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Date Squares -- Bake-Off V


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#1 Kerry Beal

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 06:18 PM

I searched recipeGullet and, much to my surprise, didn't find any recipes for dates squares. I looked for bars too, since there seems to be this Canadian=squares, American=bars, but there weren't any date bars either.

A google search within eG gave me a few references to date squares and bars, but not nearly as many as I expected.

Now I have always considered date squares to be one of those ubiquitous treats, available in cafeterias, at bake sales, at funeral teas. Done well they are excellent comfort food. Done poorly they are dry, overly sweet and not very appealing.

Recipes for date squares are one of the basics in any cookbook that covers bars or squares. I find most to be far too sweet for my taste, they add sugar to the streusel layers and to the dates. I find the dates themselves quite sweet enough without any additional sugar.

Strangely enough the recipe that I use for dates squares contains hard margarine as the fat in the oatmeal mixture. I don't use margarine for anything else, I'm a die hard butter fan, but these date squares just taste better with the margarine. Perhaps it's the salt. I find if I make them with butter, that they improve with the addition of a fair bit of extra salt. A bit of cinnamon in the oats is also a requirement. The date layer gets a little vanilla and perhaps a squeeze of lemon to cut the sweetness.

So, do you make date squares/bars? What characteristics makes a great date square?

Let's fill the gaping void and get some recipes in recipeGullet!

#2 etalanian

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 06:52 PM

I'm wondering if there are two camps for the date square/bar bakers. The bars you describe are layered, whereas the bars I make are a simple, not too sweet cake-like batter loaded with cut dates and walnuts. The dates add the sweetness, there is just enough batter to hold everything together. I cut them and dust them with powdered sugar. Very chewy and satisfying, if you love dates and walnuts.

Eileen

Edited by etalanian, 25 June 2007 - 06:52 PM.

Eileen Talanian
[size="3"]HowThe Cookie Crumbles.com
HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com[/size]

[size="3"]As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow[/size]

#3 Sentiamo

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Posted 25 June 2007 - 09:54 PM

Kerry, if you google 'Date Slice' you will get heaps of recipes. Antipodeans and the Brits use 'Slice' often where Nth Americans use Bar or Square. Many great recipes out there!

My current favourite is a shortbread base and top with a filling of fresh dates and raspberry jam, with the top pastry studded with peanuts. PM me if you want the recipe, its copyrighted.

We grew up with a date and sultana slice that is know to children as ' Fly Cemetery Slice'. Sure did look like a summers worth of flies in there. Tasted great though!! :biggrin:

Edited to add: Ooops!! I missed the point entirely did I not. :rolleyes: OK. I will search out my mums fly cemetery slice and add to recipegullet.
Its totally worth it!

Edited by Sentiamo, 25 June 2007 - 09:59 PM.


#4 Lindacakes

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Posted 26 June 2007 - 07:37 AM

I am willing to play this little game. I have some recipes at home I'll poke through and see what I've got.

One thing that I think is absolutely essential is the dusting of powdered sugar. There is something about the combo of date and powdered sugar that soars.

In my house Christmas can't happen without a little number known as a date snowball -- molten dates mixed with Rice Krispies and then rolled (hot - hot - hot!) in the secret ingredient, powdered sugar.

My Christmas parties always have this scene in the kitchen: me taking a guest by the hand and bringing her over to the sink to be wiped off after her date snowball orgy.

I once had a date bar at a coffee bar that I think of as the best I'd ever had -- it was huge, and the date filling was not only dates. It's been too long now to even guess at what it was, but I completely agree that done poorly, they suck. Done well and they are the epitome of adult sweet satisfaction.

That analogy of fly death . . . my god!
I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

#5 Pam R

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Posted 26 June 2007 - 02:20 PM

Is there a difference between a date square/bar/slice and a matrimonial cake/bar/slice?

