During the 2020 lockdown, when people around the world were embarking on personal baking journeys—whipping up batches of banana bread to break free from the boredom of social isolation—I found myself drawn to a different ingredient: my favorite fruit, the humble date. As the COVID-19 pandemic surged outside, I filled my days spent indoors with batch after batch of date cookies, date cakes cakes, date ice cream, and date shakes.
In my home state of Dubai—as elsewhere throughout the Middle East and North Africa—the date plays a significant role in the local cuisine. Dates are one of the primary ingredients in baked goods, sweets, and even some savory dishes enjoyed throughout the year, especially during religious celebrations like Eid, Christmas, and Rosh Hashanah.
Unlike other, more fragile plants, the resilient date palm thrives in the Gulf region’s arid heat, ensuring that this important fruit remains accessible to all. It’s because of this that dates are an integral part of the fabric of our culture; in Emirati homes, you’ll pretty much always find a bowl of dates on the dining room table.
When I started my blog, many of my early readers requested recipes featuring ingredients grown in my home country, so I started experimenting further with dates. I found that the super-soft medjool variety—when folded into pastries—took on a smooth, almost toffee-like texture. If you’re not sure if you like dates, these chewy date-pecan cookies will almost certainly win you over.
For the best flavor and texture, I encourage you to toast your pecans before adding them to the dough. Date syrup (also known as date molasses) is a flavorful, date-based sweetener; it can be found at health food stores and Middle Eastern markets, or online.
- 1 cup (6½ oz.) medjool dates
- 16 Tbsp. (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ⅓ cup plus 2 Tbsp. white sugar
- 3 Tbsp. date syrup
- 2 large, room-temperature eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla paste or extract
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. fine sea salt
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
- 5¼ oz. toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (1⅓ cup)
- Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
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