Dates can make your cakes, pies and confections more delicious and more nutritious. But in terms of taste and texture each category differs quite a bit. So, read up on this guide before you grab a random bag of dates from the supermarket!
Not all dates are made alike, but nearly all of them can be a terrific addition to your homemade bakes. In general, dates have a well-rounded sweetness with varying degrees of nuttiness and can replace sugar in most recipes.
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In texture, some dates are simply more usable when it comes to baking and can be easily blended with different ingredients and flavours. Medjool dates, for instance, are large and squishy, with a rich nectar-like sweetness are can easily be used in classic European desserts or even fruity confections.
In contrast, Khadrawy dates are tangier and have a unique profile which can show up in certain desserts but can do very well in spiced drinks. In buttery scones, for instance, the best dates to use would be chopped Medjool or small, diced Deglet Noor variants. For denser, truffle desserts, pitted and whole Halawi dates would be perfect since they can easily be kneaded with nut pastes and processed. There’s a right date for every occasion and here’s a quick primer on the most usable variants:
The reason Medjool variants are so popular in baking is because they've caramel notes in their profile and a delicate texture. The dates have a well-rounded profile that's sweet enough to replace artificial sweeteners or additional sugars in your dessert and balanced enough to complement strong flavours like chocolate, coffee, and even cream cheese.
Moreover, these dates are naturally chewy which makes them a great addition to fudge, brownies or even certain pies and sticky puddings. Medjool dates are fresh fruits and not dried (which is why you're most likely to find them in the produce section)' however, you'll notice they come with a subtle smokiness, similar to maple syrups which gives it a more nuanced profile.
Deglet Noor is the most widely found date; they're typically dried and pitted and are thus more often used in desserts that have a crust. They also hold their texture well and can also be mixed into dessert batters quite easily because they don't need to be processed separately. Moreover, these variants are milder in flavour and have a light nuttiness, unlike medjool which has a stronger presence in most desserts.
Copper-coloured Deglet Noor dates with a slight crunch and smooth skin are usually ideal for baking. These dates crackle as they get older and their skin gets flakier; but the younger the date, the better they can be used in baking.
Halawi dates are buttery and have a squishy, tender texture. They're easy to mix, cut, blend and fold into cakes or even frozen desserts. They're ideal for baking loaf cakes since they can add a slightly fudgy texture to the cake and are also often used in Indian mithais.
Early harvest stage barhi dates are usually considered ideal for selected baking purposes, and even for gifting. These yellow dates have a distinct texture and a lighter, fresher taste that’s not as intense as Medjool dates.
They usually grow in long bunches attached to yellow branches and stems and in early stages, they're compared to crunchy yellow apples. However, they're quite fragile and sensitive to breakage. They're usually used to make semi-hard candies but can add great texture to sticky date cakes.