Pros: Nice colored photographs of every recipe, durable pages, very informative
Cons: Only 40 recipes, I wish there were more
For me crisp mornings and cool evenings inspire me to enjoy the quick breads and cookies of the season. I look forward to richer foods that seem to be so abundant this time of year. Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee, Date Desserts from Everywhere by Sarah Al-Hamad couldn’t have arrived at a better time. This is a wonderful cookbook to explore anytime of the year, but I found it exceptional for the fall. Not only will you be exploring new date recipes but the author also takes you along on her journey as she explores the date palm’s journey, and its recipe origins from around the world.
Sarah set out to share with us her love of dates and the varied history that surrounds them. In this cookbook she definitely did that. The whole cookbook is packed full of information, colored and black and white photos, and tempting recipes. Each recipe even has a little story that goes along with it. Knowing the history of not only the date but of that particular recipe actually made me appreciate the dish that much more. I only wish there were more recipes. In order to write this book the author actually traveled to date festivals and other historically date rich areas in order to gather, sample and create date recipes.
One of the nice things about this particular cookbook is that you can get a few supplies from your local grocery store and be able to make several of the recipes. After reading this book you realize just how many different dates there are, but for her recipes she uses dry, pitted, soft dates for all the recipes. For the recipes that call for date syrup or honey, I used honey simply because I had a lot of it. Date syrup was found in my grocery store. However, if you can’t find it there is a recipe for making your own date syrup opposite the contents page.
When choosing what recipes I wanted to try – and it was hard to choose – I selected varieties that were visually appealing. The recipes I tried were just delightful, and my whole family enjoyed them. One of the things that appealed to me was that none of the recipes were overly sweet, and the color and textures were wonderful. Anyone that loves dates or wants to cook/bake with dates will enjoy this cookbook, however I feel this cookbook is geared towards the home cook. The recipes are clearly written and easy to understand. Some of the dishes may not be familiar to a lot of home cooks; however, the photographs will probably tempt you to try something new. I hope you enjoy the recipes I shared and start enjoying more dates. In conclusion, Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee is a great addition to the home cook’s library, especially someone that enjoys dates or trying something out of the norm.
Recipes I tried:
Golden Fruit Trio (Sweet Potato, Apricot, and Date Loaf)
In Europe back in the 1700s, people ate dense fruitcake made of fruit and nuts to mark the annual nut harvest around the winter solstice. Today, garden vegetables like squash, beets, zucchini/courgettes, and parsnips are also great in baking, and inspired this fresh, moist cake. It’s a cross between a carrot and banana cake, a fresh-tasting but not-too-sweet loaf. I love the way the warm colors blend and the apricots gleam when you slice into it. This is a cake you can eat without regret, packed with texture, finely grated vegetables and fruit, and using dark brown sugar to give it a rich, molasses flavor without that surgery hit. Perfect in the mornings or afternoons with a cup of tea. Dairy-free, it keeps longer than most cakes.
1 cup/5oz/150g all-purpose/plain flour
2oz/50g ground almonds
1 tsp pumpkin pie/mixed spice
1 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
2/3 cup/5oz/150g dark brown sugar
2/3 cup/5fl oz/150ml sunflower oil
3 large eggs
6o/175g sweet potato, grated
5oz/150g dates, roughly chopped
2oz/50g soft apricots, roughly chopped
2 ½oz/75g pecans, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 320F/160C/gas 3. Grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf pan.
Put the flour, ground almonds, spice, baking soda/bicarbonate of soda, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl, then mix together well.
Beat the sugar and oil together with an electric mixer until more or less combined. Don’t worry if there are the odd lumps of sugar. Gradually add the eggs, beat well after each addition, until the mixture is thick and amber colored. Fold in the flour mixture with a large metal spoon, then add the sweet potato, fruit, and nuts and mix together well.
Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about 1-1 ¼ hours until golden, risen, and firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. As the dark sugar caramelizes, the top could look wet despite the cake being cooked, so keep an eye on it as it approaches the 1-hour mark.
Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Bejeweled Haroset (Date, Walnut, and Apricot Spread)
Haroset (or charoseth) is a fruit and nut paste eaten at Passover, its color and texture reminiscent of the mortar used by slaves in ancient Egypt. Ashkenazi Haroset is traditionally basic, using apples and walnuts. The Sephardi version, although dependent on local ingredients, is likely to be more sumptuous with chestnuts, almonds, figs, dates and raisins; it is sometimes known as Venetian Haroset and sweet red Passover wine is often added. I learned about Haroset while researching the culinary culture of Jews in North Africa, and later via two Cairo-born friends, Sonia and Danielle, who generously shared their recipe with me. At Passover, this spread is enjoyed very simply on unleavened crackers, but it’s also delicious on crispy sourdough bread with cheese and herbs. I used a good processor but traditionalists may prefer everything hand-chopped, to add symbolic texture.
5 ½oz/150g dates
2 ½ oz/75g dried cherries
2 ½ oz/75g dried apricots
½ tsp cinnamon
1 apple, peeled, cored, and grated
2 tbsp date syrup or honey
2 tbsp walnuts or pine nuts, toasted and chopped
In a saucepan, heat all the ingredients except the nuts with ¼ cup/60ml water, until softened and mushy. Transfer to a food processor and blend to a paste. Sprinkle over the walnuts or pine nuts, if using.
Refrigerate until ready to eat, then serve in a bowl with crackers or bread.