With Christmas looming around the corner, my thoughts have been turning to holiday baking and the return of seasonal favourites which make their annual (but much anticipated) appearance around this time of year. I always look forward to the first batch of fruit mince pies, which is a rather curious phenomenon for me considering that I am actually not a big fan of fruit mince. In fact, I loathe fruit cakes and traditional Christmas cakes; I can eat a slither of a slice out of politeness, so long as there is a nice cup of tea to help me wash it down.
One year, I attempted Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fruit Cake from Feast in the mistaken belief that the chocolate part of the cake would somehow override the dried fruit content. However, the cake was so heavily concentrated with dried fruit (a whopping 725 g to be precise) that it was essentially a big mound of dried prunes, raisins and currants held together by a mere few tablespoons of cocoa. How I managed to still convince myself to make the cake after reading the recipe, I’m not sure. Needless to say, I found the cake to be inedible and, incredibly, so did my husband who, up until that point in our relationship, had never spat out anything I had made, nor gone against his frugal nature and request that I throw away good food. I guess the point he was making was that this particular fruit cake was not “good food”. I know it sounds harsh, especially since I know many who are great fans of this particular recipe of Nigella, but it happens to be the one dish where my husband has derived great pleasure in telling our friends that I am sometimes short of the domestic goddess title, and I don’t blame him either.
Although I have an aversion to fruit mince, I have nothing against dried fruit. In fact, I could quite happily sit down to a bag of dried apricots, dried pears, dried apples, dried mango … I guess it is the dense combination of raisins and currants which is not always so appealing to me.
This Date & Cinnamon Tart is the perfect alternative to a traditional fruit cake or large fruit mince pie. The filling is a simple paste of dried dates with some ground cinnamon and an aromatic hint of orange. The tart itself is made from shortbread, meaning that you can skip the numerous resting periods and blind-baking that pastry requires.
I was first introduced to this recipe by a wonderful online foodie friend, Sam, who was baking her way through Dan Lepard’s Baking with Passion (Baker & Spice). Her enthusiasm for this book was infectious, so much that the moment I saw her photos of Dan Lepard’s Date Shortbread Bars, I instantly knew that it would be a winning recipe. Besides, Sam has a knack for sourcing many brilliant recipes, and I am truly grateful for her eagerness to share these gems.
The original recipe requires you to crumble one-third of the pastry over the filling to form a crumble topping. This is a fabulously easy way to decorate the tart, not to mention that it crisps up wonderfully upon baking to form a nice crunchy texture against the soft filling.
For something a bit more special for Christmas, I found inspiration from a Donna Hay magazine (which happens quite often!) and rolled out one-third of the pastry to form a lid for the tart, and used a cookie-cutter to cut out some snowflakes in the lid. The result is something I would be embarrassed to present to Donna herself, but hopefully you get the idea 😉
I also played with the shortbread recipe a little as on each occasion when I’ve made it according to Dan Lepard’s instructions, my shortbread was a bit too crumbly to work with. As the date filling uses orange zest, I make some use of the rest of the orange by using some of the juice to help bring the mixture together. This not only adds additional fragrance and sweetness to the shortbread, but it also helps to keep the shortbread light and crumbly.
Although this Date & Cinnamon Tart is worth serving at an afternoon tea at whatever time of the year, I think this Christmas version might be a new favourite for me.
For the filling:
250 g dried dates (without seeds)
zest of 1 orange
25 g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
200 ml water
For the shortbread:
225 g plain flour
4 tablespoons cornflour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
125 g sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150 g unsalted butter, softened
1-2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice
For the glaze:
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
Make the filling first by placing the dried dates, orange zest, butter, ground cinnamon and water into a small saucepan over high heat. Once it has come to the boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and give everything a good mix. Set the saucepan aside for the mixture to cool completely and for the dates to absorb some of the liquid. Once it has cooled, place the whole mixture into a food processor and process it until it is smooth. You can make the filling the night or day before making the tart and simply cover the filling with some clingfilm and leave it at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Generously grease a 35 cm x 13 cm rectangular fluted tin with some butter.
To make the shortbread, mix together the flour, cornflour, baking powder, sugar, salt, vanilla extract and butter in a food processor or KitchenAid. The mixture should resemble damp sand. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly, slowly add some fresh orange juice until the mixture just comes together in a ball. You may not need all of the orange juice.
You can also make the shortbread by hand by simply rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients until it is crumbly in texture, and then proceed to add any orange juice if necessary.
