In my book, butter is right up there with chocolate on the list of ingredients I love most. So I was dubious about these No Butter or Shortening Date Nut Bars to say the least. But for a dessert that contains neither butter nor chocolate, they are pretty darn good.
I’ll admit that I did not dream up these bars. They are from my friends Linda and Ken. As we chatted at a recent gathering, Ken and I both spied a fruit platter that included some luscious looking dried dates. He mentioned that his mom made fabulous date bars. I asked about the recipe, Ken didn’t know where it was or how to find it. He only knew that his mom insisted one had to mix the batter with bare hands.
Not so easily deterred, I asked his wife, Linda, about the recipe. She laughed when she heard that Ken didn’t know what had become of it. She has a date nut bar recipe from his mom, as well as several from other women of that generation.
Being incredibly organized, Linda immediately scanned the recipe from Ken’s mom and two others. Although she sent them by email, the three old fashioned recipe cards still felt like they were calling to me from another era. They reminded me of Mad Men and my retro date nut bread. I’ll have to ask Ken what color his mom’s kitchen was. I’m betting it was avocado green with harvest gold highlights.
Meanwhile, I had uncovered a trove of date bar recipes online that seemed to include every possible variation on that theme. But I was wrong. Ken’s mom had an altogether different take. Her recipe does not call for any butter or shortening and it uses separated eggs. Also, it does not contain oats and barely uses any flour. It is truly unique.
As with many old fashioned recipes, her directions were sparse. In fact, reading them, I could not imagine what the finished bars would be like. That really piqued my curiosity. So I made them and thought they were delicious.
Oddly enough, when I checked back in with Linda, she told me that she has made these same bars for Ken and he swears they are not the ones he remembers. (Not sure how that can be, as they are straight from his mom’s recipe.) Oh well, I still loved them – and so did my family.
Just because I’m a stickler for happy endings, I will go back to the drawing board with some more details from Ken. If I do end up replicating what he remembers, I’ll certainly let you know. But in the meantime, rest assured that these are well worth trying.
When this month’s Progressive Eats host, Colleen, announced that the theme was tailgate treats, I decided these No Butter or Shortening Date Nut Bars would be my contribution to the meal. I rarely go to sporting events. When I do, it’s generally a Nationals baseball game and we eat inside the ball park. While I don’t know much about tailgating, it conjured up images of BBQ and guacamole. I figured a healthy treat to end the meal might be unusual, but welcome.
These treats are thin and a bit chewy in the middle, with a nice crunch on the edges. They only have six ingredients and if you use pre-chopped dates and walnuts, they take just a few minutes to mix together.
Even if you have to chop those ingredients, the whole process takes maybe 15 minutes total. My beloved felt a bit cheated when he realized that they were delicious, but chocolate-free. If you’re likely to get a similar reaction, you could add a few chocolate chips to the batter. Of course, if you do, the halo of “healthy dessert” dims just ever so slightly.
The recipe calls for a 9-inch square pan. If you don’t have that size, you can use an 8-inch one, adding a few minutes to the baking time. In that event, the bars will just be a bit thicker and chewier. Or, you can MacGyver/jury rig a 9 x 13-inch one, using a piece of foil folded like an accordion and placed at the 9-inch point on the longer side of the pan to create a barrier so the bars do not move over to the remaining 4 inches. I don’t take credit for this clever trick. It comes from Cathy Barrow, who explains it in her new book, Pie Squared. The end result will look like this.
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. Each recipe in our menu this month features a tailgating finger foods, and our host is Coleen who blogs at The Redhead Baker.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats it’s a virtual party. The host choses a theme and members share recipes on that theme suitable for a delicious meal or party. You can hop from blog to blog to check them out. Come along and see all of the delicious tailgating dishes!
Tailgate Finger Food
- Cheese Straw Tomato Tartlets – That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Cherry Red Wine Baked Turkey Meatballs – The Heritage Cook
- Pork and Ginger Potstickers – Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Nacho Momma’s Beef, Bean and Cheese Tortilla Dip – Creative Culinary
- Jalapeno Popper Stuffed Mushrooms – The Redhead Baker
- No Butter or Shortening Date Nut Bars – Mother Would Know (you’re here!)
No Butter or Shortening Date Nut Bars
A simple, low-fat bar with just 6 ingredients. Perfect finger food.
- 1 cup chopped dates Approximately 5&1/2 oz. or 158 g
- 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts Approximately 4 oz or 117 g
- 1/2 cup sugar Approximately 3&1/2 oz or 102 g
- 3 tablespoons flour Approximately 7/8 oz or 25 g
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 eggs, separated
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. LIne an 8-inch square pan with foil, then butter or oil it and dust with flour.
Mix the chopped dates, walnuts, sugar, flour and baking powder together.
Lightly beat the egg yolks, add them, and mix again.
Beat the egg whites just a bit (with a fork or whisk), until they begin to foam. Then add them to the rest of the ingredients, mix with your hands, and press the stiff dough into the pan. Even the mixture out, covering the entire bottom of the pan. If you have to, don't be hesitant to move chunks of the "dough" with your hands to achieve a uniform thickness.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Cool the bars in the pan until you can easily move a butter knife around the sides.
I found it easier to tip the entire pan over onto a cutting board, then peel back the foil before cutting it into squares. You can do that or cut it in the pan and remove them one square at a time.
After the bars have cooled, use a large knife or a sharp cleaver to cut them into squares.