A Date on the Dunes

As always happens when I visit another country, I have developed a little bit of a crush – just a little one, a little squishy – on Dubai. And as always the squishy has now found it’s way into my kitchen (on my first day back I tried Om Ali before I even cooked regular food, having fallen deeply in love with it a day before in a factory canteen). So when I volunteered to supply cupcakes for bookclub recently, it was for purely selfish reasons.

(Every night in the hotel lobby this man in traditional garb would try to lure us into having Arabian coffee, and each time he turned his back I’d grab a big yummy date from his little display table, so I guess telling people I had “a date in Dubai” isn’t completely a lie…)

I’d been looking for a chocolate/date cake recipe to use but when I came across Honey and Soy’s Food Adventures I was completely sold on the idea of Sticky Date cupcakes with butterscotch icing (even though the icing was not in any way Middle-Eastern-inspired – it just sounded too yummy not to try). For me it didn’t live up to the Sticky part of the name – it was a bit too dry and not like the sticky toffee pudding texture I had expected, but it wasn’t completely inedible either. It could be that the dates I used are very different, possibly a lower sugar content – I hadn’t realised how many different types of dates there are until I went to a supermarket in Dubai and was faced with a selection that was like the Middle Eastern version of a Pick ‘n Mix. The butterscotch icing was absolutely phenomenal; I almost ran out because I was having sneaky little spoonfuls all the time! It’s very sweet but that’s the whole point of the dental care industry, I figure.

Next time I’ll use a chocolate date cake recipe from Foodiction (it’s my FAVOURITE and I can’t believe I didn’t think to use it!) with the butterscotch icing, and I’ll definitely make a double-batch of icing to accommodate my need to sample it frequently…

For 18 date cupcakes:

1 ¼ cup dates (about 225g) – if you’re using the compressed block like I did, it’s a good idea to dice it up first
1 ½ cup self-raising flour
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
60g butter
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and pop cupcake liners into a muffin tin. I made 12 this way, and put the rest into the Cupcakeinator to make mini sample cupcakes).

Place dates and water in a small saucepan. Simmer until mixture thickens (the dates will break down to a mush); this happens quite quickly so don’t go wandering off. Take off heat and add bicarb. Quickly mix well; Honey and Soy say that the mixture will froth up and become aerated, but mine didn’t hence I suspect the dates of being a bit different to what they used. Or maybe my bicarb has expired? It just had a half-hearted moment of fizziness. Add butter and mix well. Tip the resultant mush into a bowl, then mix in the eggs and sugar before folding in the flour.

Place blobs of the batter into the prepared tin. Bake at 180 °C for 15-18 minutes. They will have quite a bumpy surface, like muffins do, but the icing will make it pretty again.

Butterscotch icing:

100g butter
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
1/4 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup cream
5 cups icing sugar (Honey and Soy specify “pure icing sugar”. At first I worried that my icing sugar was somehow impure but I’ve never come across anything labelled “pure”).

Combine the butter, sugar, golden syrup and cream in a saucepan over medium heat. It will look hideously lumpy for a bit. Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Turn heat up to high and boil for at least 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature. This is seriously yummy stuff. It’s like jam, but jam made from hugs and kisses. The kind of stuff that can cure Monday blues and rainy days and broken hearts.

Try not to eat it all, leaving a minimal quantity to become icing; definitely do not try it when it’s still piping hot because it will scald your tongue yet again – I never learn.

Add sifted icing sugar to whatever sauce is remaining, beating with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. I didn’t need all 5 cups since I had far less butterscotch sauce than planned for and in any case, I think I would have used less even if I hadn’t eaten most of the sauce. It’s very easy to pipe, not soft and floppy and fractious. Plus I have this amazing little gadget (thanks Jun!) that helps to push all the icing right down to the bottom of the bag, which is useful when you don’t have much spare…

When the cupcakes have cooled right down to room temperature, pop the icing into a piping bag with a large star nozzle and make pretty swirls. I used Al Nassma camels milk chocolate shards as decoration, but if this is a bit hard to come by where you are regular old cows-milk will do. (Be sure to tell people beforehand that it’s camels milk so that they can decide how grossed-out they are by it!).



One thought on “A Date on the Dunes

  1. Pingback: Table Scraps | Once Upon a Wooden Spoon...

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