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date and nut squares

Wed, 19 May, 2021

⯆ JUMP TO RECIPE
Dates are not just for Christmas: featured here in a wonderful dessert that must be cut into small squares or bars - it is divinely rich.

date and nut squares cuisinefiend.com

Dates, the Christmas thing

Dates and figs always appeared in my childhood home at Christmas time. Nobody particularly liked either but somehow you were supposed to buy or gift them. A fraction of the stock was used in my Mother’s Christmas fruitcake and I remember methodically picking them out of my cake slice – the ‘fruit’ in the fruitcake in my books were raisins and sultanas, not weird jammy or pippy things.

Of course, I was convinced dates grew dried, or at least I didn’t spare it much thought. Subsequently I learned of the gorgeousness of fresh figs but I thought I’d yet, long as I’ve lived, to encounter fresh dates.

date and mixed nut bars cuisinefiend.com

Are fresh dates good to eat?

And that’s where I was wrong. Dates, the fruit of a date palm tree, can be wrinkled and slightly shrivelled even when they are fresh. I was completely unaware that the arguable king of dates, Medjool, is actually fresh and so the most expensive.

Dates come in three categories: soft (Medjool), semi-dry (Deglet Noor) and dry (no-name dates sold in the baking section). The semi- and dry varieties are delicate and easily spoilt so in Europe we only get them in their dried, Christmas form. Medjools are high in moisture and though they may appear dry, they are not dehydrated in any way.

sweet squares with medjool dates and mixed nuts and almonds cuisinefiend.com

Dates and nutrition

Just like most delicious things, dates have high calorie and sugar content. Apart from that though they are a good source of fibre and antioxidants so really good to eat – in moderation.

You can use them as a natural sweetener, pureed into a paste added to baking or cooking. The recipe below however has nothing to do with natural sweetening or limiting sugar intake, but the date and nut squares are drop dead gorgeous.

chewy and rich date nut squares cuisinefiend.com

Date and nut squares recipe

They are based on a Filipino dessert recipe nicknamed ‘food for the gods’, which I found via Tejal Rao’s NY Times Cooking interpretation. I cut the ingredients by half. I reduced the sugar a little. And they still came out so rich, I could only manage one square at a time – which by my standards is positively abstemious.

They are rich but, ye gods, are they divine. Slightly less like squares or bars than I’d been expecting; more like cake. The dates do not dissolve as they would in an English sticky toffee style bake, but remain in chunks though do drop to the bottom of the tin. That does no harm to the end product, especially that the nuts and almonds spread evenly throughout the batter.

date nut bars cuisinefiend.com

How to make the date nut squares

The original recipe has only walnuts in it; I mixed almonds, pecans and pistachios and you can use whichever nuts are your preference – or whatever you can find in the cupboard. I also use electric mixer but the batter can easily be mixed with a wooden spoon.

The squares keep very well – no wonder considering all the sugar and butter that goes in there. They also freeze very well and that’s what I did with my batch. Defrosting one square at a time seemed the correct thing to do with those little calorie bombs. Food for gods they are indeed – but unlike mortals, gods need count no calories…


date and nut squares

Servings: makes 24 squaresTime: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS

  • 200g (2 cups) pitted Medjool dates
  • 50g (13 cup) bleached almonds
  • 50g (13 cup) raw pistachios
  • 50g (13 cup) pecan nuts
  • 170g (113 cups) plain flour
  • 12 tsp baking powder
  • 12 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 12 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 225g (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 250g (14 cup) dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs


METHOD

1. Heat the oven to 170C/325F/gas 3. Line a 30 x 23cm or similar tin with parchment.

2. Roughly chop the dates, each approximately into 6 pieces. Roughly chop the almonds, pistachios and pecans. Set aside.

3. Stir the baking powder, bicarb of soda and salt into the flour in a medium bowl.

4. Beat the butter with the sugar briefly, only until incorporated. Beat in the eggs, one by one. Add the flour and beat on low speed only until combined. Fold in the dates and the nuts with a spatula.

cake batter cuisinefiend.com

5. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool completely in the tin.

cake in tin cuisinefiend.com

6. Remove the cake from the tin with the parchment onto a chopping board and cut into squares with a serrated knife. Keep in an airtight container for up to 10 days.

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