For anyone who would like to join in this monthly challenge, the rules are also on Choclette's blog, here.
I love the combination of dried dates and chocolate, but one of the drawbacks of the texture of cooked dates is that they can disappear into the background and not really be noticed in the final product. The flavours of chocolate and dates can blend too, so that it's difficult to tell where dates end and chocolate begins. For instance, I've used dates in these Chocolate, Date and Walnut Squares, and in Sticky Toffee Pudding, and it would be difficult to identify them as an ingredient, if you didn't know they were there. I wanted to make sure they stood out as an ingredient for this challenge. Happily, I think I succeeded!
Pastry (this makes a bit more than you need if you don't make full lids for the tarts; I hate trying to stretch pastry further than it wants to go! Pun intended! ;)):
200g SR flour
First make the filling; chop the dates into two or three pieces (this is a useful way of checking there are no stones left), and place in a small saucepan. Add the zest of the orange, plus the juice and any fleshy pieces of fruit that end up in the juice. Add the water and bring the pan rapidly to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. When cold, add the cinnamon and the chopped chocolate.
Next, make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way - the use of some lard, and SR flour, makes the pastry crumbly(short) and soft. Rest for 20 minutes in the fridge, then roll out thinly and cut into 12 circles to line a mincepie pan. Re-roll the trimmings and cut a few festive shapes to decorate the tops of the tarts. Alternatively, you should have enough pastry to make full lids, as you would for mincepies.
Divide the filling between the pastry cases and level with the back of a teaspoon. Decorate with the pastry cutouts and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden. Cool for a few minutes in the baking pan, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. When cold, sieve over a little icing sugar.
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Although the surface of the date filling dried out a little while cooking (which is why you might prefer to make full lids, and turn these into pies instead of tarts), underneath it was moist and richly flavoured. There was still enough texture in the dates to prevent them from being a bland purée, and by adding the chocolate only when the dates were cold, it stayed in discrete pieces rather than blending into the mixture. The cinnamon and orange added just the right festive notes, without either flavour overwhelming the chocolate and dates.
A good alternative to mincepies, I think, which is exactly what I'd been hoping for!