Well, just as I had smelled spring in the air, piles of snow as big as a school bus spied on my way to rosemaling class and news of another snow storm on its way to Minnesota have put me in the mood for a few more days of winter cooking. My Kaffeeklatsch are coming today, so I baked up an experiment; they are such gracious guinea pigs. I was pretty infatuated with the brown sugar, butter, and dates that melted and caramelized together for the date balls I made the other day, so I thought I would see if the principle would work as a simple pie filling. I tossed in some crunchy Celtic salt at the end for a little salty bite, and poured it into a simple press-in crust I made with ground toasted almonds and graham cracker crumbs. The verdict? It’s everything I hoped it would be, like a slice of soft, nuanced caramel. If you didn’t know it contained dates, I imagine you would never guess it. In fact, you could call it salted caramel pie and your guests might never be the wiser. My crust experiment will need a tweak next time around, as it doesn’t serve up very neatly, but the date caramel slices beautifully, and if you don’t mind a pie that looks homespun on the plate, the crust was delicious, too. If you don’t have Celtic salt, dramatically reduce the salt in the pie. The coarse pieces of Celtic salt remain intact in the pie so they don’t charge the filling with a uniform saltiness. Add just a pinch of conventional salt as a substitute.
Salted Date Pie
Yield: one nine-inch pie, about 12 small but rich servings
12 graham crackers, crushed very finely (1 ¾ c.)
1 c. whole almonds
¾ c. unsalted butter, melted
2 pounds whole dates
1 c. unsalted butter
1 ½ c. brown sugar
2 t. Celtic salt
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the almonds on a sheet pan and bake them for 10 minutes, giving them a shake halfway through the baking time.
- When they have cooled a bit, grind them finely using a food processor.
- Lower the oven heat to 375 degrees F.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ground almonds, graham cracker crumbs, and melted butter, stirring them with a fork to combine.
- Press the mixture firmly into a pie plate with your fingertips until it reaches up the sides and is uniform.
- Bake the crust for ten minutes and set it aside.
- Meanwhile, slice the dates in half and remove their pits.
- In a large pan over low heat, melt the butter, brown sugar, and dates, stirring periodically. The dates will melt down into the brown sugar and butter and caramelize. This takes a bit of time, just pop in on it every few minutes to give it a stir. Towards the end of the process, stir more frequently so that the mixture does not burn. It should smell caramelized when it is ready. Stir in the salt at the end.
- Pour the date caramel into the crust and spread it with a spatula. It will set at room temperature.