Get a whiff of Elizabethan England with these orange, cinnamon, and date muffins.
In the spirit of the Stir It Up! muffin mix-off, I was inspired to mix together a batch of these wonderful orange, date, and cinnamon muffins from “Sun Bread & Sticky Toffee: Date desserts from everywhere” by Sarah al-Hamad, just out this month from Interlink Books (July 2013).
I had found some dates in my cupboard that needed to be used up. Their sugars were crystalizing on their skin so including them in a baked good was really the best option. I first tried a recipe for date muffins I found on my box of bulger wheat, and while they were certainly tasty and served as a perfect pre-swim treat before swimming across Walden Pond last Saturday morning, they were somehow laking in their small, pale shapes. That’s when I remembered I had a copy of “Sun Bread & Sticky Toffee” sitting on my desk at work.
Ms. al-Hamad let curiosity be her guide as she followed the “date trail” spanning thousands of years in culinary history across Persia, the Middle East, northern Africa, North and South American, and even Australia. Spreads, baked goods, and delicious desserts fill the pages of her cookbook and make me think that I should pay more attention to this dried fruit that I think of as a forgotten cousin of the raisin. (BTW, there really is no relation between grapes and the tall palms that produce dates except for the sun that dried them.)
In the introduction to the orange, date, and cinnamon muffins, al-Hamad ties the use of dates to the rich merchants of 1500 Elizabethan England who used them as sweeteners and to thicken custards and pies. The combination of oranges with spices at Christmas grew out of this tradition that spread across Europe as the early trade routes introduced fruits and exotic spices into the heavy dishes of the north.