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The rules of my Muesli Bar Challenge series are that the Challenger must be healthy (low in sugar and saturated fat, low GI, wholegrain), based on in-season fresh produce, easy enough to be a realistic option for busy parents and kids themselves to make, and rated by my school age reviewers as no-way-going-to-be-left-in-the-lunchbox.

So many choices for a recipe for this week!

It is the turning point in the seasons – my strawberries and mulberries and pawpaws are still green but so close that a bit of warm weather will bring them on, and I haven’t yet finished with all the macadamias, oranges, mandarins, limes and tangelos that are all still just finishing their season. The cockatoos have finished off the bush lemons (which are the sweetest, much like a Meyer but hardier) but we still have plenty of Eureka lemons. What to feature?

In the end I’ve decided to go with this adaption of a traditional recipe that uses macadamias along with the date and orange combination that was so successful last week. The recipe takes more time than most of this series, but it is easy in the sense that even young kids can manage much of the making, and will probably love helping.

Traditional Lebanese cooks probably should turn away now. I have taken huge liberties with a traditional Middle Eastern sweet. These little pastry mouthfuls are tradionally a bite sized ball of sweet shortbread surrounding a date, almond, fig or pistachio filling. But for a lunch box treat, the dates and orange juice provide nearly all the sweetness needed, and macadamias make the most wonderful shortbread, smooth and buttery and melt-in-your-mouth, and they’re super healthy at the same time.

So this is a very non-traditional Ma-amoul that fits the rules of the Muesli Bar Challenge.

The Recipe:

First crack your macadamias. I’ve written before about this little tool that takes macadamias in shell from “too hard” to “seasonal staple”. Like all nuts, if you buy them fresh, in season, in shell, (or grow your own) you will be amazed how different they are to the stale, slightly rancid things you get in packets in mid-summer.

The Shortbread

You need 125 grams, or about a cup of macadamia kernels. They will blend quite easily in a food processor into a fine meal.

To the maca meal, add

  • 3 dessertspoons of cold butter,
  • 3 dessertspoons of brown sugar,
  • 2 teaspoons of finely grated orange zest, and
  • ¾ of a cup of wholemeal plain flour.

Process until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Then add cold water, a dessertspoon at a time, until you can knead it into a soft dough. Add carefully – you can’t take it out – but when you have a dough that just holds together, add another spoonful. You want a dough that is soft but not quite sticky.

Put your dough in the freezer for a few minutes while you make the filling.

The Filling

In a small saucepan, bring to the boil 100 grams (2/3 cup) of stoned dates and 100 ml of orange juice. Tip into your food processor and blend briefly till it is minced but not smooth.

Assembling

Now here’s the bit that kids will love doing.

Break off a piece of dough, large macadamia sized or slightly larger, and roll it into a ball. Push your thumb into the ball and hollow out the inside like making a little pot. (Mudpie making practice will help here). You should be able to fit a good half teaspoon or more of filling into the pot, then squeeze the top shut, roll it into a ball shape again, and roll the ball in a little raw sugar.

Put the Ma-amoul seam-side down on a greased biscuit tray and bake them in a medium oven for about 30 minutes until they are browned. Cool on the tray (they will crispen up as they cool). Store in an airtight container, but not for long, because they will disappear.

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Number 23 in the Muesli Bar Challenge – my weekly series of  recipes for school lunch box baking  that is healthy, easy, cheap and based on fresh produce – features oranges.  It is coming to the end of the navel orange season, and once they finish there will be a gap of a few months until the beginning of the Valencia  season.  Our navel tree is flowering again already, so I’m picking the last of them to allow the tree to put all its energy into the next season’s fruit.

Oranges are super healthy.  Besides being well known as a good source of Vitamin C, they are also a good source of folic acid, which is especially important for growing kids.  This recipe also features oats which are another superfood – low calorie, fairly low GI,  good amounts of B vitamins and several minerals, and protective against deposits of bad cholesterol – and dates, which supply a huge range of vitamins and minerals.

Let’s see what my school age reviewers think of them.

The Recipe

The Filling

In a small saucepan, mix

  • 2 cups of dates
  • 1 cup of fresh orange juice and pulp

Bring it up to the boil then turn it off and allow to soak while you make the crust.

The Crust

Into your food processor, put

  • 1½ cups of wholemeal plain flour
  • 1½ cups of rolled oats
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 good teaspoon of grated orange rind
  • 100 ml of honey
  • 100 ml of macadamia oil, or other mild flavoured oil

Pulse briefly to partly cut up the oats and mix thoroughly.

Assembling

  • Grease a 20 cm square baking pan and press half the crust into it.
  • Process the filling briefly to break up the dates and make a spreadable mix.  Spread over the base.
  • Cover with the rest of the crust and press it down.
  • Bake in a moderate oven for about half an hour until browned.
  • Cool in the tin, then cut into squares or fingers.
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I’ve had a lovely weekend with my Brisbane based sister, sewing and cooking and solving the problems of the family and the world. And as a result, she has taken home a batch of this week’s Muesli Bar Challenge for my 12 year old niece and 7 year old nephew to review this week.

Lumberjack cupcakes are based on in-season apples and get most of their sweetness from dates. They use wholemeal flour and they’re fairly low fat, so they pass the Witches Kitchen criteria for ethical and healthy. The recipe is quick and easy and forgiving, so busy parents or kids themselves can make them, and they pass the lunch box test of surviving a one-way trip to school well, and never needing to survive a two-way trip!

The Recipe:

Put 250 grams of dates in a pot with 2/3 of a cup of water and bring to the boil. Whizz with a stick blender (or in a food processor) for just a minute to break up the dates but not totally puree them.

Peel and finely dice two large granny smith apples, and add to the dates in the pot, along with another 2/3 cup of water and 1 ½ teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda. Cook, stirring for just a few minutes to soften the apples. Let the mix cool a little while you make the batter.

Cream together 2 desertspoons of butter and 2 desertspoons of brown sugar with a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Beat in 2 eggs.

Mix in 1 ½ cups of plain wholemeal flour and half a teaspoon of baking powder, then fold in the apple and date mix.

Spoon the batter into patty cake papers, filling them quite full – they rise but not by a huge amount. Bake in a moderate oven for 25 minutes until they are nearly done.

Topping

Meanwhile, melt together 2 desertspoons of butter, 2 desertspoons of brown sugar, 2 desertspoons of milk, and 5 desertspoons of dessicated coconut.

Spread a teaspoon full of topping on each patty cake and return to the oven for another 10 minutes, by which time they should be cooked so they bounce back when pressed, a skewer comes out clean, and the coconut on top is just starting to turn toasty.

Makes about 20 cupcakes

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