Already dreading the Christmas rush?

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Yup, we said it: The holidays will be here before we know it. And every year there seems to be more to do and less time to do it. So why not put a few batches of cookies in the freezer now to have at the ready for cookie exchanges, dinner party desserts-in-a-flash, and last-minute get-togethers?

This year more than ever the Christmas cookie elephant in the room is sugar. OctNaturalDelights1Many experts recommend limiting the consumption of refined sugar, and most health advocates agree that it’s best to use natural sweeteners instead. Yet holiday baking always seems to have an abundance of sugar. Medjool dates are the perfect ingredient in sweet and healthy holiday baking.

Medjool dates are high in dietary fibre, carbohydrates, and are a source of potassium. Another bonus: they contain no sulphites or preservatives. Of the hundreds of date varieties, the Medjool is the largest and is classified as a soft date because of its sweet, creamy flesh and high moisture content.

Here is a cookie recipe that will be the star of your holiday season: Vanilla Medjool Date Balls. The natural sweetness of the Medjool dates means there is less refined sugar in these recipes. Freeze in layers separated by wax or parchment paper, in an airtight container. For many more recipes, visit www.naturaldelights.ca

Baking Tips

  • Five to six Medjool dates yields ½ cup (125 mL) of chopped dates.
  • To make dates easier to slice or chop, place them in the freezer for about an hour.
  • Rinse dates in very cold water before putting them through a food processor—they will chop better, and cleanup will be easier!
  • If your dates are a little drier than you would like, place them in warm water for a few minutes to plump them.

Vanilla Medjool Date Balls

These little bites of decadence are perfect for hostess gift or to tote along to a cookie exchange this holiday season. Make them ahead and keep them in the refrigerator for tasty treats to serve after dinner while enjoying good company.

1 cup (250 mL) Natural Delights Medjool Dates, pitted and chopped (about 10 dates)

½ cup (125 mL) orange juiceOctNaturalDelights2

¼ cup (60 mL) butter

¼ cup (60 mL) packed brown sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups (375 mL) chocolate cookie crumbs

½ cup (125 mL) sweetened flaked coconut

2/3 cup (150 mL) granulated sugar, for rolling

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine dates, orange juice, butter and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring for about 12 minutes or until very soft and thickened. Stir in vanilla; set aside to cool completely.

Stir in cookie crumbs and coconut until well combined. Using rounded 1 tsp (5 mL) measuring spoon, scoop out mixture and roll into balls. Place sugar on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Roll balls in sugar until completely coated and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture.

Place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or until set and firm. Package in single layers in airtight container or cookie tins and keep refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.

Makes about 50 date balls.

OctNaturalDelights3

For more information and recipes, visit naturaldelights.ca