In August, I became a citizen of the USA. It seems oddly fitting that I’m doing a post today for a delicious sweet that’s proudly Canadian, the date square of my childhood.
My mother used to make these. Her birthday was December 24th, which was a little unfair, but she did get to spend a whole month or more eating sweet treats as the days grew short, the nights long, and the season of baking hit its stride weeks ahead of her birthday. I have to admit that this is the time of year I become a bit nostalgic about my life in the Great White North, not because I miss shoveling snow, but because there remain many great memories there for me along with a whole bunch of people I adore and hope to see again soon. The place formed me in ways that I know I will never entirely understand.
This is an easy coffee break kind of thing to make and is portable enough to take to an office party or other gatherings. I’ve often wondered how Canadians, who must import dates, invented this succulent cookie-like thing that belongs to them as much as the Nanaimo bar. I suspect it’s related to the English puddings that graced many holiday tables in the past when Canada was very much a British colony. Canadian cooks used what they could get, and if dates were available in the dead of winter to give them a sense of Victorian Christmas cheer, then so be it. They did something good with them.
- An 8 inch square pan (20 cm)
- 1 small pot.
- 1 mixing bowl.
- 1 wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
For the Filling
- 425 g (just short of 1 pound) Medjool dates, pitted and chopped.
- 250 ml (1 cup) water.
- 30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice.
- 2 tbsp brown sugar.
- ½ tsp baking soda.
Base and Topping
- 175 g quick cooking oats. Just short of 2 cups.
- 150 g all purpose flour, or sub oat flour.
- 160 g (¾ cup) brown sugar.
- ¼ tsp baking powder.
- 170 g (¾ cup) butter, softened to room temp.
- Put a rack in the centre (center) of the oven and preheat it to 180°C (350°F).
- Line a 20 cm (8-inch) square pan with parchment paper, letting it hang over two sides. This will act as a sling to lift the uncut squares from the pan. Butter the paper on the bottom of the pan. Use a pencil to trace the bottom of the pan so that you know where to cut.
Make the Filling
- Bring the dates, water, lemon juice and brown sugar to a boil in a small pot.
- Once boiling, add the baking soda.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to prevent burning.
- Once the dates have fallen apart and you have achieved a gooey consistency, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.
Make the Base and Topping
- In a large bowl stir together the oats, flour, brown sugar and baking powder.
- Add the butter and mix until the butter is evenly distributed and mixture is cohesive.
- Spread half of this mixture in the bottom of the baking dish and press down to create a solid base for your squares, making sure to get it into the corners. Distribute evenly across the pan.
- Next add the cooled date mixture and spread evenly.
- Finally, spread over the rest of the oat mixture and press lightly, not as hard as you did to create the base.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes until the top is golden brown.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack for about 4 hours. Then, using the sling, remove to a cutting board and slice into 16 squares.