Baked Sunday Mornings continues its venture into Baked Occasions' 12 Days of Cookies theme with this week's recipe: a homespun, chewy-sweet Date Square. Consider the date: aside from dried, chopped dates combined with oats and sprinkled on top of yogurt, or whirled into an ice cream shake, I can't think of many times when someone might want to chew on some dates. It's almost a bit of a scary fruit that many folks may not acknowledge eating - or even liking - too frequently.
The interesting, and coolest, thing about dates is that, when hydrated from dried, they often bake or cook up pretty dreamily in desserts - most notably in sticky toffee pudding, for example. Growing up, I recall my mother making a rather delicious chocolate cake which was moist from re-hydrated dates, made in a 9 x 13 pan and sprinkled with sugar, nuts, and chocolate chips on top. She often took this cake to a friend who had just had a baby as a homemade congratulatory gift. We called it "Baby Cake" as a result - though I'm not so sure that name made it sound as appetizing as it did cannabalistic! Yikes!
Regardless, dates are not to be knocked. I myself would typically shy away from this ingredient, as it veers too close to being like a large raisin in texture and flavor (ew). I'm glad this recipe challenged me to give dates another go, because these Date Squares are really quite good.
To begin with, dried, pitted dates are chopped finely (probably the only hard part of this recipe - and even that is easy if you have a good sharp knife), then cooked up with some water and brown sugar, until the chopped dates absorb the liquid and the result is like a deep-brown, earthy date jam. This jam is sandwiched between a buttery - but not too-buttery - crumbly oat mixture and baked off until slightly golden on top. The bottom layer should be tamped into the pan pretty tightly so that when you cut the squares, it doesn't shatter too much; and it will. The crumb mixture seemed a touch dry, but I have a feeling the addition of more butter would have been too much.
The date squares are wonderful coupled with a cup of good coffee, tea, or even a glass of milk, as they are on the sweet side from that jammy date layer. Baked took a slight detour from putting their signature, slight twist or spin on a classic dessert with this one, but they did well to just leave it as it is - paying homage to a family recipe of one of their bakers. While this would not be a recipe I would make too frequently, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It was homey and old-fashioned in all the right kind of ways. You can say this recipe is just the kind of recipe you would expect from your grandmother... but, unless memories of your grandmother are not so pleasant, that's not such a bad association, is it?
Whether you like dates or not, if you're game to try something different in your kitchen that hits a good comfort note, give these Date Squares a whirl (click on the name for the recipe). They're really quite easy to put together. And please check out the Leave Your Links page on Baked Sunday Mornings to see what my fellow bakers thought!
Next up in Baked Occasions: Wintermint Cake (one of my favorite Baked cake recipes, and a family tradition now!) - December 21, 2014