Tu Bishvat candies

Healthy treats made from a variety of dried fruits.

By FAYE LEVY
February 2, 2012 18:17
DRIED FRUIT and nuts

DRIED FRUIT and nuts 390. (photo credit: Thinkstock)

 
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Tu Bishvat is the perfect occasion to make candy. I don’t mean the kind of sweets that are loaded with sugar or butter, but confections that are as natural as possible – composed mainly of fruits and nuts.

Uncooked sweets, which happen to be in vogue due to the popularity of raw foods, are ideal for Tu Bishvat. They are simple to make and require no candy thermometer.

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Recently, I discussed making sweets with an Indian woman I met at the store. She had two items in her cart: dates and walnuts, and told me they were all she needed to prepare a favorite family sweet. She chops the dates and walnuts together in the food processor, using about equal amounts of each but adjusting the quantities according to the confection’s consistency; she wants enough dates to hold the mixture together without it becoming too sticky. Sometimes she adds cardamom or pistachios but she emphasized that those are optional. To shape the candies, she rolls the mixture in a long rope and cuts it in small pieces which she keeps in the refrigerator.

All sorts of natural candies can be made this way from a variety of dried fruits and nuts. You can add any flavoring you like, from sweet spices to citrus zest to liquid flavorings such as wine, liqueur, rose water and fruit juice. As candies go, they are quite healthy.

Home cooks have used this basic formula to come up with all sorts of tasty confections. One, called date nut halva balls, which is prepared across North Africa, is made of dates ground with other dried fruit, then mixed with chopped almonds and flavored with lemon zest and cinnamon.

Penny Wantuck Eisenberg, author of Light Jewish Holiday Desserts, uses dates and walnuts to make Iraqi date balls flavored with orange juice and cinnamon.

Instead of rolling the balls the customary way in ground walnuts alone, she combines the nuts with crumbs of light cookies to reduce the fat.

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To make almond, fig and date balls, Sonia Uvezian, author of The Cuisine of Armenia, grinds together equal amounts of these components and flavors the sweet with cinnamon and a little sugar.

She recommends serving them as an after-dinner treat with a glass of brandy or port.

Cooking fruit with nuts is another technique for making simple candies. Jack Santa Maria, author of Indian Sweet Cookery, makes peach toffee by cooking peaches with sugar, sliced almonds and cardamom to a thick mixture, which he enriches with a little ghee (clarified butter). After cooling the mixture in a greased dish, he cuts it in squares.

Tomato toffee is made the same way, with cooked tomatoes (tomatoes are a fruit, after all!) and grated coconut instead of the almonds.

To make fruity sesame balls, writes Santa Maria, Indians mix roasted sesame seeds with ground roasted peanuts, fried raisins, ground pistachios, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), ghee and cardamom.

Instead of being blended with fruit, the nuts can be used as a stuffing. For his almondstuffed dates, Edmond Zeitoun, author of 250 Recettes Classiques de Cuisine Tunisienne (250 classic recipes of Tunisian cuisine), makes a cooked stuffing of ground almonds, egg yolk, orange flower water and lemon syrup. He makes a slit in one side of each date, removes the pit and replaces it with the stuffing.

Then he dips the stuffed dates in syrup and rolls them in crystallized sugar.

To enrich their nutty fruity treats, some like to add chocolate. Elaina Love, a chef for Navitas Naturals, a California company specializing in organic foods, makes raw cherry chocolate truffles from ground cacao nibs pureed with dried cherries, cherry extract and dates, and rolls them in cacao powder. Sometimes she flavors the treats with fresh ginger or adds chopped walnuts or almond butter.

Among Americans, peanut butter is a favorite food to turn into nutty fruity sweets. Ken Haedrich, author of Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family, makes peanut butter balls with raisins, honey, cocoa and cinnamon, rolled in coconut.

(The recipe is below.) Oatmeal is another ingredient Americans add to nut-and-fruit treats. A popular technique is to heat milk with sugar and butter and then to stir in nuts, dried fruit and uncooked oats, either quick or rolled; the mixture is then dropped by spoonfuls onto waxed paper and cooled. Some add cocoa or peanut butter to these oatmeal-based candies. Using both is apparently a winning combination.

Peanut butter and cocoa were included in Cynthia’s macadamia coconut peanut butter chocolate balls, which won a prize in the holiday sweets contest held by Sprouts Farmers Market in the western US.

You might want to add some of the following sweets to your Tu Bishvat fruit and nut platter.

Faye Levy is the author of Chocolate Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Shokolad!

DATE NUT HALVA BALLS
This candy is popular from Egypt to Morocco and is very simple to make. It’s ideal when you want a speedy Tu Bishvat sweet.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

1⁄4 cup pecans or walnuts
1⁄3 cup almonds
110 gr. (4 ounces) pitted dates
110 gr. (4 ounces) dried apricots
1⁄2 cup raisins
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 to 2 Tbsp. orange or lemon juice or water,
if needed
1 to 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 to 2 Tbsp. sugar (optional)

Finely chop pecans and almonds in food processor. Transfer to a bowl. Halve dates and remove any pits or pit fragments. Add dates, apricots, raisins and cinnamon to processor and grind until fairly smooth.

Mix with nuts. If mixture is too dry to come together, gradually add a little juice or water. Stir in grated lemon zest. Usually the dessert is sweet enough, but taste the mixture and add sugar if you like.

Roll fruit mixture between your palms into small balls of about 2 to 2.5 cm (3⁄4 to 1 inch) diameter. Serve in candy papers.

SAM’S PEANUT BUTTER BALLS

This recipe is from Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family. Author Ken Haedrich named them for his youngest child and writes, “It’s the perfect kid recipe: They love all of the ingredients and there’s nothing to cook and it isn’t so fussy or precise that the kids can’t do all the measuring. And then they get to roll them, the fun part.”

Makes about 20 3-cm (11⁄4-inch) balls

1 cup salted natural peanut butter, smooth or
chunky
1⁄3 cup mild honey, such as clover or orange blossom
2 tsp. carob powder or unsweetened cocoa
big pinch of cinnamon
2⁄3 cup raisins
2 Tbsp. plus 1⁄2 cup unsweetened
shredded coconut or sweetened
flaked coconut

 If you are starting with a new jar of peanut butter, make sure you stir it well to mix any separated oil back in.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the peanut butter, honey, carob powder and cinnamon with a wooden spoon until blended. Stir in the raisins and 2 tablespoons of the coconut. Refrigerate the mixture for 1 to 2 hours if possible.

Using a spoon, scoop up small heaps of the mixture and gently roll them into 3-cm. (11⁄4- inch) balls. It makes rolling easier if, once you have a rough ball, you roll the ball in coconut. Roll the balls in coconut a second time, then arrange them on a plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate the balls for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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