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dried fruit

Virtuous Vegan Date & Peanut Butter Cookies

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Virtuous Vegan Date & Peanut Butter Cookies

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If I told you that a vegan, refined sugar-free, protein-rich, wheat-free, ancient-grain (and if you so desire, gluten-free) cookie existed, you’d think it was the stuff of myth and legend or, alternatively, something so disgusting that it couldn’t be deemed edible.

Well, it does exist.

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After an overindulgent stay in NYC, I made these for my birthday. They aren’t overpoweringly sweet, and they aren’t going to be equivalent to the 500 calories a pop thick, fudgy cookies you see in bakeries. However, they are delicious in their own right, soft and just sweet enough. Plus, being vaguely healthy automatically entitles one to devour 5x the quantity. In fact, for a snack to be officially deemed a source of protein, it needs to contain 6g protein. Well, 3 of these cookies contain just that.

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They are extremely quick to conjure up and would be good for that weak-point, late afternoon slump when you crave something sweet, and delicious, too, paired with a (vegan) ice cream for dessert, or even with a wedge of stilton and a dollop of pear compote if you’re going down the non-vegan route. If you want a slightly more savoury option, substitute the dates with figs as in the photos.

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Ingredients (makes 20 medium cookies)

160g pitted medjool dates, roughly chopped (about 10) (if you want a more savoury cookie, substitute dates with figs, as per the photos)

4 tbsp orange juice

4 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp finely grated orange zest

80g smooth peanut butter

200g spelt flour (or gluten free flour)

½ tsp mixed spice

¼ tsp salt

baking tray lined with baking parchment

4-5cm round cookie cutter

 

Method

1)    Pre-heat oven to 180°C

2)    Place the chopped dates, orange juice, water, vanilla extract and orange zest in a small pan over a medium/high heat and allow to come to a boil. Stir continuously for about 4/5 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the dates have turned into a thick, sticky pulp.

3)    Place the date mixture together with the peanut butter in a blender and pulse until smooth. Pour in the spelt flour, mixed spice, and salt and pulse until it comes together to form a slightly sticky dough.

4)    Lightly flour a board and roll out the dough to a 0.5cm thickness. Stamp out cookies with the cutter and place on the baking tray. Bake in the oven for 7-10 minutes until firm and slightly golden. Allow to cool, then devour.

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Sticky Date & Amaretti Crumble Bars

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Sticky Date & Amaretti Crumble Bars

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A trip to Toronto when I was seven years’ old is anchored for me by one thing: not the CN tower, or Niagara Falls or my cousin’s wedding, but a visit to the farmers’ market, and in particular, a potentially life-changing stall.  A tall, russet-cheeked man was in command, his floured apron stretched taught over his protuberant belly. 

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And on his table lay not the garish, sprinkle- speckled swirls that would have drawn a normal child. Instead, tray after tray of rubbly slabs of oat and date crumble bars were arrayed. 

The date layer of the bars was jaw-clenchingly sticky, and thick – not like the mean, shop-bought equivalent. The oaty outer layers were both crunchy and then soft, golden and not overly sweet, allowing the natural date sweetness to shine through. 

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. For the last seventeen years I’ve been raiding bakeries and markets, seeking to relive the experience, but the date and oat crumble bars always disappoint – too saccharine, too solid, too floury. In between raids, I’ve been working on my own: these are the closest I have come to Toronto’s best kept secret. I added the crushed amaretti to give them a little twist. Feel free to leave the sugar out of the crumble if your palate is adjusted to the less-sweet. 

It’s incredibly hard to resist them when they emerge from the oven golden and crisp, but I think they taste even better when they have cooled and the flavours are more distinct (or maybe try them both ways, just to be sure…).

NB. They can be made gluten-free by substituting gluten-free flour for spelt. 

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Ingredients

Date filling

400g medjool dates, pitted & roughly chopped (about 20)

3 tbsp fresh orange juice

120ml water

2 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp finely grated orange zest

 

Crumble

250g oats

120g butter

100g wholemeal spelt flour

50g dry amaretti biscuits

40g light brown muscovado sugar

¼ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp salt

A square 20cm baking tin (or tin of equivalent area), lined with baking parchment, with sides and base fully covered.

Method 

1)    Preheat oven to 180°C

2)    Place all ingredients for the date filling in a pot and place on a medium heat. Stir as the mixture begins to simmer. After about 5 minutes, when the dates have broken down into more of a paste and all the water has evaporated, remove from the heat and set aside.

