Saturday, December 8, 2007

Exotic Desserts from the Sultan's Garden

**Edited note: I won! I won! I really won! See the roundup here.**

Habeas Brulee recently posted about a new book titled The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente, which is the final book in a two-book series.

It's the continuing saga of a mysterious unnamed girl with tattooed eyelids living in the Sultan's garden who weaves tales to entertain the boy who is heir to the Sultanate. Rich with food and spice imagery, these stories are woven and intertwined, layer upon layer. Publisher's Weekly called it, “A fairy tale lover’s wildest dream come true.... Valente has created a thought-provoking storytelling tour de force.”

I am intrigued. Mesmerized, even.

When I think of fairy tales a la Arabian Nights, and of course cultures that would have a Sultan, I think of Egypt, Turkey, Syria and India, balmy weather, dates, nuts, honey, spices and boiled-milk treats.

And as I wait for the books to become available to me, I was inspired by the excerpts and reviews I read on the internet and came up with three desserts as part of Habeas Brulee's foodblogging event, From the Crease of My Right Eye.

Cardamom-Kissed Dates Stuffed with Hazelnuts

6 medjool dates, pitted

1/8 cup chopped hazelnuts

1 tablespoon honey (or agave nectar)

pinch ground cardamom

Combine the hazelnuts with the honey and cardamom. Stuff nut mixture into the pitted dates. It sounds easier than it is--I used my fingers, which worked very well, because the spiced honey clung to the outsides of the dates, too.

Fruit-Nut Squares
adapted from Walnut-Date Burfi found in
The Complete Book of Indian Cooking by Suneeta Vaswani

Note: I had to deviate from the original recipe because my reduced-milk result turned out to be not strong enough to hold the fruit and nuts, even after chilling overnight... so I baked it down further to make these delicious squares.

Butter an 8-inch square pan.

In a heavy saucepan, bring 3 cups of whole or 2% milk to a low boil over medium to medium-low heat. Reduce heat as needed to maintain a gentle boil. Stir every 5-6 minutes. Boil gently until reduced by half (took me about 30-35 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

Coarsely chop 8 ounces pitted medjool dates; combine with 8 ounces sultana raisins and 1 cup chopped walnuts. Add to boiled milk and stir to combine. Pour into prepared pan and bake in a preheated 350*F oven for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and set.

Remove from oven and cool thoroughly.
Cut into squares and serve. Addictive.

Frozen Treat in the Sultan's Garden

I made this in a custard ramekin, and it was rich--too much for one person. Could easily be dessert for two.

Fruit squares (see recipe above)
Vanilla Ice Cream (I used sugar-free)
Chopped salted pistachios
1 tablespoon honey (I used agave nectar)
Dash ground cloves

Fill a custard ramekin half-way with softened vanilla ice cream and top with fruit squares. You may have to cut them to fit just so. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1 hour to harden.

To remove treat from ramekin, gently dip in shallow warm water to lightly melt ice cream. Invert onto a serving plate. Garnish top with chopped salted pistachios.

Combine honey with cloves and drizzle over dessert. Sinfully delicious.

I found this a very inspiring project. Thanks to Habeas Brulee for this foodblogging event, and vigorous applause to Catherynne M. Valente for creating what promises to be a beloved set of books. I can't wait to read them!

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