When it comes to natural breakfast sweets, maple syrup and honey may come to mind first, but dates are another great option. With a flavor that is deeper and tends toward caramel, they have been significant to cuisines throughout the ages. One of the oldest cultivated plants, date trees also have rich symbolic value, with the fruit representing life and fertility and the leaves being part of many cultural traditions. Among his wishes for marriage, the 13th century poet Rumi hopes that the union may “offer fruit and shade like the date palm.”
Full of natural sweetness, dates make a healthy alternative to refined sugar, but I love them for their caramel-like flavor. For this date crostini, I make a spread for multigrain bread and top it with a walnut cream cheese that is rounded out with just a touch of honey and lemon zest.
8 oz. pitted dates
2 cups near-boiling water
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
Walnut Cream Cheese
8 oz. cream cheese
½ cup toasted chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons honey
⅛ teaspoon very fine lemon zest
One multigrain baguette
For the date spread, begin by covering the fruit with near-boiling water. You may not need to use the full 2 cups. Let the dates soak for about 45 minutes or until soft. Once they have soaked, drain them but keep the liquid. Use a food processor or blender to combine the dates and ¼ cup of the liquid until the mixture is smooth. Add more liquid if necessary to reach a smooth consistency, adding one tablespoon at a time. Next add the vanilla and salt and combine well.
Allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature. Using the paddle attachment of a standing mixer, combine the cream cheese, walnuts, honey, and lemon zest.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the baguette and bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Top the slices with date spread and cream cheese. Serve warm or room temperature.