Date bars can be tastebud chameleons. As a simple sweet, they can be dusted with powdered sugar and enjoyed as bar cookies. But my palate loves them modified to be a salty-sweet partner with cheese.
Dates, of course, are the ingredient backbone. Many supermarkets sell them already chopped, but lately when I’ve used these pre-chopped dates, they have been dry with many cubes crushed into date dust. They work, but the results yielded a less-lush texture. I can imagine those bags of chopped dates languishing in the belly of a cargo ship, stacked high and dry. Don’t get me wrong, they will work. Sometimes culinary shortcuts are a must.
If you start with whole dates (pitted or unpitted), chopping can be tricky. Snipping the dates with scissors works better than chopping with a knife. If unpitted, cut each date lengthwise to reveal the pit and pluck it out.
For bar cookies, I use a square pan and chopped walnuts or pecans. For date-rich “bread” to serve with cheese, I use a round 9-inch cake pan and whole salted Marcona almonds. To serve, I often cut it into thin wedges and arrange the pieces, alternating with wedges of Cambozola cheese, a rich soft-ripened triple-cream interspersed with Italian Gorgonzola. Other cheeses can be substituted, such as Brie, Manchego, or aged white cheddar.
Oh, another ingredient challenge—Marcona almonds are an essential element when turning bar cookie to cheese companion. Those almonds from Spain, plump beauties that are lightly fried and salted, are hard to find. I suspect it is a supply chain problem. I’ve been substituting Guara almonds sold at Trader Joe’s. To my palate, they taste like Marcona almonds; they are fried and salted in a similar manner. The difference is that they are grown in a different Spanish region.
Mmmm. Is it a first course or part of an appetizer cheese board? Or is it dessert? Your choice. Either way, you are going to love it.
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.” For more than 30 years, she has written about cooking, chefs, and food trends.
Date Bars or Date Bread Cheese Partner
Yield: 36 bar cookies or 12 thick wedges or 24 narrow wedges to serve with cheese
- Butter for greasing pan
- 1 1/4 cups fine graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 3/4 cups chopped dates, see cook’s notes
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans for bars, or 1 1/4 cups salted whole Marcona almonds or Guara almonds
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- Garnish: powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan with butter for bar cookies, or if using as a cheese accompaniment, grease a 9-inch round cake pan that is at least 1 3/4-inches deep. Line pan with two crisscrossed sheets of aluminum foil, allowing a 1- to 2-inch margin of foil to come over the top edge of the pan; butter foil. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, place graham cracker crumbs, salt and baking powder; stir to combine. Add dates and walnuts; stir to combine.
- In a separate bowl or large bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs well (use the flat paddle attachment on mixer if using). Add brown sugar, 1/3 cup at a time, stirring or beating between additions to combine. Add graham cracker mixture to egg mixture and mix to combine. Place in prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Allow to rest 10 minutes in pan set on cooling rack. Using potholders if the pan and foil are still too hot to handle, pull foil from pan using overhanging foil as handles and set bars still in foil on cooling rack. Allow to cool 10 minutes. Invert on cutting board and peel away foil. For bar cookies: Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar; place powdered sugar in a sieve and shake over squares. For cheese accompaniment: Cut into thin wedges (do not dust with powdered sugar).