Roll the pastry into a ball. Remove about 1/3 of the pastry and roll this into a rectangular shape, about 3 mm thick, which will be the lid of the tart. It is easiest to roll out of the pastry on a sheet of clingfilm or baking paper. Use a cookie cutter in the shape of a snowflake or star to cut out some shapes in the lid.
Roll the remaining pastry (again on some clingfilm or baking paper) and line the tin with the pastry. Trim off any excess pastry. The pastry is likely to be quite soft but if any pieces fall off, you can simply squish some pastry into the tin to fill any gaps or holes.
Fill the tart with the date filling and spread it evenly.
Next, carefully cover the tart with the pastry lid. Trim off any excess pastry and press together the pastry edges. Brush the lid with some egg yolk and generously sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Bake the tart for about 25 to 30 minutes until it is lightly golden and the pastry is cooked underneath.
As a variation, instead of making a lid to cover the tart, you can simply use the pastry reserved for the lid by crumbling it over the filling for a crumble topping.
Recipe adapted from Dan Lepard’s Baking with Passion (Baker & Spice).
Tarte aux dattes et cannelle
250 g de dattes sèches dénoyautées
1 zeste d’orange – réserver le jus
25 g de beurre sans sel
1 cuiller à café de cannelle en poudre
20 cl d’eau
225 g de farine
4 cuillerées à soupe de maïzena
1/2 cuiller à café de levure à pâtisserie
125 g de sucre
1 pincée de sel
1 cuiller à café d’extrait de vanille
150 g de beurre doux ramolli
1 à 2 cuillers à soupe de jus d’orange pressée
1 jaune d’œuf battu
du sucre en grains
Commencer par la garniture: dans une petite casserole mettre dattes, zeste d’orange, beurre, cannelle et eau. Chauffer à feu vif. A ébullition, retirer du feu et bien mélanger. Laisser refroidir pour que les dattes absorbent une partie du liquide. Mixer pour obtenir une pâte lisse. (Cette opération peut être faite la veille, dans ce cas couvrir la garniture de film alimentaire et maintenir à température ambiante.)
Préchauffer le four à 180°C.
Beurrer généreusement un moule rectangulaire de 35 cm de long.
Pour le sablé, mélanger farine, maïzena, levure, sucre, sel, extrait de vanille et beurre dans un robot pour obtenir une consistance de sable humide. Si la pâte est trop sèche et s’émiette, ajouter peu à peu du jus d’orange jusqu’à obtenir une boule.
Remarque: la pâte sablée peut être realisée manuellement en incorporant des petits morceaux de beurre dans les ingrédients secs, et en maniant le tout façon “crumble”.
Rouler la pâte en boule. En prélever 1/3 que l’on étale sur une plaque en un rectangle de 3 mm d’épaisseur qui servira de “couvercle” à la tarte. A l’aide d’emporte-pièces, découper quelques flocons de neige ou étoiles dans ce rectangle (voir photo).
Etaler le reste de pâte sur une feuille de cuisson, en garnir le moule et découper l’excédent. Remplir la tarte uniformément avec la garniture. Poser le couvercle avec précaution, presser ensemble les bords, dorer au jaune d’œuf et saupoudrer généreusement de sucre en grains.
Faire cuire 25 à 30 minutes. Le dessus du gâteau doit être doré et le dessous bien cuit.
Variante: au lieu de servir de couvercle, la pâte réservée peut être émiettée en crumble avec la garniture.Print
Date & Cinnamon Tart
All recipes on this website state temperatures for a regular oven (i.e. a conventional oven without fan). If you have a convection oven with a fan, please consult the manufacturer’s handbook on how to adjust the temperature and baking time accordingly.
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The tart looks gorgeous ;-). I absolutely love the snowflake cut outs. I remember you making this last year and I really must give it a go. Also on the subject of Nigella’s cake…oh my, you do feel strongly! I am one of those who loves that cake but then I am completely bonkers for fruit cake of any kind (as long as they don’t have the dreaded candied peel…ick). You have a point though, the fruit is held up by some flour and cocoa, its all out there on the fruit content.
Oooh just realised I have a bag of dates in the pantry…….. 🙂
Hi Carrie! Actually, I only made this tart earlier this year! Though it seems like a long time ago now 😉 I’ve also made it a few times since and it always receives a lot of compliments 🙂 Yeah, I seem to be among the minority on Nigella’s Chocolate Fruit Cake but it’s completely my fault for making something that I knew I wouldn’t like!
