For veteran December cookie bakers (I’m not using the word old here), there are always those few special recipes that make it into the oven lineup every year. They’re one of the kid’s or neighbor’s favorites or maybe it’s the cookie that always disappears most quickly out of the tin on the counter. If nothing else gets baked the whole month, we’re stirring up these particular goodies.Jump to Recipe
At our house, there are surely a few such sweets like my ginger cookies or some version of “Chocolate Covered Cherry Oatmeal Cookies.” But the other day when I asked my husband which cookie he really wanted for December (time was running out or, as we sing around our house, “Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat!”), he said, “Date Bars.” I know he loves date bars and maybe I knew they were at the top of his cookie monster list, but I still thought about it for a moment or two. No longer, though, because sometime over the next few days, I jumped out of bed at o’dark early and slid a quick pan into the oven so it was baking when he woke up. “The house smells so good,” is my favorite compliment. For the blog, I’m calling them “Dave’s Date Bars” because that’s how I think of them in my mind. I don’t believe the famous cook-writer who first dreamed them up would be offended. She was all for the home cook her entire career and has been one of my strongest cooking mentors. If you’re a longtime blog reader, you’ll recognize her name from other posts.
I’ve been making these chewy fruity pleasures since the mid-80’s and I know this because I make notes in my cookbooks. I don’t always do that right away the very first time I make something, but often only after I’ve made it a time or two and know it’s a keeper. Sometimes I note additions or changes. Even in ink. The late, great Marion Cunningham’s baking –and other– recipes are spare, well-edited, spot on, luscious, easy to read and understand, and this one, from which my version is barely adapted, is one the best bar cookies in her THE FANNY FARMER BAKING BOOK. And, hey, who doesn’t like a easy bar cookie easy enough to bake with kids? It takes a few minutes to cook and cool the dates, but all good things come to she who bakes and it’s barely long enough to mention. The cookies themselves are done in a half hour with no shaping, cutting out, molding, or switching cookie sheets half way through. In they go and off you go to do something else for 30 minutes. They’ll need to cool for a while when they come out or they’ll just fall apart in your fingers, so give them the time they need and while they rest, turn on the carols and put the coffee on so you can try this:
Dave’s Date Bars
- 2 cups finely chopped pitted dates (can chop in food processor with 1 tablespoon flour/watch for pits)
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar, divided
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 2 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 16 tablespoons (2 sticks or 8 ounces or 1 cup salted butter) melted and cooled
- 1/3 cup chopped, toasted pecans
- PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 degrees F. Get out a 9”x13” baking pan. (No need to grease it.)
- COOK THE DATES: Combine the chopped dates, ½ cup of the brown sugar, and the water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium flame for about 5 minutes or until mixture boils and is thickened. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and almond extracts. Set aside to cool.
- MIX THE DRY INGREDIENTS: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oatmeal, the remaining 1 cup of brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the melted butter and mix well.
- ADD HALF OF THE FLOUR MIXTURE TO THE PAN (you'll use the other half for a top or third layer) and use a piece of plastic wrap or the back of a spoon to spread it in an even layer.
- SPOON THE DATE FILLING in dollops on top of the flour mixture and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula.
- STIR THE PECANS into the remaining flour mixture and sprinkle it evenly on top of the date mixture. It’s ok if it doesn’t cover all of the dates; just do your best to sprinkle it evenly.
- BAKE FOR ABOUT 30 MINUTES or until edges and corners are crispy-brown and the center is just set. Set on a rack to cool before cutting into squares. To make the later cutting easier, I run a small sharp knife around the edges of the pan when it first comes out of the oven.Store for 3-4 days in a tightly covered container, placing waxed paper between the layers of cookies. Freeze for up to 2 months, thawing overnight on the counter before serving.
Christmas goodies from other years on More Time:
2020: LORNA’S PEPPERMINT STARS
2018 PEAKNUT CRINKLES
LIFE GOES ON:
Dave and the “babies” join me in wishing you the happiest of Decembers, the best of all holiday seasons, and a complete sense of well-being through the coming new year. I’ve loved welcoming you into my kitchen week by week and hope that you’ll continue to spend more time at the table in 2023. We’re taking a short cruise vacation (no dirty dishes!!) over the coming holidays and I’ll tell you all about that once we’re back in Colorado.
Keep cooking at home for health, wealth, and happiness,
I used an old GH recipe that is now behind a paywall online. This no-yeast version, from King Arthur Flour, is very similar. I made one loaf (8″x10″ before baking) out of almost the same ingredients; they do two smaller loaves. Other changes…. Lemon zest instead of lemon oil. Dried cherries and toasted, chopped pecans in place of the other fruit and nuts. So good and definitely a make-ahead, wrap and store-at-room-temperature-for-a-couple-of-days type goodie. Hello, holiday morning coffee treat!