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Persian Date Cake (Ranginak)

http://www.eatingoutloud.com/2009/03/persian-date-cake-ranginak.html

This recipe inspired me so much this past week. I find the cake visually stunning, chewy dates stuffed with toasted walnuts then bathed in a burnt butter/flour mixture before topping with cinnamon, cardamom, and pistachios. And, if the visual appeal isn’t enough — the taste and texture are out of this world. I could not stop eating this (ask Joe, he had very little of it — and not by choice).

Ingredients

1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 cups pitted dates
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup ground unsalted pistachios

Heat a skillet over medium heat and toast walnuts for 3-5 minutes. Allow to cool. Place a few pieces of walnut in each date. This is the most time consuming step of the entire cake. Trust me, it pays off in the end so take time doing it. Here is my pile of stuffed dates:

In a deep pan, add butter and flour, bring to medium heat and stir constantly for 10-15 minutes, until golden caramel color. The mixture will be a thick paste at first and as you get closer to 15 minutes, it transforms into a thin caramel. Note: it only appears to look like caramel … I eagerly licked the spoon only to discover it tastes nothing like caramel (yuck). That one taste led me to worry that this whole thing was going to taste like rubbish. But it turns out amazing — so carry on, no spoon licking!

I spread about 1/3 of the flour mixture in a 9″ round ceramic tart pan. Next, I placed the dates in a single layer on the hot flour mixture (be careful not to burn yourself). Arrange the dates in rows and packed tightly together. Then, pour the remaining flour mixture over the top and smooth out with the back of a spoon. It should look something like this:

In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon, cardamom, and powdered sugar. Use a spoon to sprinkle this mix in a single layer over the date cake. Press the back of your spoon down on the mix — it will begin to soak into the flour and will no longer be powdery.

For the final step, sprinkle the whole thing with a layer of chopped pistachios. Use your hands to press the nuts down so they adhere. Allow to cool before cutting into small squares (use a sharp knife).

The squares will be crumbly – do not pick up a piece and try to eat it like a cookie … it will be a disaster. The squares can be stacked in a container for storage — either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

The dates are chewy and sweet, with the added texture of a crunchy toasted nut hiding in each one. They are enrobed in what is essentially a toasted shortbread cookie then topped with a sweet blend of cinnamon and cardamom — these two spices tie everything together. The pistachios add a bit of texture, color, and light flavor as well. When it all comes together, it is a visual and flavorful work of art:

The Smokestacks