Thursday, 11 October 2007
A little secret
Like many food lovers I have followed the rise of ethnically inspired ingredients such as Iranian fairy floss and pomegranate molasses. There is one seemingly undiscovered ingredient for which I have a particular fondness and it originates from the humble date; jaggery. With its treacle like consistency and toffee coloured appearance it is heavenly as an alternative to maple syrup drizzled over pancakes. It also makes the perfect adult’s sundae when poured generously over scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. Deliciously sticky jaggery has a complexity of flavour to which its syrupy cousins can only aspire. It lacks the cloying sweetness of other sugars and is instead seemingly infused with an aroma of dates. This delightful syrup will always have your reaching for seconds.
Although jaggery can be derived from both sugarcane and the sap of the date palm tree, it is the latter that is a delicacy across India, particularly during the winter months when it is widely used. Also known as gur, it comes in the form of a semi-spherical block that must be melted down to a caramel consistency. Once in this form it is traditionally used in rice puddings and milk based confections. In Australia and other countries it's imported and available at many Indian and Sri Lankan grocers.
While most commonly found in recipes derived from the subcontinent, this syrup is also ideal to add a depth of flavour anywhere you would use maple or golden syrup or caramel. I’ve chosen to pair it with some particularly plump dates to echo the flavours in the jaggery. The dates are baked in individual moist almond cakes that are later drenched with the jaggery and smothered with crushed pistachios. The cake has a deliciously crunchy crust and the lightest golden crumb within, perfect for soaking up syrup. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a rose water infused cream, it’s luxurious enough for a dinner party but easy enough for a sinful solitary indulgence.
For those feeling inspired to discover new herbs and vegetables head over to Kalyn's Kitchen for the Two Year Celebration of Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by the creator, Kalyn.
Pistachio and Almond Cakes with Date Syrup
The recipe below makes enough for two individual ramekins but is easily doubled.
1/3 cup softened butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp orange zest
2/3 cup almond meal/ground almonds
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped dates
pinch of baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup chopped unsalted shelled pistachios
1/2 cup liquid jaggery
Note: If you buy your jaggery in the solid form, the melting process is simple. There are many ways to do it but I find the easiest is to place the jaggery in a pot with a few spoons of water over a low heat. It will melt down quickly and it's then up to you what stage of thickness you desire. For this recipe I've stopped at a syrupy consistency.
Preheat your oven to 180C and lightly butter two individual ramekins. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter, orange zest and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually incorporate the egg and combine well. Stir through the almond meal, flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly pour in the milk until your reach a smooth consistency. You may find you don’t require the full amount.
Pour the batter into the greased ramekins and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Invert the cakes onto a rack and allow to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle slice off the tops to form a level base suitable for plating. Place the individual cakes upside down on serving plates. Re-heat your liquid jaggery until you have a hot syrup. Spoon the jaggery over the cakes while still warm and sprinkle with crushed pistachios. Serve with ice cream or rose water scented cream.