Aw hunny, your hubby is being a teensy bit mean with the trying to rob you of your DG title just for not liking fruit cake! I’m like Carrie – love this recipe but actually, it’s special to me because my dad loves it so, I can live without fruit cake (though I would like to eat a slice with cheese – yummy!). Back to the dates – ironically enough, I only just discovered that I like dates last week after making my first ever welsh cakes with dates rather than sultanas (which offend me deeply in scones and the like). Dates scared me – they look like a bug to me without any legs or other appendages! But oh my, once I gave them a chance ow wrong was I? They taste sublime! One does need to buy good dates though, the cheap ones are rather nasty. I’m deffo gonna make this beautiful tart now (LOVE the shape of your tin btw, as well as the wee snow flakes – aw!) it just looks so stunning. And the photo with the rolled out top with a slice cut out really reminds me of a childhood fave biccie of mine – the fig roll! Bliss! I’ll pop the teapot on, you bring the cake Thanh 😉 xxx
I love dates too and can eat a whole packet on my own if no-one is watching! I always thought they were healthy for some reason, but I think it was Sam or Carrie who recently told me that they were packed with calories! Do cheap dates exist? (That was a loaded question! ;-)) I find them to be pretty expensive and was a bit apprehensive at first to use them in a recipe like this, but good ingredients always make for a good finished product, I say 🙂
I also thought this tart reminded me of a fig roll, and the taste is not far off. I wonder if you could substitute the dates for dried figs??
Hope you’ll be getting out your lovely Cath Kidston tea set for our get-together 😉
Yup, dates are loaded with calories. When sugar was really expensive around the middle east, and they do like their tea sweet, dates were soaked in the hot water to sweeten it. It is good for you and packed with all sorts of health benefits, but in moderation. Also pregnant women were encouraged *not* to eat too much, as it tends to have a heating effect in the body. You might understand that concept Thanh, of the ying and yang of food prevalent in Chinese culture, which is also the case for the Indian Ayurvedic concept of food. Also, eating heaps can have a diuretic effect, like a lot of dried fruit……
Wouldn’t pass a few slices of this, for all the heat issues lol!!!
Yes, the Chinese and Vietnamese also have this concept of “hot” and “cool” food and I can see that dates would fall within the former. I wasn’t aware of the diuretic effect … except that one should equate each piece of dried fruit with the fresh counterpart to get an idea of how much to eat in terms of calorie content. Whenever I am in the US, I like to buy a whole box of dates from Whole Foods which I can eat at an alarmingly quick rate. It was only when I noticed the price (thank you, hubby) that I had to slow myself down!
I think I’d love this tart! I’m a bit like you with fruit cake too- id like to find an easy, light one with no raisins or sultanas in it! (Does such a thing exist? Lol)
LOL!! I’m glad someone understands me 😉 But honestly, if there is a fruit cake without raisins or sultanas, I think I could cope. For example, I love cakes with glacé cherries, or perhaps dried apricots and cranberries. A small sprinkling of raisins or sultanas is usually okay for me (especially when soaked first in rum à la Nigella ;-)), but where there is a high dried fruit to cake ratio, it takes a lot of willpower for me to finish a slice!
Oooooooohhhhhhhh BLUSH!!!!!! Thank you so much for your very kind words Creme! Glad this lovelly recipe found its way to you and you really do do it justice! LOVE the look of the rolled out pastry and cut out star, very elegant! Plus, your tip fo the pastry and orange juice makes perfect sense to me, so will definitely try it. I am noooo fan of any fruit cake, to be honnest it is not a tradition we have here nor in the French culture which has a great bearing on Lebanese culture as you might know……. So, until we moved to England did I come accross it and it never really caught on with us. My little sister having grown up in London has a fondness for it, but that is about it. As for my Godmother who taught me all I know about food, she has such an aversion for Sultanas (she would rather starve then have any she says!), that any such cake is off the menu for us at Xmas!
GREAT photos as usual Creme, everything is vey well put together and explained.
Thank you for sharing this recipe, Sam! This is definitely a favourite in our home and I think I will even make it for the in-laws when we visit them for Christmas 🙂
I was in the UK recently and was looking for this book in the bookstore but, unfortunately, it seems to be out of print 🙁 Maybe one day I will come across it!
