This week my husband asked me if I could figure out a recipe for Date Nut Bars that he loved as a child. He found the ingredient list from the boxed product which gave me a starting point. Cooking from scratch allows me to avoid all the hidden sources of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. It’s always a challenge trying to recreate a childhood memory. Our tastes have changed and what we remember is probably more about the emotional connection than the actual food itself. Most of the time I am successful, sometimes it flops, but in all cases, a memory is preserved. Bar cookies are the easiest type of cookie to make. They require no rolling or forming, can be baked at one time, and tend to stay moist longer. They can easily be baked ahead and travel well. They also are terrific to ship to college students or members of the military. You can use dried or fresh fruits depending on the season.
Changing the fruit makes this a cookie for all seasons! This would be good with apples and pears during the fall and winter, and any of the stone fruits such as cherries, peaches, apricots, plums or nectarines during the summer. No matter how you decide to make this, it will remind you of the innocence of childhood and summer days in the sun!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Mace is the web-like covering on the outside of a nutmeg pod. It is removed and ground to produce the spice. Its flavor is similar to nutmeg but it has citrus undertones which make it especially complementary to anything that has lemon in it. Spraying the offset spatula with cooking spray before spreading the filling on the cookie crust will keep it from sticking as much and make it easier to spread.
It can sometimes be challenging to lift the bars out of the pan after they cool, but using parchment paper or foil “overhangs” makes this simple. Just make sure your liner is longer than the length or width of the pan so that about 2-inches hang over each end. Then you can use these “handles” to ease the bars out of the pan.
- Cookie Crust
- 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/4 cup cane syrup, such as Lyle’s Golden Syrup
- 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground mace
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1-1/4 cups raw quick-cooking oats
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1/3 cup shredded coconut
- Date Filling
- 1-1/2 lb pitted dates, chopped
- 1/4 cup maple syrup or packed brown sugar
- 1-1/2 cups water, or more as needed
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Line with parchment paper, making it long enough to create flaps on two sides. Lightly butter parchment paper.
- Date Filling: Combine dates, maple syrup, and water in a medium saucepan; cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until smooth and thick. Add more water if it gets too thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and lemon zest. Cool slightly. If you prefer a smoother filling, puree in a blender or food processor before spreading on cookie crust.
- Cookie Crust: Cream butter and maple syrup together until light and fluffy. Add cane syrup and beat until smooth. In another bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, mace, salt and soda; beat into creamed mixture. Stir in oats and coconut, blending well. Press 2/3 of the mixture into prepared baking pan. Top with date filling, spreading with an offset spatula, and then top evenly with remaining crust mixture, patting lightly to smooth top. Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes.
- Score while still in the pan. Using the parchment paper to help, remove from pan and cut apart. Separate into squares and cool completely on wire racks. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Will keep up to a week.
- Yield: 1 (13x9x2-inch) pan