Sometimes you never know what will suit. You can make all the educated guesses you want, but people will surprise you with their likes and dislikes.
So it was interesting for me to note which foods went first at the church coffee hour Shawn and I hosted a few weeks ago. In the blink of an eye two dozen of Rick Ellis’s deviled eggs disappeared, which made me glad, since they had been the last thing I prepared the night before and I almost didn’t make them thinking I had plenty of food (which I did, but then you have the question when is enough enough?). Inspired by Julia Child, the hard-boiled eggs first have their yolks pressed through a chinoise sieve so that the yolks transform into yellow yolk clouds. Next some room-temperature butter blended into the yolk clouds (along with a spoonful of dijon, mayonnaise, a squirt of fresh lemon juice, and a dash of cayenne) which combines to make these the most etherial deviled eggs that will ever pass your lips. Tired and cranky as I was the night before I was glad to have made the effort when I saw what a hit they were.The next platter of food to vanish was Isabelle’s Vegan Pumpkin Date Nut Balls. It almost doesn’t feel like a recipe to me since they don’t go in the oven or get cooked, but they were a smash hit and people were popping them into their mouths as if they were candy. Gluten free, dairy free (well, duh, they’re vegan), with no processed sugars, and a nice amount of nut proteins, these pumpkin date nut balls were a good counter-balance to the mountain of baked goods they were sharing the table with.
If you look on the internet, especially on Pinterest, there are a myriad of variations on this recipe. I’m pretty sure Isabelle’s inspiration was the Free People’s No-Bake Gingerbread Cookie Balls Beth from Tasty Yummies developed. In doing a little investigative research I found dozens of other recipes, some of which included oatmeal, pepitas, and cacao nibs. There seems to be room for quite a bit of improv within the basic recipe.When you deconstruct a pumpkin date nut ball it makes total sense why people love them:
- Dates – sweet & moist with a rich flavor
- Pumpkin & pumpkin pie spices – who doesn’t like good old pumpkin pie
- Almond Butter – more sophisticated than peanut butter; creamy & refined
- Dark Chocolate – an optional ingredient, but yum-oh-yum
I made these two pumpkin date nut balls two ways – with and without chocolate. A few weeks ago my friend Missy clued me into the fact that if you have something very sweet, such as pumpkin ice cream, you can pair it with an intense barely sweet chocolate (and in our case that night, a handful of toasted pecans). Jumping off from her suggestion I added dark (80%) chopped chocolate to one batch, which I then rolled in cocoa. The other batch I left plain, though that seems such a misnomer, since there is nothing plain about them. Perhaps I should say the non-chocolate batch.While this recipe may be endlessly improvised with, it also will need you to be the judge. Depending on how moist your dates are, how runny (or dry) your almond butter is, how moist your pumpkin pie goo is, you may have to adjust the recipe. Too dry? More pumpkin goo, or a spoonful of water. To moist? A few more spoonfuls of coconut. The humidity will also affect this recipe. I’m not saying it’s complicated, just don’t get locked into thinking the measurements below are iron clad; they’re more a starting suggestion.Isabelle’s Pumpkin Date Nut Balls
3 Tablespoons canned pumpkin *
1/4 cup almond butter
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 – 10 madjool pitted dates, about 3/4 cup loosely packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (optional)
2-3 Tablespoons cocoa for rolling (optional)
Place pumpkin, almond butter, coconut, walnuts and vanilla in a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are chopped and the ingredients have started to combine. Add the dates, vanilla, and spices and pulse several times more. Depending on how powerful your food processor is this can take 2-4 minutes. If you want these chunkier then process them for less time; smoother and you’ll want to go a bit longer.
If your dough is too dry add a bit more pumpkin or a teeny bit of water. Too wet and you can try more coconut. You want these to hold together when rolled, but not be slumping into flattened mounds because the dough is too wet.
If you’re making the non-chocolate version roll dough into shooter marble size balls, a little smaller than an inch. Then roll into coconut to cover and make them less sticky to pick up. Store in fridge until ready to serve.
If you’re making the chocolate version stir in the chopped chocolate by hand. I’m always tempted to add more chocolate, but I find that there is a line between what this dough will accept and what it will eject. You’re chocolate also has to be pretty finely chopped since the balls are not that large and large chunks tend to fall out. You can roll the finished balls into cocoa, to differentiate them from the non-chocolate balls, or coconut if you don’t want them too chocolatey. Your choice.
Makes about 36 pumpkin date nut balls.
By the way – the third thing to dissapear at that coffee hour were little pumpkin jack-o-lanterns cut out of slices of orange cheddar cheese and served on a cracker. What interesting choices people made.*Clearly you will not use an entire can of canned pumpkin in this recipe so you have some options. You can freeze the remaining pumpkin into pre-measured batches for future PDNB or you can fold it into a waffle or pancake batter or you can make Pumpkin Blueberry Muffins. Or maybe you have a different idea, which I’d love to hear about in the comments section.