#6 reenicake

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 06:04 PM

My image of date bars most closely resembles etalanian's... in the Philippines at Christmas a popular baked item is Food for the Gods, a rich and chewy bar with dates, walnuts, brown sugar and little else (butter, eggs, a teeny bit of flour?) An "economy" version replaces half the dates with raisins or prunes and half the walnuts with cashews, local to the Philippines but sheer indulgence in the US.
A college friend has a family recipe that she has made and sold for years but will never even write down for fear it will be stolen.

#7 prasantrin

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 06:41 PM

My image of date bars most closely resembles etalanian's... in the Philippines at Christmas a popular baked item is Food for the Gods, a rich and chewy bar with dates, walnuts, brown sugar and little else (butter, eggs, a teeny bit of flour?) An "economy" version replaces half the dates with raisins or prunes and half the walnuts with cashews, local to the Philippines but sheer indulgence in the US.
A college friend has a family recipe that she has made and sold for years but will never even write down for fear it will be stolen.

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I was thinking of Food for the Gods when I first read this topic. I've never had it, but I keep thinking I'll make it for my mother (from whom I first heard about it). I bought a lot of dates when I was in the UAE, but I can't remember what I did with them....

I think I'll make some in the next couple of weeks, and bring it back to Canada with me for my mother. And of course I'll post a picture here.

Do you have a particular recipe you like, reenicake? I was just going to take on of the 'net, but if you have a good one, please post it!

#8 Lindacakes

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 08:12 AM

I'm totally into trying Food of the Gods, too.
I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

#9 pissaladiere

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 09:17 PM

I don't know if matrominial cake is a Canadian or west coat thing, but that is what I have always called date bars. I have searched high and low for the recipe that my mom used to use. It was written on the back of a lavender coloured chinese restaurant take out menu. She thinks the original recipe may have come from a Woodward's leaflet. It was the best matrimonial cake I've tried. I don't remember the crust (although I think it was some combination of flour, oats, butter and brown sugar-definitely no nuts), but I know that the filling was simply dates cooked with a glob of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. They were perfect.

I might just have another go at trying to recreate them.

Andrea

#10 reenicake

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Posted 04 July 2007 - 12:23 PM

I'm totally into trying Food of the Gods, too.

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Done! check here for the newly posted recipe.

#11 baroness

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Posted 04 July 2007 - 01:22 PM

I'm totally into trying Food of the Gods, too.

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Done! check here for the newly posted recipe.

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They sound delicious - but how much baking soda??? :huh:

#12 prasantrin

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Posted 04 July 2007 - 06:25 PM

Done! check  here for the newly posted recipe.

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Thanks! I now have about 6 different recipes to chose from. What to do, what to do....They all look so good!

I'll look for my dates, first, then decide, since if I can't find them, I won't be able to make them!

#13 Lindacakes

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 08:00 AM

Indeed, baking soda quantity is missing.

Thank you for taking the time -- utterly fantastic.
I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

#14 Ling

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 07:57 PM

Oh my...date bars were my #1 favourite snack in university. They sold great date bars at this little store in the Student Union Building. The shortbread crust was very thick, and there were plenty of oats in the topping, and cinnamon/nutmeg too. I think I remember a bit of orange zest in the filling (just a hint) as well. I am so ready to make these this week!

#15 reenicake

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Posted 07 July 2007 - 05:39 PM

sorry! I forgot that I tweaked the baking soda the last time. 1/4 tsp. produces a more spongy, cakey product, 1/8 tsp. more moist and brownie-like.
Will rectify immediately.

#16 Lindacakes

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Posted 08 July 2007 - 03:02 PM

Which did you personally like better? I'm thinking fudgy?
I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

#17 sugar plum

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Posted 08 July 2007 - 03:20 PM

I searched through my baking books and found only two recipes for date squares. Both are from Canadian cookbooks. I'm trying the first from Staebler's "Food That Really Schmecks" this afternoon. I'll take a picture when they are "sliceable" and post my results online.

As a first-time baker (but many time eater) of date squares, I would have to say I prefer a rolled oats over a shortbread base. It's adds to the square's structure and flavour to have the oats in there.

