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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cardamom Date Tart with a Browned Butter Crust

This tart is sometimes referred to as cheesecake because of the creamy layer of sweetness above a cookie crust, but I lovingly call it Tamr Tart. 'Tamr' is the Arabic word for 'date' and if you know anything about Arabs you know we have a love affair with dates. Moroccans and Algerians use them in savory food, many traditional Palestinians use them in a molasses, and all Arabs include them heavily in many sweets. Tamr tart is a relatively modern dessert that developed recently in Syria. I tried it there about 10 years ago and was surprised with how well East met West in this delicacy.

 Fast forward a few years later when I wanted to make it and couldn't find a single version online that was close to what I had enjoyed while on vacation.  Finally a friend of mine emailed some family members of hers in Syria and got me their version...which was a start on the right path to the mythical one in my mind ;)  I translated the emailed recipe from Arabic to English and began to play around with the recipe, removing most of the butter from the crust (like 12 tablespoons to be exact), finding American replacements for the Arab products, testing out different cookie options for the base, playing with the cream ratios, adding all the spices and nuts...and years later here I am with what I consider the best tamr/date/tart/cheesecake to be found!

Note that all the 'optional' spices are things I always include, but I realize not everyone is a fan of cardamom or anise and the tart still tastes delicious without them. I have tried every variation of cookies you can imagine for the crust layer and my favorites are the tea biscuits. Recently I've been using the butter shortbread cookies that get sold during the holidays in big tins to use up the ones I have, and they make a really good crust because of the added butter flavor! Other crusts that would taste delicious are my gingerbread molasses crust or an easy chocolate Oreo crust

This tart is on the sweeter side, so I recommend enjoying it in modest portions and for the more sophisticated foodies out there it is DIVINE with a sprinkling of sea salt! The only desserts I prepare when hosting a gathering are ones I can do in advance...and I really seek out desserts that taste better the longer they last. This is that dessert. Make it and pop it into the freezer until you're ready for it, no need to even thaw before serving! The dates will firm up and the cream layer gets thicker. If you keep it in the fridge the dates and cream will be soft and smooth...either way you can't go wrong. I've had a couple mini tarts that hung out in the freezer for about 2 months one time and when I took them out to eat they were honestly just as delicious (obviously they need to be sealed properly to preserve freshness).

Makes about 16 slices

-2 1/2 cups tea biscuit cookies/graham crackers/vanilla wafers/speculous cookies
-1/4 cup browned butter (4 tablespoons) OR coconut oil
-2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
-dash of salt

Cream Layer:
-2 cans Nestle table cream
-1 can sweetened condensed milk (I always use fat-free!)
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-2 cups pitted and chopped dates (about 16 medjools)
-1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 
-1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
-1 cup chopped nuts (my favorites in order: pistachios, pecans, walnuts or almonds)
-light sprinkling of sea salt after tart has baked 

To make
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a tart pan, taking care to spread the butter into the rim of the pan, and set aside.
-Place a skillet on stove and heat through. Add 4 tablespoons butter and whisk on medium heat until the color turns a golden brown and you smell a nutty and caramel odor. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a moment. (Alternatively you can just melt the butter quickly in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds then add to the cookie crumbs. I like to brown the butter to add a dimension of flavor in the crust.) *If using coconut oil do not brown, just melt and add to cookie crumbs*
-In a food processor (or a ziplock bag) crush your cookies by pulsing until they are fine crumbs. Add the melted butter to the cookie crumbs, along with the cinnamon powder and a dash of salt and continue pulsing until the butter is well incorporated into your cookies, forming a crumbly mixture.
-Press the crust evenly into your buttered tart pan, and go up along the edges to create a crust.  Bake on the middle rack of oven for about 5 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned or puffed up.
-While the crust is baking, remove the pits and roughly chop dates. I slice each date in half lengthwise then chop it into 3 parts, getting about 6 pieces from each date. Mix together the Nestle cream, condensed milk and vanilla then stir in the dates and optional ingredients.
-Spread the cream layer over the crust and space out the date pieces if needed. I usually have about 1/2 cup of extra filling that I make a mini tart with or save for another time, but if you have a deep tart pan you can use it all. 
-Place the tart pan on a larger baking sheet (to catch any potential overflow as it bakes, which hasn't happened to me but I like to be safe lol) and return the tart to the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. You are looking for the cream to start bubbling and browning all around. Once you are satisfied with the browning remove it from the oven and let it cool.
-Serve warm or cold (I prefer it cold but my sister always likes a slice straight from the oven)

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Check out my other date dessert...its one I love!

For a savory take on dates, try my sweet and savory lentil salad :)


  1. Made this for an adult dinner party and everyone raved about the complex flavors...and I raved about how easy it was to make! Love all the recipes I've found on here. Thank you, Sam

  2. Such a hit for our anniversary dinner. This makes the healthy foodies feel less guilty about indulging in long as I stay quiet about the cream content haha!

  3. Every time I think of this tart my mouth waters. It is my go to whenever I need a dessert to take somewhere because I can make it in advance and keep in my freezer and it travels extremely well. Not to mention everyone always asks for the recipe! Makes the house smell amazing