or steam them and the crystals will dissolve.
- If you’re a date lover, you’ll enjoy Roasted Dates with Sherry and Spices.  I like to serve them with a cheese course.  And there's a recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Date Bars in The Global Pastry Table.
- This pastry dough is also delicious fashioned into a Cranberry Walnut Crostata.

Date Walnut Chocolate Slices
Walnut Pastry Dough adapted from Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum
Makes 12 slices

Walnut Pastry Dough
1 3/4 oz (1/2 cup) toasted walnuts, divided
1 cup (5 oz) flour
1 teaspoon (4 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oz (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 oz) ice water

Date Filling
5 1/2 oz (about 10 – 11) Medjool dates
1/2 cup (4 oz) coffee
2 tablespoons (26 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
zest of half an orange
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons (3/4 oz) chocolate chips
1/4 cup (3/4 oz) toasted walnuts

1 egg + 1 tablespoon water + slight pinch of salt, for egg wash
1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar + 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, for dusting

For the pastry, subtract 2 tablespoons of walnuts from the 1/2 cup. Coarsely chop the 2 tablespoons into smallish pieces and combine with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Set aside as a garnish to sprinkle on top of the formed pastry before baking.

Place the flour, sugar, salt and remaining walnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground into the flour. Cut the cold butter into 1/2” pieces, add and pulse until the texture looks like coarse meal with a few larger pieces of butter. Whisk together egg yolk & ice water. Add to dough mixture and pulse until it begins to come together in large clumps and there are no dry patches of flour.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic and form into small flattened rectangle, Wrap tightly and chill for 30 minutes or until firm enough to roll without sticking.

For the filling, pit the dates and remove the stem.  Coarsely chop and place in a saucepan with the coffee, brown sugar, orange zest and cinnamon.  Simmer on low heat for just a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is softened and the liquid is absorbed.  It will look like a loose paste.  Cool and fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

When ready to assemble the pastry, place the dough on a silpat or piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour.  Let it sit a few minutes to take off the chill. Roll into an 18” x 8” rectangle, carefully lifting it often and using a light dusting of flour as you go to prevent sticking.  Slide the silpat or parchment paper with the pastry dough onto a baking sheet and chill while the oven heats up.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  For the egg wash, combine the egg, water and salt.

Take the rolled out dough from the refrigerator and leave it on the baking sheet. Place it in front of you so the long side is closest to you.  Make a slight mark at the halfway point on the short side so you know where the fold will be.  Spread the filling evenly on the top half the rectangle, leaving a 1” border at the long top edge.  Brush the top border of the dough lightly with egg wash.  Fold the bottom half of the rectangle over and press the edges to seal. Turn up the edges to make a border and press lightly with the tines of a fork to seal.  Cut in half for easier handling and chill until the oven is ready.

Take a sharp knife and cut 6 slices in the top layer of each pastry.  Leave the pastries in tact and do not separate the slices.  Brush the tops lightly with egg wash (you'll only use a bit) and sprinkle with the reserved sugar-walnut-cinnamon mixture. 

Bake until the pastries are a light golden brown, about 25 – 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.  Cut into slices and serve. 


mimi said...

oh my god, this looks incredible. Pastries don't usually make me swoon, but the combination of dates, chocolate, and walnut pastry is just incredible. Reminds me of a few different pastries all in one. Fabulous!!!

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