Lighter and tastier than many traditional recipes
Date-and-nut squares (aka bars) are a classic at holiday time. Problem is, many recipes yield dense – and filling – concoctions. This recipe is lighter, but still packs plenty of flavor.
Your guests will appreciate that. Because they’ll certainly want more than one.
So for your next holiday bash, we suggest baking a double batch of these beauties. You’ll have leftovers, but that’s the point. Because these are wonderful for breakfast, too.
Recipe: Date-Walnut Squares
Date-and-nut squares often call for streusel topping. Those are good, but more complicated to make, and the cookies tend to be heavy.
This recipe calls for just a light topping of (optional) powdered sugar. They’re simple to make, but very tasty.
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the baker in our household. She adapted this recipe from one she found in Sweet Maria’s Italian Cookie Tray, by Maria Bruscino Sanchez.
Prep time for this recipe is about 20 minutes. Baking time is 20 to 25 minutes. Then you’ll want to let the squares cool for a while after they come out of the oven (at least 30 minutes; an hour is better).
This recipe yields 2 to 3 dozen squares, depending on how large you cut them. They keep well for several days if sealed in an airtight container, refrigerated or not.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ~¼ teaspoon kosher salt (or you can substitute table salt; see Notes)
- 1½ sticks unsalted butter
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 5 eggs (preferably pasteurized; see Notes)
- 3 cups dates, pitted and chopped
- 3 cups walnuts, chopped
- ~¼ cup powdered sugar (to top the squares; optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12x16-inch cookie pan with parchment paper (see Notes). Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt (see Notes). Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla extract and mix until well blended. Beat in the eggs.
- Chop the dates, removing the pits as you go. Add the chopped dates to the butter/egg mixture and blend well.
- Chop the walnuts. Add the chopped walnuts to the butter/egg mixture and blend well.
- Add the dry ingredients (flour and salt, Step 2) to the cookie mixture and mix until well blended.
- Spread the cookie mixture around the bottom of the prepared cookie pan, smoothing it as much as possible. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown and is becoming firm. Do not overbake.
- Remove the cookie pan from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack.
- Cut the cookies into squares measuring about 2 inches (or whatever size you prefer). Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.
- Make sure to use a cookie pan that has sides of at least one inch.
- Why whisk together the flour and salt in Step 2? So that you thoroughly incorporate the salt into the flour. You want the salt evenly distributed throughout the batter, and this is the easiest way to do it.
- Eggs carry a slight, but real, risk of salmonella. So when we make baked goods – or anything that we might taste raw, like the batter in these squares – we generally use pasteurized eggs. Most supermarkets carry them. They’re a bit pricey, but worth the peace of mind.
- We use kosher salt in baking and cooking. Its flakes are larger than those of regular table salt, so it’s less salty by volume. If using regular table salt, start with only about half of what we suggest.
- Although dates are available in supermarkets throughout the year, we always see more of them around this time (holiday baking season).
- Dates are the fruit of date palms, which often thrive in desert areas. Egypt is the largest producer of dates, but they’re grown throughout the Middle East. They’re also grown in the US (especially California and Arizona). The dates you see in US supermarkets are usually domestically grown.
- There are hundreds of date cultivars, but the Medjool is probably the one most commonly found in US supermarkets.
- You’re unlikely to find truly “fresh” dates – i.e., ones that have just ripened (those have a somewhat astringent flavor). What you see in the produce department at most supermarkets are “cured” dates – ones that have been partially dried. You can store cured dates in a sealable container at room temperature for a couple of months (and up to 8 months if refrigerated).
- You can eat cured dates out of hand, if you wish, though we find them a bit too sweet. They’re wonderful in baked goods, however, where they add flavor, sweetness, and moisture.
“Thought you were my favorite date,” I said to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs between bites. “Until I tasted one of these.”
“You’re so romantic,” said Mrs K R. “But that pick-up line won’t win you any Medjools.”
“How about this one?” I said, biting into another date-walnut square. “Your baking skills aim for my stomach, but hit me squarely in the heart.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t use that one at the next oasis,” said Mrs K R. “Unless you’re planning to date a palm.”
“OK, so I’m not the most poetic,” I said, picking up yet another date-walnut goodie. “But I call these fair and square.”
“Say, isn’t that your third one already?” asked Mrs K R.
Uh, yeah. But they always say it’s important to have three squares a day.
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