Thursday, December 19, 2013
June's Date-Nut Roll - A Sweet Christmas Confection
A friend of mine who is fighting a debilitating disease and has earned my admiration many times over for her cheerfulness, resourcefulness and really just her joy of life put out a Facebook request. June could not take care of her own Christmas baking this year and instead of serving store-bought goodies asked her virtual and real friends to please volunteer to make her family favorites for her this year.
I was assigned this Date-Nut Roll, which is really more of a confection than a cookie. It is sweet and sticky and a bit addictive.
"This recipe has been handed down for generations in our family. You either hate it or love it. In my family of six of us kids, four loved it, two hated it. Every year when I made it, I always had to make it for us, my little brother and my older brother," says June.
Be sure to buy the red-colored candied cherries rather than the green. (I had to go to a few stores before I found the red.) This is very important since the candied cherries tint the nut and date mixture a pale pink and I'm not sure pale green slices of the loaf would be as appetizing. And yes, when you look at the recipe, six cherries is all you need. Chop them into about 1/8" pieces.
I also used whole, pitted dates, sprinkled them with a teaspoon to sugar and chopped them to about 1/8" to 1/4" pieces. I think freshly chopped dates are moister and tastier than the pre-chopped kind. I used Deglet, but any variety of date should work fine.
If I was creating my own family tradition with this recipe, I might sub out the candied cherries for plumped and drained dried cherries, but this is not my recipe -- it's June's and I tried to make it as close to her instructions as I could.
Some other tips --rinse and wring out the dish towel you wrap the log in several times to remove any detergent scent. Make sure the towel is just damp not wet when you wrap and roll the log. I used twist ties to seal the ends of the towel to help the log keep it's shape. The roll needs to chill at least overnight. Be sure to place on a tray or pan since the sugar will weep through the cloth.
June's directions didn't specify, but I think the treat works best in 1/4" thick slices -- any thinner and they may not stay together - any thicker and it's a lot of sweet all at once.
I used a candy thermometer and felt that really helped but June gives directions either way. I was unsure how to "beat" the mixture and ended up using elbow grease and a spatula for about five minutes until I felt the concoction would pretty much hold its shape when I poured it out onto the prepared towel.
June calls this a roll, but I was really only able to get it to form into a loaf, but it worked and tasted fine this way. In hindsight, I would have prepared two towels and made two thinner loaves. Chilling the mixture a bit before spreading and forming might have helped in shaping it into a more elegant "roll."
Below is June's recipe with some additional directions based on my experience.
June's Date-Nut Roll
24-36 slices (estimated) depending on width of log and size of slices
3 cups sugar
1 cup whole milk
6 red-colored candied cherries, chopped
8 oz. chopped dates
1 cup chopped pecans
1 Tbs. butter
Mix sugar and milk in pot. Bring to boiling point, add cherries and dates. Boil slowly until mixture forms soft balls when dropped in cold water (about 234 to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer). Stir in butter. Set pot with sugar-milk mixture in a large bowl or pot with cold water. When nearly cool beat until mixture thickens. Stir in nuts. Spread on damp cloth in log shape and roll. Refrigerate over night or longer. When ready to cut, unroll log, roll log in powdered sugar and slice in 1/4" thick pieces. Sprinkle cut sides of slice with powdered sugar and store in refrigerator, separating layers with waxed paper, until ready to serve.