Unlike Kerry, I love my date squares sweet. Staebler's recipe has a cup of brown sugar in it's base PLUS a 1/2 cup of white sugar in it's filling. The other recipe I have (by Anna Olson) doesn't use any extra sugar in its date filling.

If anyone else is going to attempt the Staebler recipe, don't do what I did. Edna doesn't seem to ever indicate what size of pan one should use so I guessed at an 8" square pan. Wrong! I should have probably used a 9" pan instead.

I found a few other online recipe sources for date squares for those of you that are interested:

http://www.domesticg...hp?recipe=10142
http://www.joyofbaki...ateSquares.html

#18 sugar plum

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Posted 08 July 2007 - 09:11 PM

Well, image Gullet or whatever it's called is not cooperating this evening so I'll delay my picture of the "Schmecks" date square until another time.

Overall I found the filling of this recipe much too sweet for my liking. Staebler's recipe also got me to thinking that the ultimate date square must have the proper ratio of filling to cookie layers. Too much filling is not as tasty in my opinion. It starts to taste more like date paste than a yummy square.

I don't know why I haven't made these before. It's such an easy recipe to make!

#19 sugar plum

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Posted 08 July 2007 - 10:06 PM

Finally, here it is, the "Schmecks" Date Square:

Posted Image

I'll try Anna Olson's recipe tomorrow night and report back. You can find it here:

http://www.foodtv.ca...spx?dishid=3990

#20 sugar plum

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Posted 11 July 2007 - 06:41 PM

Well, I tried Anna Olson's recipe yesterday. Here they are:

Posted Image

The consensus around our household is that the Schmecks version was better. Anna's called for orange zest. A tad too much in our opinion. Anna's filling wasn't as substantial as Edna's either. What I did like about Anna's version was that it didn't contain any sugar in it's filling so it wasn't as sweet.

From all this date square baking, I've come up with my own version of the ultimate date square recipe:

DATE FILLING
1 pound of pitted dates (or I think it works out to be ~3 cups worth of dates)
1 cup of water
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp grated orange zest (optional)

In a medium saucepan, add water to dates and cook until soft (not dry just so the dates are so hard anymore). Cool, add vanilla and optional zest. Place mixture in food processor and whizz until of smoother consistency (do not completely puree).

OAT CRUST
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

Cream butter and sugar; add flour, baking soda and salt that have been sifted and mixed together. Finally add the oats. Pat half of the crust mixture into the bottom of a 9" pan that has been greased and lined with parchment paper. Spread the date filling over this crust mixture. Cover with the remaining oats mixture. Bake in a 350 degree oven for ~40 mins.

I thought I was done with this bake-off when last night I found one more date square recipe I'm willing to try. I'm pretty much date squared-out but this one is the shortbread version that someone else had mentioned in a previous post. This recipe is called "Date Shortbread Squares" and it's found in Anna & Michael Olson Cook at Home. I'm out of dates though...this one will have to wait until my next trip to the grocery store!

#21 sugar plum

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Posted 13 July 2007 - 09:37 PM

Okay, this is it...no more date squares or variations of there of for me for quite some time. Here's my final attempt at this bake-off, Anna Olson's "Date Shortbread Squares":

Posted Image

She adds lemon zest and cinnamon to her date filling and I have to say this combination is extremely yummy! Great flavour and not overly sweet. I really enjoyed this version of the square despite the absence of oats. I will be definately making these again and again.

#22 A Patric

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Posted 14 July 2007 - 05:07 PM

Reenicake,

I made your Food for the Gods date bar recipe. It is one of the better desserts that I have ever had; simple, but rich and delicious.

Thanks for sharing!

Alan

#23 Lindacakes

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Posted 17 July 2007 - 02:48 PM

Sugar Plum, did you post that last one? THAT looks like a date bar from heaven. I like the texture of the date goo.
I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

#24 sugar plum

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Posted 17 July 2007 - 06:02 PM

Lindacakes,

I'll PM you with the recipe. I always get a bit confused with copyright laws. Am I allowed to post a recipe if I credit it's author?

