Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday, I may look forward to stuffing, green bean casserole and all the pie the way normal people might anticipate Ben Jerry’s Free Cone Day, but there is definitely a point — let’s call it right now — when I’m about at capacity with fresh fun ideas for soft orange vegetables and clever new ways to swim foods in puddles of rich sauces. Also, I still need to eat.
Thus, when I was supposed to be pondering turkey this week, I instead went down a date bar rabbit hole. Date squares, aka matrimonial bars, slices or cakes, are one of these old-school cookies that I imagine at some point were so ubiquitous, everyone forgot to mention them because you barely hear about them anymore. I get that they don’t summon the kind of fervor of salted chocolate chunks cookies, three-ingredient peanut butter domes and brown butter cereal treats but I have a deep affection for — how can I put this politely — Grandma Cuisine, you know, the kinds of food steeped in nostalgia for the 70-plus set, and I believe there’s a time and place for all cookies, even the hopelessly old-fashioned ones.
Currently, I’ve decided that place should be breakfast. Hear me out: there are oats and there is a lot of fruit, i.e. my breakfast minimums have been met. Plus, with a little tweaking, there’s less sugar, you can use a slightly more wholesome fat instead of butter, whole wheat flour instead of white and then, because the season requires it, I really enjoyed adding some orange zest and winter spices to make this feel especially of the moment.
Because that moment — the busiest cooking season of the year — is great fun but can also be exhausting. I’m going to assume that as you’re the kind of person who ends up reading a site like this, you’re likely to be cooking for people this week as well and you, my friend, have to take care of yourself. Treat yo self! as the under-70 set says. This is a good place to start; make a double batch of these, put half in the freezer for a few weeks from now, half in the fridge for the week to come to ensure you eat more than stuffing scraps this week and maybe have a quiet little grandma moment with them too — a fancy plate, a cup of tea, a seat by the window, a sweet view — because as far as I’m concerned, it’s no celebration unless you get to enjoy it too.
Date Breakfast Squares
We cut these into 12 bars.
For the filling
1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) pitted dates, chopped
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon finely grated orange (or mandarin or clementine) zest
For the crumbs
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup raw or turbinado sugar
1/2 cup olive oil, coconut oil, melted butter or a mix of the above
3/4 cups rolled oats, I used quick-cooking but old-fashioned should work just fine
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour, or a wholegrain flour mix of your choice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
A pinch or two of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Either grease bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch pan or line the bottom and sides with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, combine dates, water and zest over low heat, simmering for 5 to 10 minutes, until liquid has absorbed and mixture has thickened. Set aside while you make the crumbs.
In a large bowl, mix the sugars and oil or butter together. Add the oats, flour, spices, baking soda and salt and stir to combine; the mixture should form a coarse rubble.
Press half into the bottom of your prepared pan. Dollop the date mixture over it and use a small offset spatula (or whatever you have on hand) to spread the mixture smoothly over the crumbs. Don’t worry if the crumbs move around a little underneath; these bars don’t require perfection. Sprinkle remaining crumbs over date layer and press lightly to cover.
Bake bars for 25 minutes, or until light brown at the edges. Cool in pan. Cut into squares. They’ll keep just fine at room temperature but will last up to a week in the fridge and longer in the freezer.