Medieval date cookies

Medieval date cookies

Those who could use a little extra energy should try these medieval date cookies. They are very easy to make, real energy cookies and the author says ‘they are good for travelers’.

Arabic kitchen in the Middle Ages

A number of exquisite cookbooks have been written in the Arabic world during the Middle Ages. I love to cook recipes from those books and use them a lot at home. Besides studying history, I also studied Middle-Eastern studies, which makes me love them even more of course. This love for the Arabic world only grew after I discovered these manuscripts. The historical Arab recipes are much more similar to today’s modern Arabic kitchen than medieval European recipes are to modern European dishes. Apart from that, the recipes give more details on how to cook them than their European counterparts do. It is much easier to guess what these Arabian recipes must have tasted like than it is to guess what European ones tasted like.

Kitab al-Tabikh

A small cookbook for the elite al-Kitab al Tabikh emerges in the 13th century. The cookbook is said to be written in 1226 by Muhammad bin Hassan al-Baghdadi. It has mostly savoury recipes, like many stews full of spices, but there is a chapter with sweet recipes as well. This chapter has the recipe for Hais: small balls made from dates, almonds and sesame oil. They have a subtle sweet taste, are a little bit crunchy, smell incredible and are bursting with flavour. Ideal for a big hike. Al-Baghdadi gives us the recipe:

Take some thoroughly dried bread or biscuits and grind them well. It has to be a pound and ¾ pounds fresh or dried dates from which the kernels have been removed and three ounces of ground-up almonds and pistachios. Mix well by hand. Refine 2 ounces of sesame oil (by frying spices in them) and pour it on top of the mixture. Keep on kneading it until it is well incorporated. Make small balls of them and powder them with crushed sugar. If you want you can substitute the sesame oil with clarified butter. This is good for travelers.


75 grams of almonds and/or pistachios
90 grams of dates
60 grams of breadcrumbs*
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp coriander
Powdered sugar

*I always make my own breadcrumbs from old bread. I let them dry out and then crush them in the food processor. This way I always have fresh, course breadcrumb when I need it. You can also use cookies instead of breadcrumbs. Sometimes, I even take Dutch spice cookies called ‘speculaas’, which can be substituted by gingerbread. These have loads of spices and give your balls even more flavour!


Toast the almonds (and the optional pistachios) in the oven at 200°C until they are golden brown. Cut the dates in small pieces. Put the dates, breadcrumbs, nuts, cinnamon, ginger and coriander in a mortar or food processor and grind until it is very fine.

Add the sesame oil and knead until you get a sticky mixture. Take a little bit in your hands and ‘squeeze’ them into little balls. Roll them through the powdered sugar as the finishing touch.