Kitchen DIY: Homemade date syrup

I realised, slightly late in the piece, that it was a bit irresponsible to post a recipe for something using homemade date syrup without actually sharing how to make it. So, without any further ado, here’s how to make date syrup at home.

Easy Homemade Date Syrup

Homemade Date Syrup
This is quite different to storebought date syrup, sometimes called date molasses, which is cooked down to a more syrypy consistency. The DIY version has a fresher, slightly less sweet taste – and it’s still good to eat by the spoonful.

1 cup (about 200g) dates, chopped
1 cups (250ml) boiling water

Put the dates in a small, heatproof bowl and pour over the boiling water (add a little more if it doesn’t quite cover the dates). Cover and let stand overnight or for at least eight hours.
The next morning/when you get home from work, put the soaked dates and water into a food processor or blender and whizz until smooth and well combined.
Scrape this mixture into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

Treat me: Double date scones

About 18 months ago I had a real thing for date syrup. I’d discovered it in one of those funny grocer-cum-spice shops where the vegetables are all rotting and the shelves are stacked high with things the casual Western European customer may struggle to identify. Even buying the date syrup was a gamble – the label was in French and Arabic and the picture on it was of three camels ambling through a desertscape. Actually, the camels were a dead giveaway – after buying Iranian ‘Camel’ brand dates for years, I figured there was a good chance that this glossy brown syrup was date-based too.

Anyway, date syrup and all the things I made with it had become a sweet memory until a couple of weeks ago when the lovely Laura Faire emailed to ask where I bought mine from. I sent her a few suggestions for stockists, but she went one further and sent me a DIY recipe. Not only does it work a treat, it means I no longer have to worry that the date syrup I use might actually be made from camels.

Homemade date syrup is less, well, syrupy than the bought version, but it does the trick just as well. Try it on porridge, drizzled over yoghurt, or in these double date scones.

Double date scones
I made these yesterday morning when I realised we had slim pickings for breakfast. They are so easy and using spelt flour makes them very easy to eat. That is to say, a small child and her mother can easily gobble down quite a few of them without feeling in the least bit weighed down.

300g (2 cups) white spelt flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 cup dates, chopped
1/4 cup date syrup
1 cup cream

Heat the oven to 210C and put a baking tray in the oven.
Sift the flour, baking powder and spice into a large bowl. Stir through the chopped dates.
Mix the date syrup and cream together and pour into the dry ingredients. Fold together gently and quickly to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a piece of baking paper and shape into a rough rectangle, then cut into eight pieces. Transfer the baking paper and scones to the hot tray in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until risen and golden.
Eat with lashings of butter or dollops of ricotta and honey.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Smoked salmon and wasabi pate

The man of the house is currently brushing up on his French skills and this means getting me to help him with his homework. Once upon a time, this would have been easy, but the passing of time means my brain doesn’t operate in French as well as it used to (or, indeed, as I imagined it once did). I’ve been feeling quite depressed about this, but am consoling myself with the fact that my menu French is still better than his. And when I looked up the Larousse to get a proper dictionary definition of ‘pate’, I didn’t need another dictionary to explain the answer. So I can’t be too badly off, can I?

Smoked Salmon And Wasabi Dip

Smoked salmon and wasabi pate
For the record, Larousse defines ‘pate’ as ‘preparation de charcuterie de texture tres variable et composee de viandes et d’abats en morceaux ou en pate fine et de differents ingredients’ and you don’t need to know much French to figure out that there are (mercifully) no ‘viandes’ (or ‘abats’ – organs) in a smoked salmon version. But I had to call it something other than ‘a sort of spread-y thing you can have on toast or crackers or on little bits of cucumber like an 80s canape’, didn’t I?
This is inspired by something in Jamie Oliver’s book on British food – he makes something similar with smoked trout and horseradish and serves it with baby Yorkshire puddings. And cor blimey, guv’nor, it is bloomin’ lovely. Or c’est absolument delicieux, as our French friends would say.

