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Date Babas a crunchy, tender butter pastry

Wed., Jan. 16, 2008

Cookbook collectors will enjoy reading the stories bakers shared with Greg Patent in “A Baker’s Odyssey.”

The more than 130 recipes in the book were collected by Patent from some of America’s best immigrant bakers. The book touches on foods from 30 cultures.

Patent, who is an immigrant himself, shared recipes from his Russian and Iraqi grandmothers in the book. It also includes a companion DVD in which Patent demonstrates general baking techniques. He also makes Cannoli, Thai Shrimp and Bean Sprout Fritters, Apple Strudel, Schwabisch Pretzels and Hungarian Walnut Torte.

Here’s the recipe from the book for the Date Babas he learned to make from his Iraqi grandmother.

Date Babas

These are classic Iraqi date-filled little cakes that my Granny made all the time. A crunchy and tender butter pastry subtly flavored with rose water encloses a generous filling of pureed dates. These babas were so much a part of my childhood I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have them. Granny cooked the dates with butter to soften them and mash them. I use the food processor to make the pastry in about 1 minute, and to puree the dates in about 2 minutes, with no cooking necessary.

The dough and pastry can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated. Making the babas takes a bit of time because each is shaped individually, but put on some music and the time will pass quickly.

For the dough:

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces

1/2 cup cold water

1 tablespoon rose water

For the filling:

1 pound pitted dates (check carefully – these sometimes contain a pit or two)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash

Sesame seeds for sprinkling

To make the dough: put the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process for 5 seconds. Add the butter and pulse 5 or 6 times to begin cutting the butter into the flour. Combine the water and rose water. As you pulse the machine rapidly, add the liquid to the dry ingredients in a steady stream, then pulse about 30 times until you have several large clumps of dough. Remove the dough and knead the pieces together briefly. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to overnight.

To make the filling, wipe out the work bowl of the food processor and clean the blade. Insert the blade, add the dates and pulse several times, until the dates are finely chopped. Add the butter and process to a paste. Stop as necessary to scrape the work bowl and redistribute the dates. There may be some small date pieces remaining – this is fine. Scrape the paste onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Divide the paste into 30 portions and roll each between your palms into a ball.

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with silicone baking pan liners or cooking parchment.

To shape the babas, divide the dough into 30 equal portions and shape each into a ball. This dough is pliable and very easy to work with; if it is at all tacky, dust it with flour as needed. Shape a dough ball into a cup, rotating the dough between your fingertips as your thumbs open the dough to create a cup almost 1 inch deep. Put a ball of the filling into the cup and use your fingertips to bring the dough around the filling, covering it completely. Pinch to seal. Set the baba seam side down on your work surface and press gently to flatten slightly. The shaped baba should be about 2 inches across and 1/2 inch thick. Place the baba onto one of the lined sheets. Shape the remaining babas, arranging 15 on each baking sheet spaced 1 to 2 inches apart. Cover one sheet of babas loosely with plastic wrap. Brush the remaining sheet of babas – top and sides – lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the babas are golden brown. Cool the babas on the baking sheet. Meanwhile, uncover the remaining sheet of babas, brush the top and sides of each with egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake.

Storing: Babas keep well stored airtight at room temperature for about 1 week. To freeze, arrange the babas on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and freeze until solid. Transfer to heavy duty resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw completely in the bags before serving.

Yield: 30 pastries

Approximate nutrition per pastry: 125 calories, 5.5 grams fat (3.4 grams saturated, 38 percent fat calories), 1 gram protein, 19 grams carbohydrate, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 48 milligrams sodium.

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