Coachella, Indio, Mecca, Thermal. When you hear the names of these California desert towns in the Coachella Valley what do you think? Hot, yes. Dry, yes. Do you think of dates? Walking hand and hand in the clear, balmy, moonlit night as sweat trickles down the back of your neck... naw, not that kind of date. I'm talking about the soft, sweet, brown fruit of Phoenix dactylifera, the date palm. Dates are thought to have originated in areas surrounding the Persian Gulf and have been in cultivation since 4,000 BC. Seedlings were brought to California by Jesuit missionaries in 1769 and now 95% of dates grown in the United States are grown in the Coachella Valley, an area probably known better for it's golf courses and day spas.
Have you ever tasted a fresh date? If you haven't you need to! Unfortunately you'll have to wait until next November. Date season in southern California is from November to December and walking around any farmers market in the LA area you'll find several varieties of these delicious fruits for sale. While my budget doesn't permit me the extravagance of these farmer's market finds, my mom never fails to deliver a package or two of Medjools at Christmastime from her friend Antonia's trees in Blythe, CA. I always look forward to finding new culinary uses for them in my home. One New Year's Eve I pan-fried bacon wrapped dates. The marriage of crispy, savory bacon and soft, sweet date was delicious. Of course the ever popular date shake always gets made in our house this time of year. You can make a true shake with milk and ice cream, or what I like is to use frozen bananas in place of the ice cream - I tell myself it's healthier! By far, in my opinion, the medjool date with it's thin, puckered skin and sugary, grainy interior is best in confections. My favorite being a date bar.
About Date Bars:
A google search of date bar recipes yields 2,460,000 results. That's a lot to choose from! The basic date bar is oatey, cookie layers reminiscent of shortbread sandwiching a date puree. I read over a few online and also one in my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook. I chose to loosely follow the recipe from the joyofbaking.com, which actually calls them date squares, and in parenthesis, matrimonial bars. Huh? My thoughts exactly! Is it because a date leads to marriage? Or is it because they are so good feeding one to somebody will surely garner a proposal? Nevertheless hilarity ensued when I read that AKA of the date bar. I tried to think of clever names for the new recipe I created: Take me on a Date Bar, I met my Date at a Bar, After much time spent together at the Bar we decided to go on a Date...as you can see I get a little carried away, I'll just stick to Date Bar. Unlike my former posts, I will actually give you a recipe this time.ENJOY!
Anissa's Date Bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a 9x9 inch baking dish
Make date puree
27 fresh Medjool dates, pitted (If all you have access to are dried dates, you will have to reconstitute them in simmering water. You also might need more that 27)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Puree dates and vanilla in a food processor, adding small amounts of warm water until it just loosens but is still quite thick. Set aside.
Make the crust
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup cold butter, grated or sliced
Whisk everything together except the butter. If using grated butter, add to the dry mixture and toss gently to combine. If using butter slices, add them to the dry mixture and using a pastry blender cut the butter into the dry mixture. Press half of this in the bottom of the pan. Spread the date puree, you may have to use your hands to ensure that it gets evenly spread and not pull up the crust. Press the rest of the crust on top of the date puree in an even layer. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes before trying to cut. Trick your 3 year old by telling her they are chocolate. :)