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Baker's Catalogue editor P.J. Hamel reports that this is her all-time favorite Christmas cookie. She writes:
"My own memories include the soft brown dough, the dates bubbling on the stove, the tricky process of rolling the filling inside the dough, and the magical way the refrigerator would make the sticky mass solid and sliceable. And the taste! Waiting till just the right moment, the cookies hot out of the oven but the filling cool enough not to burn, my sister and I would greedily eat date pinwheels till Mom made us stop. No, date pinwheels aren't beautiful; in fact, they're usually kind of plain-looking, the spiral of dates often a bit out of whack. But these homely little gems strike just the right note on my Christmas cookie spread.
"Remember to share this recipe with a younger friend; it's up to all of us to pass along this type of old and trusted recipe to the next generation of bakers."
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups (15 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups (9 1/4 ounces) chopped dates
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) finely diced pecans or walnuts
*Though this filling is easy enough to make, if you want to use purchased date (or fig) filling, go ahead. You'll need about 2 cups (24 ounces) of filling.
Dough: In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda. Chill the dough till it's firm enough to roll out, at least 1 hour.
Filling: While the dough is chilling, make the filling. In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the dates, sugar, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and boil the dates gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until thickened to about the consistency of very soft jam. Stir in the finely diced nuts, and set aside.
Assembly: Divide the dough in half; each half will weigh about 21 ounces. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough into a 9" x 12", 1/4"-thick rectangle. Spread half the filling (about 11 ounces) over the entire surface of the dough; the filling is sticky and stiff, but if you keep wetting your fingers, you can push and spread it around without too much trouble. Roll the dough up, lengthwise, to make a log. It's somewhat delicate, but a baker's bench knife or spatula helps the job along. Wrap each log in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for several hours, or overnight. If you have a double baguette pan, slip the wrapped dough into the wells to help preserve their round shape.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and if it's flattened out at all roll it till it's round again; the log may lengthen a bit, and that's OK. Cut the log into 1/3" slices, and place the slices 1 1/2" apart on lightly greased baking sheets.
Baking: Bake the cookies for 10 to 11 minutes, or until they're a very light brown, reversing the baking sheets (top to bottom, and front to back) midway through the baking time. Remove the cookies from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Yield: about 8 dozen pinwheels.