How many holiday parties have you attended already? It’s December 9th. Thinking about it, it’s just about half way through the time for all the festive drinks, nibbles, and potlucks. If you’re anything like me, I’m already looking for things to save time, be super easy and stress free. The things I put out for my much-loved family and friends has to be good. The food I bring to other’s homes has to get there intact, look great, and above all…taste good. These stuffed and wrapped dates are pure simplicity, so much so that I feel a bit silly telling you about them ’cause I’m sure you know all about them. And make them. But, but, in case there’s one person who reads this and doesn’t know about them, I feel the need to share. All of these are fast, fool-proof, and incredibly good. The bacon wrapped version are so good that you see caterers serving them all year long at fancy parties. They’ve been served as a passed hors d’oeuvre at both my parents 50th anniversary party and my sister’s wedding. They were sent into the bridal party to keep us all from fainting from the caterer knowing they were a favorite of ours. The pecan stuffed, powder sugared ones my southern grandmother made at the holidays. I remember them on a milk glass lacy edged plate. Cream cheese and walnut? Directly adapted from my childhood memories of mom spreading cream cheese on thick, moist date nut bread and being surprised that a small bite could fill your whole mouth with flavor and richness. Marzipan stuffed ones. Yep, marzipan. For Prince Charming, as I know no other who loves marzipan more than him. Try it out. Bring them to the next party. Pile them on small plates and set them around the room at your next gathering. Everyone will be happy.
For all of these recipes (not really a recipe, but I’m not sure what else to call it) buy the best dates you can find. Most of the grocery stores have lovely fat Medijool dates on the shelves now and they really are worth the extra pennies. Just so you have neat edges, use a small paring knife and slice length-wise on one side and pop the pit out. For the pecan ones above, put a pecan half in the opening, gently push sides together, and either roll or sprinkle with powdered sugar. These can be made days ahead of when you want them, keep them covered on a plate or in a pretty tin.
These are the marzipan stuffed dates. You can use either almond paste, or pre-made packaged marzipan, or make your own. Marzipan is a bit moister and sweeter than almond paste but I really don’t have a preference. Open and pit the dates, and using your hands just form a rounded log shape to fit inside. Gently press the sides together, really gently or you’ll squeeze the marzipan out of shape, and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Again, can be made ahead, but I’d make them the morning that you’ll be serving them. The marzipan can dry out, and absorb a bit of the sugar so I think they’re better freshly made.
Cream cheese and walnut are best made right before you serve them or at least within an hour or so. The cream cheese will start to dry and harden a bit if you make them too far ahead. But you can mix the softened cream cheese (for a dozen or so, 4 0z of cheese to 2 oz of chopped walnuts) and walnuts together and cover with plastic wrap days ahead. Make sure you press the wrap right down on the cream cheese so no air gets in. The dates can be pitted and stored in a plastic bag or container and need no valuable refrigerator space. Take the cream cheese from the fridge, let it come to room temp. and using a small teaspoon just scoop a mound into the open date. I like my cream cheese unsweetened as the dates are so sweet themselves. But if you prefer, add some powdered sugar to taste. The granulated sugar won’t melt completely and you’ll feel the sugar grains against your tongue. Go with the powdered stuff.
Last but certainly not least, bacon wrapped dates. These are so good. Sweet and salty, crispy and meltingly soft. The exact contrast you want. And, they couldn’t be easier. Preheat your oven to 400. Pit the dates and squeeze together. I don’t fill these with anything, but go wild. Use your favorite bacon (just not the thick sliced stuff) cut each piece in thirds and wrap each third around the middle of the date. I cook mine flat on a cookie sheet for about 10 to 12 minutes with frequent turns. The first side takes a bit longer to brown and crisp, but the other sides take only a couple of minutes. Use tongs and gently press on the date and they will stay where you put them. Briefly drain them on paper towelling, then either serve or let cool and put in a container. These can be made a few days ahead, brought to room temp and then re-warmed in a 350 oven for no more than 5 minutes.
To make a dozen of any of these will truly only take you maybe 15 minutes, except for the bacon version, and that only a few minutes more. I think you’ll decide that it was time well spent.