150g cream cheese, softened
1/4 – 1 tsp wasabi paste
150g hot smoked salmon
finely grated zest of a lemon, plus its juice
a couple of teaspoons of finely chopped dill or mint

Put the cream cheese, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon of wasabi in a small bowl and beat with a fork until smooth. Taste it for hotness – the wasabi should be present, but not overpowering. Keep adding it until you think it’s about right. Flake in the hot smoked salmon and dill or mint. Fold it into the cream cheese, adding a little lemon juice if it seems a bit stiff. Taste again for seasoning – add some salt and freshly cracked black pepper until the balance is right. Scrape into a little bowl and cover, then store in the fridge. Makes enough for six people as a canape, with enough for one lucky person to have on toast the next morning.

Bonne semaine, tout le monde!

Grapefruit curd

You know how lemon curd is always so painstaking to make, with all that double-boiler anxiety and fretful stirring? It doesn’t have to be that way.
I had an epiphany in the weekend after coming across Stephanie Alexander’s revolutionary method. As so often happens with The Cook’s Companion, I was looking up something else when I stumbled across her lemon curd recipe. In it, she dismisses the received wisdom that it needs gentle heat and patience and instead gives some short-cut instructions.

I was a bit nervous – it’s a bit like setting out on a half-marathon to have some geezer pop out from behind a bush and say, ‘look love, here’s a short-cut that will get you there in half the time’ – but I can confidently report that it works a treat. I’ll possibly never remember what I was looking for to start with, but with this kind of knowledge now under my belt I’m not too bothered.

Easy Way To Make Grapefruit Curd

Grapefruit Curd
Did you know that if you Google ‘grapefruit’ most links are for the ‘Grapefruit Diet’. I find this profoundly depressing. Instead, I’m prescribing a course of the Grapefruit Curd Diet. Try some of this on your toast and see if you don’t feel better about life. Don’t worry about the butter and eggs, think of the vitamin C! The recipe is adapted from the one mentioned above in The Cook’s Companion, one of my most used, most loved books.

4 free-range egg yolks
2/3 cup caster sugar
100ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (one or two grapefruits should do it)
finely grated zest of two grapefruits
60g butter, diced

Put the egg yolks and sugar in a small pot and beat together until well blended. Add the grapefruit juice and zest, and the butter. Put the pot over medium-high heat and stir constantly until it comes to simmering point. As soon as the bubbles appear, remove from the heat. Keep stirring for another minute or so, then pour into sterilised jars. Makes about 450ml. Refrigerate when cold.

Now, I know you’re thinking, ‘but what will I do with four egg whites’? I have the perfect answer for you, but you’ll have to wait until Friday. Put them in a plastic lidded container and freeze them while you await further instructions.

Happy Waitangi Day to fellow New Zealanders everywhere. Hope you are celebrating with some appropriate feasting, whether it’s pipis and paua, asparagus rolls and whitebait fritters, roast lamb or a hangi. Cheers!

Treat me: DIY Speculoos spread

When I was a proper journalist (the sort that actually went out of the office and talked to real people) I’d often stumble upon fantastic charity shops in the middle of nowhere. If time allowed I’d sneak off to them after the interviews were done – while the old ladies who staff these shops are great sources of local knowledge it’s hard to concentrate on finding treasure when you’ve got an interview looming.

These days, stuck at my desk, I’m reduced to finding fun things on the internet in the course of my research. It’s not quite as good, but you can unearth lots of gems all the same. Take speculoos spread, for example. I started reading about it while researching recipe formats last week. It was totally new to me, but it’s apparently ‘Europe’s alternative to peanut butter’ and caused much excitement when Waitrose started selling it in the UK late last year.
The real thing is made from ground-up Speculoos cookies – with a few other ingredients – and is said to be as addictive as Nutella. My DIY version is much simpler, you can make it from everyday ingredients and it’s just as habit-forming.

Speculoos Spread And Crumpets

Speculoos spread
I have no idea what ‘real’ speculoos spread tastes like but this is absolutely delicious – like eating raw gingerbread but without the attendant stomach ache. I’ve been eating it on hot crumpets, but it would transform even the most basic slice of bread. Or you could put it in a toasted sandwich with sliced banana. Or you could just eat it with a spoon…

100g soft unsalted butter
4 Tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp Chinese five-spice
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp salt

Put all ingredients in a small bowl and beat until smooth and fluffy. Eat immediately, or store in the fridge, covered.

Have a great weekend, everyone x