Date squares are the perfect easy recipe to make with pantry staples and a little butter.
It's always a good idea to have a few dessert recipes requiring only pantry items that can be stored for those days when you need a quick pick-me-up without having to leave the house. A batch of lightly spiced date squares is the perfect pantry baking recipe.
If you find your date squares are too crumbly, try pressing the crumble mixture on the bottom into the pan with a little more force to create a tighter, more compact layer. If you don't, your base will be crumbly. It's as easy as that!
The beauty of date squares is that they are made from the cheaper dates at the grocery store, the kind that look the driest (they look like they will never recover). By heating them with a little water, you can transform them into a sweet, aromatic paste. Save the medjool dates for another recipe, like these sesame date bites. Initially, when you are rehydrating dry baking dates, it seems like the dates and the water will never mingle. But then, with some patience, stirring, and a little heat, the dates come together to make a rich filling.
Some will add baking soda to the pan in order to help the dates break down and to soften the skins, but I don't think it's necessary. In the end the hydrated date paste can be blended in the food processor to smooth it out if need be. No need for baking soda.
This is my go-to recipe for date squares because it's all about the dates: there is no lemon or orange zest here to interfere with the floral, earthy character of the dates. This recipe is taken from Joy of Baking. I haven't changed the recipe much (just upped the amount of cinnamon), but I have changed the method to make the crust/crumble. I don't have a food processor that is large enough to accommodate all the ingredients, so I just use my fingers. It just feels right to make the crumble by hand anyways.
My absolute favorite recipe for date squares
- 400 grams (3 cups) dates such as Jaffa brand
- 250 mL (1 cup) water
- 5 mL (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract
- Prepare the filling: Heat the dates with the water over low heat, stirring. After 5–10 minutes, the dates will absorb all the water, soften, break open, and form a paste. Transfer the paste to a small food processor, and blend until smooth (this is not absolutely necessary, but this will chop up the dates skins nicely giving a more even texture to the paste). Add the vanilla and blend for a few seconds more. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Prepare a 9×9-inch brownie pan (I use a metal pan) by greasing it and fitting a square of parchment at the bottom.
- Prepare the crust/crumble: In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add in the cold butter, tossing to coat it with the flour/oat mixture. Using your finger tips, press the butter into the flour until you have a coarse crumble. Don’t worry if it gets too warm, just pop it into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to chill it, then continue crumbling. You can also do this step in an 11-cup food processor.
- Assemble: When you’ve got a good crumble, pour two thirds of the mixture into the prepared pan. Press it down (with your fingers or the bottom of a cup). Be sure to get into the corners. You want a good base for your squares. Top the base with the date paste, smearing it carefully to coat the base evenly. Top with the rest of the crumbles, strewing them evenly over the paste with your hands.
- Bake the squares for 30–40 minutes, until the edges begin to brown slightly. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. Optional: refrigerate until really cold so that cutting them is easier. I don’t do this because I think a room-temp, if not slightly warm, date square is a million times yummier. Cut into 16 squares and serve.