What a gorgeous tart! I love the flavors. This is definitely going on my “to bake” list.
Oh Creme, I bought ‘Baker and Spice’ the same time I bought ‘Nigella Bites’ and that is many moons ago…….. I think your best bet would be Amazon.com if you care to purchase it….It has the recipe for the best ever Carrot Cake as well….. Since then ‘Baker and Spice’ the Bakery has trained a whole generation of young bakers, but it was loosing money, then the chain Valerie Patissere bought it out, but the talented bakers left it only to resurface in such establishments as Ottolenghi (Sami Tamimi, the Palestinian partner started his career at ‘Baker and Spice’ with Dan Lepard and at ‘Coco Maya’s’, that bakery that had that heaavenly chocolate cake with a layer of shortbread squashed in the middle…..!!!!!!!!
Wow, you are a wealth of knowledge! I always find myself in a bookshop wherever I travel so hopefully I will come across the book one day 🙂 I saw that you made so many wonderful things from this book that it sounds like a must-have, if not just for this one recipe!
Now this chocolate cake with a layer of shortbread in the middle … oh my gosh!!! It sounds divine!!!
oh this looks delicious! and count me in as not being a fruit cake lover, no absolutely not, but this may be right up my alley….yes, this may be a must try for these holidays which are right around the corner!! and if you do manage to get your hands on the book…..do it, even if it is only for two recipes, do it as i can certainly vouch for the other recipe! 🙂
Ah yes, I remember you writing about the carrot cake recipe as the best ever!! Sounds like the books for me then 🙂
I have always hated any kind of dried fruit,non it’s own or on a cake, tart, etc but I recently discovered dates and I love them so I am so excited to try this! my thought was to make it as mini fruit tarts so it would looks like mince tarts but be dates instead. Do you think this would work? Thanks again!
Hi Sarah, I think this recipe could definitely be adapted to make little tarts! The idea also crossed my mind as a substitute for fruit mince pies. I think what makes some fruit mince pies bearable for me is that there is a good pastry to fruit mince ratio – the more pastry, the better!
The shortbread in this recipe can be a bit soft so, if you live somewhere warm, I would recommend chilling it in the fridge for maybe 20 minutes before rolling it out and cutting out the little pastry discs. This is to make the shortbread pastry easier to work with as little tarts can be more fiddly. But if your kitchen is cool, you could probably skip the chilling 🙂
It’s a wonderful idea! Please let me know if you try it!
I’m not a huge Christmas cake fan either – like you, i can eat a tiny slither. We’re a two person household and i once made a huge Christmas cake which was in the fridge for over a year! We were eating tiny slithers at a time. It was perfectly preserved by the extremely high alcohol content. Your date and cinnamon tart will take up a lot less room in the fridge … and i doubt it would even make it’s way in there, to be honest. Will definitely give this a try. Thanks for sharing.
A whole year! Wow! We have a tiny fridge here in Zurich, so space comes at a premium. I had Nigella’s Chocolate Fruit Cake hanging around for a few days before hubby looked at me in pain! Please let me know if you get around to trying this recipe 🙂
Such an elegant tart. I may try this and let you know how it goes.
Thank you, Anita! It’s a really beautiful tart, both the crumble topping and pastry top version. If you love dates, I’m sure you will like this tart 🙂
I’d love to have you come for tea and I’d bake you my light fruit cake – 18 years i’ve been making it now not just for weddings, bar mitzvahs, engagements and christmas but also for dozens of fruitcake haters. I don’t know what it is about the recipe but everyone seems to love it and ask for seconds, some to take home, the recipe….
LOL enough of that.
Your post is gorgeous and i especially love the solid topped version. The wee snowflakes cut out are just adorable. The dense mix peeking through is just perfect. I have that trance tin too and it’s my all time favourite one to use. Would you serve this with a little cream or creme fraiche on the side?
Oh Julia, you know that I would jump at the chance for tea at your place! 🙂 I’m intrigued to hear about your light fruit cake – would you have any photos on your FB page? I certainly don’t mind if there is just a sprinkle of dried fruits, but when there is more dried fruit than there is cake, then I’m in trouble!
I’m so glad to hear that you like the version with the snowflake cut-outs 🙂 The shortbread “sandwich” is perfect against the sweetness of the date filling. I think you could just serve this shortbread tart as is, but I wouldn’t say no to some cream or crème frâiche on the side 🙂
I can’t wait to try it out! Its fantastic! Looks amazing!