#25 Kerry Beal

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Posted 17 July 2007 - 06:08 PM

Lindacakes,

I'll PM you with the recipe.  I always get a bit confused with copyright laws.  Am I allowed to post a recipe if I credit it's author?

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You can post a recipe if you credit the author and write out the instructions in your own words.

#26 sugar plum

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Posted 17 July 2007 - 06:24 PM

Thanks Kerry for the clarification.

As an aside, has anyone seen the cover of the August issue of Canadian Living? It's a date square with a blueberry filling instead! Brillant idea, eh? See here:

http://www.canadianl...y/ThisMonth.asp

It looks so delicious. I'd love to get this recipe but I'm too cheap to buy the magazine. Anyone have it?

This is from Anna and Michael Olson's "Cook At Home" cookbook. I've changed the wording somewhat from the published version to adhere to the rules:

Date Shortbread Squares

For Date "goo":
2 cups pitted dates
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup water

For Shortbread:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
1 tsp vanilla

For the date "goo", place dates, butter, lemon zest, cinnamon and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to boil. Let boil for a few minutes and then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Place mixture in food processor and whizz until of smoother consistency (not total mush...some date lumps are good) and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, sift flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter and vanilla until mixture has a crumbly texture. Press two-thirds of the crumble into the bottom of an 8" square pan lined with parchment. Spread date mixture over pressed shortbread and sprinkle with remaining shortbread evenly over date mixture. Bake for 35-40 minutes until top of crumble turns very light brown (mine never did!).

#27 Ling

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Posted 17 July 2007 - 11:18 PM

I just made a batch of date bars. I didn't use a recipe, but here is roughly what I did. I was trying to replicate the date bars I liked so much in university. It has cinnamon, orange zest, and a thicker cookie base than most recipes. Also, I decided to pulse most of the oatmeal in the food processor so the cookie is smoother in texture, but still nice and nutty from the higher proportion of oats.

Base:
3 sticks butter, softened (= 1.5 cups)
2 3/4 cups rolled oats, pulsed in food processor
1/4 cup rolled oats (left whole)
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2-3 tbsp molasses (or you can sub the sugar + molasses for brown sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Date filling:
3 cups (1.5 lbs) pitted Medjool dates
zest of 1 small orange
1 3/4 cup water

1. Simmer dates in water with the orange zest until soft, about 5 minutes. Blend in food processor until smooth.

2. Combine all base ingredients into large mixing bowl. Spread 2/3 of the mixture on the bottom of a baking pan, spread the date mixture over top, then crumble the rest of the base mixture on top of the date filling.

3. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Edited by Ling, 17 July 2007 - 11:25 PM.


#28 Ling

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Posted 18 July 2007 - 04:09 PM

Posted Image

#29 prasantrin

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Posted 18 July 2007 - 04:56 PM

I just made a batch of date bars. I didn't use a recipe, but here is roughly what I did. I was trying to replicate the date bars I liked so much in university. It has cinnamon, orange zest, and a thicker cookie base than most recipes. Also, I decided to pulse most of the oatmeal in the food processor so the cookie is smoother in texture, but still nice and nutty from the higher proportion of oats.

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Mmmmm....your recipe sounds like it will make a delicious bar, and your picture looked even better than what I imagined!

So you didn't mention if the bars you made were similar to the date bars you liked. Or were they better? Is there anything you would change about your recipe?

#30 Ling

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Posted 19 July 2007 - 12:39 AM

Well, the bars I made certainly had a brighter, fresher flavour since I had the luxury of eating them right after they were made, and I think the dates I used were likely better quality. I made a good guess at the amount of sugar, orange zest, and cinnamon to use, so I wouldn't make any modifications there. Since this was my first attempt and I guessed at the proportion of oats to flour, my bars ended up tasting like it had more oatmeal than the version I fell in love with back in school. To make them more like the ones I remember, I'd just cut back on the oatmeal a bit and use more flour. I happen to like this version a lot, though, so I might just keep this recipe. I can't really think of anything I could do to improve it. :smile:

Edited by Ling, 19 July 2007 - 12:46 AM.