Sharon Tyler Herbst calls these cookies spicy date cakes, or tamriah from Saudi Arabia. She also, in her description, briefly mentions the etymology of the word date. All of which conspired to cause me to waste half an afternoon researching on the series of tubes we call Internet, verifying her facts and learning new stuff.
The word date comes to us through Old French via Latin, and to Latin from Greek (speaking of a series of tubes), δάκτυλος (or dáktylos, in more familiar characters), which means finger or toe. The oblong fruit of the date palm does look a little digit-like.
According to the interwebs, tamriah is a date bread, not a cookie, and is traditionally not too sweet and is seasoned with cardamom seeds. These cookies have equal amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, but no cardamom. There is a tamriah recipe here if you are interested in making your own. I don’t have any ghee on hand usually so won’t be trying it any time soon, I’m afraid. Besides, I still have too many cookie recipes to wade through!
I spent quite a bit of time looking for the source of the word tamriah. The etymology of tamarind (from the Arabic tamr hindi for date of India) helped a bit. And then that font of dubious factual information, Wikipedia, supplied the remainder. According to that resource:
Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried).
Did you catch that one at the end? Tamr? Also, that whilst it’s “known throughout the world,” I was clueless? Like I said, dubious factual information. Or I’m an idiot. Both are possible.
Another little nugget I picked up, thanks to Wikipedia, is this: Most cultivated date palms are manually fertilized. This allows for greater amounts of production, and for date palm growers to grow mostly, if not all, female trees. The dates in these cookies are most likely the result of some skilled laborer clambering up a ladder and hand-pollinating all the blossoms that produced them. Which, if true (see above), is kind of sexy, as well as something to chew on.
All that to say this, these are interesting and delicious cookies. The recipe starts with four eggs beaten with salt and vanilla, then powdered sugar added by degrees. That mixture is beaten at high speed for about ten minutes. The chopped dates mixed with ground toasted almonds, a small amount of flour and the spices I mentioned above are folded in a bit at a time, alternating with a third cup of melted butter.
That last little detail I am guessing at. Yes, there is another example of errata in this book. The second by my count. Ms. Herbst tells us to melt butter and cool it, but does not tell us when to add it. After more online research and judging by the results achieved, I think I added it in at the correct stage.
After spreading the batter in a greased and floured jelly-roll pan, I sprinkled the top with sliced almonds, and baked it. Ms. Herbst suggests cutting the “cakes” into small squares because they are very rich. Then she suggests serving them with ice cream. I imagine that’s delicious (or, as she puts it, “absolutely delectable”), but I’ll leave that to my imagination. You know. Rather than my waistline. These are tempting enough. Yikes!