In my mind, date shakes conjure visions of vintage roadside stands near Palm Springs, heat mirages waving up from the melting asphalt and palm trees baking in the impossibly bright desert sun. Here’s the rub: I’ve been to Palm Springs exactly once, never saw a roadside stand and certainly never drank a date shake and yet, the image is strong. What’s up with that? I suspect my impressions of the Palm Desert have been formed by the issues of Sunset my mom received when I was a kid. It’s my most plausible explanation. Curious, I did some research and learned that date farms proliferate the Coachella Valley around Palm Springs and date shakes have been a popular item at the big farms in the area since the 1930’s. The shakes are typically just dates, milk and vanilla ice cream blended until smooth but it’s always seemed a bit odd to me. Dates in a shake? It took a long flight to the other side of the world to convince me otherwise.
Earlier this year I visited good friends in Dubai, 7,000 miles and a completely opposite climate away. One day my friends organized a bicycle food tour of the Jumeriah Beach area. In a trip full of great things, it was my favorite. Our guide Mary took us to various snack stands, restaurants and beachside cafes to show us the best of how the locals eat and explained all the intricacies of Emirati and other Middle Eastern cuisines. The first stop was a juice bar we had coincidentally parked in front of the day prior and didn’t think much of. Fresh pressed juices flowed but the specialty was their date shake. I was curious, if not overly enthused, but one sip immediately changed my mind. Where have these been all my life? Here they were made of milk, yogurt, dates, almonds and spices and were great. The dates, high in natural sugars, added a sweetness but also a deep earthiness that was wonderful. It was the first of about 20 things I knew we’d eat over the next few hours, but I couldn’t help myself and finished the whole thing. We were biking; I’d work it off. Right?
Back home months later and looking at a full tin of fresh dates, I knew what to do. Since it is also the first week of Ramadan where the fast is typically broken with a date, the timing was right. The Middle Eastern markets are full of fresh dates, of all kinds, if I needed more. So I’d whip up a date shake certainly, but something else too. What about date shake popsicles? Why not? Digging around for a place to start, I learned that of course Martha would have this idea first, damn her. So I started with her recipe and made one minor adjustment, which involved adding a little cardamom reminiscent of that shake I drank on Jumeriah Beach. What can I say? I liked her recipe. The Greek yogurt added a welcome tang that balanced what could potentially be a cloying sweetness from the dates and I actually liked the combo with low fat milk. As good as the almonds were in that Dubai shake, they just weren’t right in popsicle form so I skipped that bit. Slightly sweet, creamy with a nice earthiness, these popsicles were quite nice. I will say they are not for everyone. I suspect kids would turn up their noses but I like them.
If you’re heading to Dubai, be sure to book a bicycle food tour with Mary of Tastecapade. She’ll feed you countless delicious things, including that date shake.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SHAKE IT UP. Without added any sugar, these popsicles have an incredible natural sweetness solely from the dates. They’re full of flavor and with a cold creaminess that is welcome on a crazy hot day. Take a break from all the fruity tootie-ness summer brings and give these a shot. Plus it will use up that bag of dates you bought for something (maybe my apricot date bars?) that are just hanging around with no plan.
Seven years ago: Chino Farms Strawberries
Six years ago: Cobbler & Cabining Annoyances
Five years ago: Rhubarb Syrup, Hipster Cocktails
Four years ago: Pear Frangipane Tarts
Three years ago: Mexican Chocolate Pudding Pops
Two years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Last year: Mango Lassi Freezer Pops
DATE SHAKE POPSICLES – based on this Martha Stewart recipe
makes 8 popsicles in standard molds but it really depends on your molds
While I’m pretty insistent on using full fat yogurt because of the flavor and texture, I actually liked the combination with low fat milk. Go figure. What’s really important is to use fresh dates. If your dates are hard and stale, they will not blend smooth and will remain hard and stale in your popsicles.
2 cups plain full-fat Greek yogurt
¾ cup 2% milk
12 pitted fresh dates, chopped (7 ounces)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth.
- Fill popsicle molds and freeze.