With the chill of fall in the air, baking seems like the perfect way to spend a morning. Recently, with a houseful of guests, time for baking was short. Yet there were plenty of mouths to feed. It is times like these when a good old-fashioned Oatmeal Date Bar comes in handy. This version is my grandmothers and it varied every time she made the bars.
Fanning the aroma of the dates while they cook on the stove is an excellent way to build expectation. Heads kept popping in and out of the kitchen to see if they were ready yet. From young to old, these are just sweet enough to satisfy without causing a sugar coma.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Butter an 8”x8” pan or spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
Gather your ingredients before you begin and it will save valuable time.
For the date filling, you will need:
1 ½ cups chopped pitted dates
1 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Grandmother’s variation was 1 teaspoon of Brandy)
Optional: zest of one orange and/or about ¼ cup toasted chopped walnuts
For the crusts, you will need:
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted (melt this before you proceed with the crusts)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 ½ cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar (packed well)
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
In a medium saucepan, over a medium high heat, bring the 1 ½ cups water and the 1 ½ cups dates to a boil. Stir frequently. Add the vanilla (or brandy) and continue simmering the date mixture until it is very thick and the dates are very soft. Continue to stir occasionally. Taste the mixture about halfway through to make sure it's sweet enough. If the dates aren't sweet, add about a tablespoon of sugar and cook until it dissolves. It takes about 10-12 minutes on my gas stove. When the mixture is thickened, remove the pan from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature while you prepare the crusts.
In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Whisk well to blend the ingredients thoroughly. Pour in the melted butter in a circular fashion to distribute it all over the dry mix. Stir with a large spoon to incorporate the butter. You will end up with crumbly, moist dough.
Press half of your oat mix as evenly as possible over the bottom of the prepared pan.
Spread your date mixture over the bottom crust. Make sure it’s as even as possible.
Lightly sprinkle the remaining oat mix evenly over the date layer.
Press lightly on the top crust to make it stick to the date layer.
Bake the bars until they are golden brown. In my oven, it was just about 40 minutes. The edges will be slightly darker than the center.
Cool the bars completely on a wire rack before you cut them. If you cut them when they are warm, they are a gooey mess.
After each knife cut, rinse the knife in hot water and dry it. This will prevent the sticky dates on the knife from dragging food along on the next cut. This insures a nice clean cut on all sides of your bars.
This recipe usually yields about 16 bars. They will last several days, covered and at room temperature. Uncovered, they usually are eaten immediately.
Serve them with a glass of milk or hot coffee or tea to wash them down.
Hint: they make a great dessert if you fill a bowl with one large scoop of ice cream and then crumble the date bar over it. If you want to be really decadent, top it off with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and garnish with chopped toasted nuts.