3)    Pour all the crumble ingredients into a blender and pulse until the mixture still has some texture  and is slightly coarser than sand.

4)    Pour 2/3 of the crumble mixture into the base of the tin, and, with your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the mixture down evenly across the base of the tin until firm and compact. Pour the date filling over and spread evenly across the base. Then pour over the remaining crumble mixture and press down until even and as compact as possible.

5)    Place in oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.

6)    Slice and allow to cool before devouring. Keeps well in an air tight container in fridge for up to 5 days, or in freezer for 2 months (also tastes delicious when frozen).

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Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

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Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

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Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe Biscotti, or cantucci, as they are known in Tuscany are crunchy and chewy slivers of twice baked and ridiculously moreish, Italian biscuits traditionally containing almonds, and often an abundance of dried fruit.  They are obligatorily dipped into an immodestly full glass of Vin Santo (Italian sweet wine) and held there until the majority of the wine has been absorbed by the biscuit and there’s every chance it will land in one’s lap before it reaches one’s ready and waiting mouth.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

 

Unfortunately, biscotti are endangered in Britain.  Their reputation is marred by the imitation biscotti that have taken up residence in the majority of common coffee chains.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

These poor copies of the true Italian post-prandial biscuit are so dry that they react like silica gel to one’s mouth, so stale that you may need to sacrifice a tooth to consume them.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

For this pleasure the coffee chains also charge a trillion percent mark-up on what are the easiest and most inexpensive biscuits to make.  Also, they’re often sold individually – who stops at just one?

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

This recipe is very versatile.  I love strong flavours, and so I paired ginger with orange to give the biscuits a tang, and added the toasted hazelnuts for slight smokiness.  However, these ingredients can be substituted with any dried fruit and nut of your choice, or indeed left plain.  Use 200g of the dried fruit, 250g of the nut of your choice and, in place of the orange & ginger syrups, sub in an extra 2 tbsp honey.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

Ingredients

For the biscuit

500g plain flour

350g sugar

3 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

3 eggs + 1 egg white + 1 egg yolk for later

2 tsp vanilla essence

3 tsp curaçao (triple sec)

250g roasted hazelnuts crushed into halves or slightly smaller pieces

2 tbsp honey

Zest of 1 orange

2 trays lined with baking parchment

For the candied oranges                                                

2 oranges

1 cup water

3/4   cup sugar

For the candied ginger – or 140g store bought

200g ginger peeled and slices into 1/8 inch disks

4 cups of water

170g sugar

 

Candied ginger method

  1. Place sliced and peeled ginger in shallow pan with water and bring to boil.  Allow to simmer with the lid on for 25 minutes
  2. Drain the ginger saving 1 cup of liquid and pour in sugar. Bring to medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid becomes syrupy and the ginger is translucent.
  3. Place sieve over a bowl and pour the mixture over to drain off the syrup. Reserve both elements for later use.

Candied orange peel method

  1. Slice the peel off the oranges with a knife in thick strips, cutting close to the flesh. Cut the peel into thin 0.5 cm strips and those to roughly 2cm lengths.
  2. Place chopped orange peel, sugar and water in pan and bring to boil. Reduce to medium heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid is mostly evaporated and syrupy and the oranges are translucent and lacking the sourness of their fresh state.

Biscuit method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Mix all the dry ingredients together with the toasted hazelnuts in a large bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl separate one egg and place the yolk aside for later use.  Mix together the 3 whole eggs, the egg white of one egg and the other liquid ingredients with the candied orange peel (along with it syrup) and the drained pieces of ginger along with 2 tbsp of the ginger syrup.
  3. Pour liquid mixture into the dry and stir until combined in a stiff dough.
  4. Sprinkle a wooden board with flour and spoon 1/6 of the mixture onto it. Coat your hands in flour and roll the dough out into a 5 cm wide log. Place on tray. Repeat with rest of mixture, leaving a large at least 10cm distance between each piece since it will spread whilst cooking.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. With knife at the ready, take them out and slice diagonally into 3 cm widths and turn them so they’re cut side up.  Turn off the oven and place these back in to dry out for another  10 minutes. Or just leave them in until ready to serve.

Candied Ginger & Orange Hazelnut Biscotti - Recipe

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