A few months ago, my eye was caught at a local shop by a branch with what looked like yellow velvet mini apricots on it. A sucker for slightly Disneyfied foods, I picked a branch up and enquired as to what it was of the shopkeeper. He explained that they were fresh dates, brought in for Ramadan when iftar or the breaking of the fast is traditionally performed with a date and water. Not only do they look fabulous, they are less sweet than dried dates, so I thought I’d definitely give them a go. A bit of Googling told me they are known as barhi dates and that they are pleasantly fresh and cleansing.
Forgoing the small sherry I often have as an aperitif, I decided to try a fresh khalal date instead. Plucked from the branch, they were as silky smooth as a perfect peach with a serious crunch when I bit into it. And then all the moisture was sucked from my mouth in a startling fashion that pursed my lips like the Grandma in George’s Marvellous Medicine. My mouth felt as if it was first thing in the morning after a heavy night on the sauce and as if I’d scoured it out with oxalic acid for funsies first. My teeth were on edge, my mouth tasted foul and I had to brush my teeth several times to remove the sensation. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten.
Sulking slightly, I left the dates to sit on the windowsill as punishment for letting me down and went away for a few days. When I came back, the dates had wizened, shrunk down and deepened in colour to a wonderful glossy shade of amber that just gleamed with natural sugar. They looked much more appetising than those lifeless things you see in trays around Christmas with their own fork. I ate quite a few just off the branch and revelled in their candy like feel, but wondered what else I could use them for. As usual, when in doubt, I thought ice cream…
Date Ripple Ice Cream
- 250ml whole milk
- 500ml double cream
- 3 tablespoons date syrup
- 5 egg yolks
- 75g fresh dates, at the soft, or rutab stage
- 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Start with your dates. They should pluck off the branch easily after about three weeks ripening, leaving the stone and the skin behind as you go. Then puree the date flesh slightly in a blender or pestle and mortar.
Warm the milk and cream and date syrup together in a pan. Date syrup or molasses has become popular recently as a natural alternative to refined sugar. Often favoured by the kind of people who think agave syrup is healthier than table sugar or those who eat raw or wholefoods, date syrup has got a reputation for being a good thing. I’m not sure it’s really any better for you than a bag of Tate and Lyle, but taste wise, it’s lovely. Sweet without being sickly, it’s versatile in both sweet and savoury dishes and can be used in place of honey. I used it here in place of sugar as I wanted the flavour of pure date to shine through.
Beat your egg yolks lightly and then temper them by adding a splash of the almost boiling cream and milk mix and then adding the eggs to the pan and stirring well with a spatula until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of the spatula or spoon. Then chill the custard well and churn according to your machine’s instructions.
Pour the still soft ice cream into your container and using a metal skewer to drag it through, ripple the pomegranate molasses through the ice cream. It’ll be subtle in looks, but adds a slight sourness that works really well with this lovely sweet like ice cream. (I could not get it to show up in the photos, so drizzled a bit over the top instead.)
This ice cream is so just creamy, not just because it’s real dairy ice cream as approved by Mary Berry, but because the dates like butterscotch sauce in their texture and flavour. You’ll find it hard to believe there isn’t lashings of caramel in there. I love this ice cream and think it might have after years of being highly dubious of them, have converted me to dates properly.