Once I managed to squash the urge to tear out the endpapers and use the colourful, stamp-laden pages as wrapping paper, I got Ã¢â‚¬â€œ ahem Ã¢â‚¬â€œ’stuck’ right in to’Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee‘. Then promptly got waylaid once again, contemplating the evocative location photography by the author and food shots from the ever-stellar Kate Whitaker.
I’m an aesthete, see, easily seduced by skilled shots that make even the most dried-up old date seem sexy. But I’m also a food nerd, with a voracious appetite for titles that extensively explore a cuisine on a regional level; take a lengthy look at a singular cooking technique; or focus their gaze on a particular ingredient, examining how it’s used worldwide.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœSun Bread and Sticky Toffee‘ is a literally beautiful example of the latter, so it was always going to be a winner in my magpie eyes. The book spiralled out of author Sarah Al-Hamad’s love for the dates of her native Kuwait and the other Gulf states Ã¢â‚¬â€œ her fruitful research demonstrating that her passion was felt not only cross-country, but also across countries.
From England to India, dates have historically been gobbled with gusto, and the palms which bear the fruits used in myriad ways. Al-Hamad found the fronds in artwork; woven into baskets; used as fans and mats; used in mummification, and even as a base material for an eco-house. Many of the 40 recipes are truly time-tested, the earliest dug up in modern-day Iraq and dating back to 2000BC.
The’sun bread’ of the title is another oldie-but-goodie Ã¢â‚¬â€œ an Ancient Egyptian loaf left to prove slowly in the sun. Historically, people all over the world made a date with the fruit frequently when dining, encountering it in everything from early Sicilian granitas to British spinach fritters; Gulf fish-and-rice dishes to Spanish liqueurs. Al-Hamad is very vocal about deriving pleasure from her topic Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and, indeed, she relates the tale with evident and infectious enthusiasm.
In the unlikely event her lengthy introduction has left you wanting, Al-Hamad’s even shared details of a few more fruity resources. Then we’re onto recipes Ã¢â‚¬â€œ demonstrating how you can make a dietary date with dates at any time of day. It might be advisable to only indulge in measured amounts due to the well-known effects of overconsumption of the sugary, fibrous fruits, but this tempting collection doesn’t half make it hard.
For breakfast, how about a hunk of sunflower seed, caraway and date bread slathered with haroset Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a date, walnut and apricot spread, traditionally eaten at Passover? Midmorning munchies are easily assuaged by an orange, date and cinnamon muffin. Then, because it’s teatime and clearly cake o’clock, it’s high time for a sliver or two of date-enriched pomegranate and polenta, Queen Elizabeth, or tahini-chocolate cake.
By the time darkness falls, you might feel you’d have had your fill of dates. But Al-Hamad is determined to give you your just desserts, too. And when confronted with a pan-full of date and saffron custard with which to cloak your date and plum crumble, it’d be churlish to refuse. Save room for a petit four or four, too; date fudge, or a thoroughly modern confection – fennel macarons with mint and date ganache.
As though the recipes need further embellishing, they’re scattered with quotes. Chapters are interspersed with sections on diverse countries and their culture-specific use of the fruits. There’s a lot to digest, but Al-Hamad’s prose is never stodgy, and slips down as easily as the date ice cream called’Caramel Ice Cloud’. ‘Sun Bread and Sticky Toffee‘ has certainly put me on one Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Cloud 9, to be precise.