18 January 2012

Two Dates Walk Into A Bar

Aaand I'm back.

I hope you're into catching up a bit.

Dialing all the way back to the holidays --I think it was a couple days after Thanksgiving--I was driving around and heard about a holiday gift idea that struck me just the right way.  Did you know it's possible to make your own liqueur?  I didn't.  Orange, Lemon, Kiwi Strawberry--pick a fruit and you're on your way.  What really perked up my ears was the idea of Date Liqueur.

They said it was really easy, tasty and FAST.  Who doesn't like the sound of that?  Unique too.  No danger of, "Oh thanks, but Judy gave me one of those last week" embarrassments.

The date thing hit me because back in September Cody and I went on a mini-vacation with a few friends to Palm Springs.  One of our adventures involved driving out to the Salton Sea.  Little did we know that the biggest feature of this so-called "sea" was its (fish) skeleton-lined shores.  YIKES!!

The Salton Sea fish bones may have been a bit creepy, but the trip led us to discover two huge roadside Date markets.  Dates are a big crop in the California desert.  (See it's all coming together now, right?)

I was in heaven.

Just inside the door sat a huge round table with baskets full of every variety of date you can imagine for sampling!!  Wee!  I think there were at least 10 kinds and I tasted every one--my pals bowed out after 2 or 3.  Amateurs!

Frankly, I came late to the date party--dates were not a staple ingredient in my mom's Ohio kitchen.  Who knew they were so caramel-ly delicious?  After tasting all that I could, I bought bags and bags of my two favorite varieties and stuck them in the freezer waiting for a great idea to hit me.

Enter, The Great Idea.

Supposedly, all I needed to do was cover dates with vodka and keep them in an airtight container in the dark for a couple of weeks and voila--Date Liqueur.  Also, they claimed there was enough sugar in the dates that no additional sugar was necessary. The extra added bonus surprise was that I would be able to then use the vodka infused dates to make, and I quote, "the most delicious date bread ever."  Sold.

I went home and put some of my prized dates in a big latch-top jar, covered them with hooch and shook the jar every few days.  I even found some lovely glass bottles so I could gift the caramel liqueur.

Two weeks later I popped open the lid, gave it a stir and took a taste.


Awful.  Like pure vodka.  So many dates and I couldn't taste them at all.  I figured I still had a few days that I could let the concoction sit before I had to bottle my gifts.  I was nervous.  I wasn't sure a few days was enough to make the magic happen.

Turned out I was right.  Luckily, I had scratched around and found a recipe for cranberry liqueur that worked really fast.  Paired with a cranberry-banana-walnut bread, the liqueur made a festive gift.  But what about the dates??

Apparently it takes at least 7 weeks to make Date Liqueur!!

It's a thick caramel liqueur that's nice to sip on its own, makes a fun martini, works in recipes and flavors whipped cream and custards brilliantly.  I did add a touch of honey to cut through the little bit of vodka bite.

Now, even after making a batch of date nut bread from the vodka-ed date pulp, I have loads of it in the freezer whenever I need it.  Nothing wasted!  I love that.

If I were to do it again, I'd probably use dark rum just because I think it would give the liqueur that much more depth.  Even though the holidays are long gone, the first bottle is winging its way to our fellow Salton Sea Adventurers (you know who you are!!) and I still have some nice impromptu gifts to share at any time because the flavor will continue to develop in the bottle for up to a year.

Maybe I'm just that far ahead on my holiday gifts for 2012! 

Date Liqueur
makes 1 quart/4 cups

4 c        dates, pitted
1/4 c     honey
750 ml  vodka or dark rum

Put dates in an airtight container, cover with alcohol, honey and stir.  Store in a cabinet or dark space and stir contents every 2 - 3 days.

After 7 or 8 weeks strain contents of the container into a bowl.  Mash the dates to extract liquid.  Transfer dates to a large section of cheesecloth and squeeze into the bowl to remove as much liquid as possible from the fruit.  Stir to make sure the sugars are well distributed and taste.  Add more honey to taste.  Use a funnel to decant into bottles for storage.

Date Nut Bread
makes 1 loaf or 4 - 4-inch rounds

1 c        flour
1 1/2 t   baking powder
1/4 t      baking soda
1/2 t      salt
1 1/2 c  date pulp
1/2 c     hot water
1 T        butter
1/3 c     brown sugar
1/4 c     molasses
2 t          vanilla
2            eggs
2/3 c      walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Combine dates, water, butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs in a separate mixing bowl and whisk until well incorporated.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet.  Stir until just combined (don't overmix).  Fold in most of the nuts reserving a few to sprinkle on top of the loaf.

Bake loaf for 1 hour.  Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, run a knife along the edges and remove the loaf from the pan to cool on a wire rack.  Wrap in plastic to store.

**Bread tastes better the next day**

1 comment:

  1. You, my friend are one clever winch!

    ; )