The discovery that dates can be used as a sweetener has changed my life. I know, this fact about dates is not news to anyone who’s been cooking sugar-free or “real food” for a while, but for me it was a revelation!
I haven’t been able to completely leave out sweetener in a recipe by using dates yet, but I’ve been able to drastically reduce it. Just today I made a cake that I used to make with 3 cups (3 cups!!!) of sugar. (I simply cannot believe now that I ever used that much sugar in a recipe without even hesitating!) I’ve changed the recipe so that it uses 2 cups date puree, 3/4 cups palm sugar, and 4Tbsp maple syrup. So, it does have sweetener, but so much less. I wouldn’t dare to eat a cake made with 3 cups of any sweetener – even palm sugar – but I can handle 3/4 cups! Many recipes that I’ve given up on ever eating again are now within reach, all because of dates!
So, since I foresee many recipes in my future that involve using date puree, I thought I’d do a separate post on how to do it so that I can just link to it instead of repeating the instructions every time.
The first step is setting your dates to soak. This will soften them so that they’re ready to puree. Put the dates in a bowl with very hot water (just as hot as your tap will go) and let them sit.
The most important part in making this work is soaking the dates for long enough. My first couple times I soaked them for about 15 minutes (which is what I read I should do) but I had an extremely hard time getting it smooth enough. I’ve found that a much longer soak does wonders!
(EDIT 7-13-13: The Medjool dates I now buy from Trader Joe’s are really soft, much much softer than these dates I used to use from the grocery store. They only need to soak for like 5 minutes in hot water before they’re soft enough to puree! So the length of the soak seems to depend on the softness of the dates.)
So, after about 15 minutes, when the water has begun to cool, I dump most of it out and then fill it up with more hot water and wait another 15 minutes. If after two soakings they still aren’t soft enough, I do it again, but usually two times is good enough. I’m wanting the dates to look like this.
But…DON’T THROW AWAY THE SOAKING WATER!! It’s a useful liquid to keep on hand when you need some liquid in recipes. Store it in a jar in your refrigerator and use it as liquid in smoothies, or as extra liquid in Homemade Nutella, or in whatever you want!
The skin should be very loose, basically falling off, and the meat inside kind of mushy. If you look behind the date in this picture – to the blurry dates in the food processor – you’ll see that a couple are really mushy looking – almost disintegrating. That’s what you want.
Dump all the dates into a food processor, and add in A LITTLE of the water they were soaking in. Like, a couple tablespoons, no more. You don’t want the dates to be too wet or it’ll throw your recipe off.
As you puree the dates, you can add more liquid if you need to but use only as little as you need to.
After a minute or so of processing, they’re nice and pureed and ready to use! There will be a couple lumps in it, but if you had let them soak enough it will be mostly smooth.
Use what you need in your recipe, and if you have any left over refrigerate it until you need it. If you don’t think you’ll use it within a couple weeks, freeze it instead.
Date puree can be substituted one for one for sugar in recipes, but it isn’t as sweet. I find that in most recipes I still need to add a bit of some natural sweetener to make it sweet enough. I’ve found that replacing 3/4 of the sugar with dates and the last quarter with palm sugar works well. Also, be careful in recipes that might be sensitive to liquid content, and adjust accordingly.