Naturally sweet holiday baking
This holiday season sweeten your holiday baking with the natural goodness of dates. Dates boost the nutritional content of cookies, bars, and loaves - and taste delicious!
Baking is as much a part of the holiday festivities as the glorious eating of cookies, loaves, and squares. As many of us turn toward healthier whole food options in both sweet and savoury foods, baking without processed sugar is a natural next step … and that’s where dates come in.
Dates have a complex natural sugar constitution. Their incredibly sweet caramel flavour and moist, dense texture make them ideal sugar substitutes in many baked goods. Unlike refined sugar that has been stripped of any nutrients and minerals and is full of empty calories, dates are natural sugar bombs with significant health benefits.
Although über sweet, dates actually score low on the glycemic scale—good news for diabetics trying to manage blood sugar and blood fat levels and still indulge in a holiday treat or two. Because dates are packed with fibre, they are slow to digest and help keep you feeling fuller, longer.
Dates are promoters of good bone health. They’re loaded with potassium, calcium, and magnesium—minerals important for the maintenance of healthy bone development and strength. One date contains 167 mg of potassium, while the Health Canada daily recommendation is 1,600 to 2,000 mg. That’s a sweet start!
Types of dates
Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree. While there are hundreds of varieties of dates, only a few of them are readily available in North America. When buying dates, there are three main types: soft, semi-dry, and dry. These are the most common types of each.
Medjool: Large dates with an über sweet flavour and soft sticky skin. They’re great stuffed with cheese, puréed into smoothies, or puréed for baking.
Deglet noor: Medium-sized dates with an amber colour and semi-dry texture that finish with a pleasant chew. These are great for snacking and pairing with cheeses, and puréed for baking.
Thoory: Slightly reddish-brown colour with shiny, dry, wrinkled skin, their flesh is firm with a chewy, nutty flavour. Great for snacking, they’re best for dehydrating into date sugar.
One date: two ways
Dates are so versatile. There are two easy ways to coax the sweetness out of dates and make them user-friendly for baking.
Dehydrated dates are pulverized into powder form so they resemble sugar. Similar to sugar, they add sweetness to baked goods but do not dissolve like granulated sugar. Use as a finishing sugar or add to batters along with puréed dates. Choose the Thoory date for best results.
How to make it: Preheat oven to 250 F (120 C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut dates in half, then spread out on parchment paper. Bake until dried, about 2 hours, then remove from oven and let cool. Turn into a spice grinder and add 2 tsp (10 mL) cornstarch. Purée until powdery, then pass through a sieve for a fine consistency. Store at room temperature in airtight container.
This is a mixture of dry dates hydrated with liquid, then puréed. It acts like applesauce in most recipes, adding moisture and sweetness to baked goods. For best results, the purée should be smooth but not too liquid.
How to make it: Use a ratio of 1 to 1 1/2 cups (250 to 350 mL) dates to 1/2 cup (125 mL) liquid, such as orange juice or water. Simmer until tender, then purée until smooth.