Persian date cake / Renee Comet

A Persian no-bake that takes the cake! The next time you're looking for a sweet end to a Middle Eastern-inspired meal, try this dessert that’s a standard among Iranian cooks

Stuff walnut pieces into tender pitted dates – which form the cake’s base – while you stir up a roux until it’s the colour of toasty caramel. The roux, aromatic spices and finally a crumbly blanket of pistachios go on top; once they’re set, the cake’s ready to go. Make ahead as the cake needs an hour or two to set up and cool before serving. It can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Persian date cake

Makes 18 to 24 servings

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 packed cups pitted dates, preferably deglet noor
1 cup safflower oil (may substitute 16 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee)
2 cups flour
3 tbsp confectioners
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 cup shelled, coarsely ground raw pistachios

Toast the walnuts in a large non-stick skillet over a medium heat for about five minutes, shaking the pan so they don’t scorch, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly browned. Let cool.

Line a 25cm tart pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan with parchment paper. Use the walnuts to stuff each date, arranging them in the pan in a single layer as you work; this will take 15 to 20 minutes, and it should be easy to do because the dates have been split.

Heat the oil in the same skillet you used to toast the walnuts, over a medium heat. Gradually add the flour, whisking constantly, to form a smooth and thick roux. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, whisking all the while, until the roux is a light mocha colour – it picks up colour especially in the last five minutes of cooking. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar until it has dissolved.

Carefully transfer the roux (it’s molten hot!) to the pan; use an offset spatula or table knife to smooth it evenly over the dates, making sure they are completely covered. Immediately sprinkle the cinnamon and cardamom evenly over the roux, then top with the pistachios to cover completely.

Let the date cake sit for at least an hour or two before serving. When ready to serve, remove the ring from the pan. Cut the cake into 18 to 24 squares or diamond shapes (edges and bits left over are for the cook).

The freshness of the walnuts is key here. Your best bet is to buy them at a Middle Eastern market, where the turnover is quick.

© The Washington Post