This week brings another adventure in frying – you could say I’m currently infatuated with my dutch oven and want to fry everything in sight. After a bit of googling, I stumbled on imqaret, a fried dessert first introduced to Malta during the Arab invasion that can be found in many a Maltese street market.
A life lesson: making a dish for the first time on the night you are hosting a dinner party is not the easiest or most reliable way to test out a recipe. This bake was full of mistakes and mishaps but, despite all this, the end result was deemed a success by our guests (the rush also explains the poor photo quality – oops).
I started off by assuming the dough should be made like a pie crust – cold butter, limited mixing, chill in fridge. Had I read the recipe fully before starting, I would have realized that you need to add water to this dough; in this way, the dough was not like standard pie crust. But in my haste to finish the dough before our dinner guests arrived, I obviously failed to read the recipe in its entirety and combined all of the dough ingredients in a food processor and kept adding butter to try and get a dough to form. Eventually, I realized this wasn’t working, re-read the recipe, and started adding water. Despite adding too much butter the dough ended up working out fine and smelled delicious. Not to self: in the future, read the entire darn recipe.
I also had to go to a specialty spice store to get anise but it was worth it. What a unique flavor and now my spice rack is starting to grow in size! New Years resolution winning.
My second misadventure occurred while I made the date filling. Having never really eaten dates in non-fig newton form, I had no idea what to expect when cooking them. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my bowl of sticky, squishy “cubed” dates did in fact smooth out into a paste, but in my ignorance I probably over-cooked the filling. The filling only needs to be cooked until it comes together in a paste that sticks to the back of the spoon and is semi-smooth – some chunks are ok!
The last misadventure came when I had a minor panic attack after convincing myself that I had completely made up the fact that these desserts should be fried. Once more, re-reading the recipe cleared things up. The recipe provides instructions for both frying and baking. Phew! With the help of my spontaneous cooking companion for the evening (thank you Jessica!) I attempted both versions and even branched out to different shapes.
The Moment of Truth
A super-sized, tastier, flakier fig newton. I did a 180 from my initial skepticism of the dates and fragrant anise and now plan to make these frequently whenever fresh dates are available. Both the baked and fried versions were delectable. The baked ones had a slightly doughier texture while the fried ones had a nice crunch. I would make both versions again, but I would lean towards frying if trying to maximize taste and baking if time crunched or feeling lazy.
This recipe comes from A Maltese Mouthful and has been modified slightly to reduce the serving size and use of aniseed liqueur.
415 grams flour
100 grams butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp anise
150 ml water
400 grams pitted and chopped dates
Zest of 1 lemon, 1 orange, 1 clementine (can use 2 oranges)
Juice of 1 orange and 1 clementine (can use 2 oranges)
1 /2 tbsp anise
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
For the dough, combine the baking powder, flour, anise, and butter in a food processor. Blend lightly. Add water and mix until just combined. Knead the dough until it comes together in a smooth ball. Set in the fridge to cool.
Add all of the filling ingredients in a small pot and cook on the stove for about 15 minutes until a semi-smooth paste is formed. Leave the filling aside to cool for at least 20 minutes.
Roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 an inch thick (the dough can be rolled out in sections). Spread some of the date mixture along one long side of the rectangle leaving just enough room to fold over the other half of the rectangle and crimp the edges. Wet the edges with water if needed to secure the closing. Cut the mixture diagonally to form diamonds. Either deep fry or bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 18 minutes, flipping half way through. Dust with powdered sugar.
If you get bored with diamonds try squares or spheres (although spheres will only work well fried).
Around 17,000 years ago, the Maltese islands were the mountain tops of one landmass that connected current-day Malta to Sicily and mainland Italy. For reference, Pangea started breaking apart 200 million years ago.