Zia Lena’s Date Bar Cookies

Zia Lena's Date Bar Cookies Recipe by @browneyedbaker :: www.browneyedbaker.com

If you’re not from Pittsburgh, then you may not be familiar with the long-standing tradition of cookie tables at weddings. It’s a regional tradition, and one that has been documented locally and in The New York Times. Even though a cake is served, it’s customary for the couple’s family and friends to bake homemade cookies for a display of cookies for guests to eat throughout the evening. Typically, the couple also provides take-home boxes for guests to fill up before they head home. It’s certainly one of my favorite Pittsburgh traditions; we certainly know how to do food! A little over a month ago, I was at a wedding with a fabulous cookie table and sampled some of the date bars. It reminded me that I had been wanting to pull out my great aunt’s recipe that I swore my grandma had. After multiple passes through her handwritten recipes and coming up empty, my mom made two calls to family in Wisconsin and tracked down the recipe.

Zia Lena's Date Bar Cookies Recipe by @browneyedbaker :: www.browneyedbaker.com

I did make some “date bars” last year, but as I mentioned at the time, they definitely had more of a cake-like blondie consistency. These new date bars are much more along the lines of what I have been craving. They’re thin and have the consistency of a soft biscotti – very spongelike and extremely soft. The dough is packed with so many dates that are so finely chopped that they are almost a paste. Throw in ground walnuts and a sprinkle of powdered sugar and you have the best date bars I’ve ever tasted.

There’s no doubt that these are totally worthy of a cookie table. It’s too bad that my Zia Lena (who passed away quite awhile ago) didn’t live in Pittsburgh; I’m certain there would be people willing to pay her to bake for their cookie table!

Zia Lena's Date Bar Cookies Recipe by @browneyedbaker :: www.browneyedbaker.com

One year ago: Almond-Apple Crisp
Two years ago: Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies
Three years ago: Banana-Nut Oat Bran Muffins
Four years ago: Coffeecake Muffins
Six years ago: Chocolate Rum Cheesecake

Zia Lena's Date Bar Cookies

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

One of my very favorite date bar cookies, compliments of my late Zia Lena, my grandfather's sister.


3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
16 ounces pitted dates, finely chopped
1 cup walnuts, ground


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 10x15-inch jelly roll pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder; set aside.

3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the sugar and butter, until combined (it will be crumbly). Add the eggs, water, vanilla extract and salt and beat until thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the chopped dates and ground walnuts.

4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool, cut into squares and dust. They can be dusted with powdered sugar, if desired. These cookies can be stored in an airtight container or covered tightly with plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 1 week.


50 Responses to “Zia Lena’s Date Bar Cookies”

  1. Vika on September 5, 2013 at 12:29 am

    These look scrumptious! I need to make them sometime:))


  2. Pamela @ Brooklyn Farm Girl on September 5, 2013 at 12:41 am

    You make me miss Pittsburgh, I went to school there and spent a few great years in that beautiful city!


  3. sarah @ maypurr on September 5, 2013 at 12:49 am

    hi, do you think they can be stored in the freezer. i usually place my granola bars in a airtight corner then store in the freezer. they can last for a pretty long time.


    • Michelle on September 7th, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Sarah, I do think these can be frozen without a problem.


  4. Maxine on September 5, 2013 at 3:52 am

    I love this Pittsburgh tradition…I’ve never heard of it before, I think it’s a lovely idea. The NYT’s article filled me in and I loved the video clip they had…the cookies look so delicious. I think it’s a sweet tradition, the bride and her family hunkered down in the kitchen baking up a cookie mania for their guests…such a sweet gesture. The date bar cookies are definitely going to be made this weekend, my family loves Medjool dates, I’ll remember your Zia Lena. Thanks for sharing 🙂


    • jennie on September 5th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Maxine,
      I am from Youngstown, Ohio (right next to Pittsburgh) and usually the bride and grom don’t do the cookie table, it’s usually the moms, aunts, cousins, friends who make the various cookies. It’s a gift of traditional cookies their families treasure from their loved ones. It’s really beautiful.


  5. vampire on September 5, 2013 at 4:09 am

    cardamom would be a great compliment to dates!
    half a teaspoon of ground cardamom in place of 1 of the vanilla is all what u need.

    to what ratio down to make an 8×8″ cake?


    • Michelle on September 7th, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      I have never made this recipe into a cake, although I think you could probably spread the batter into an 8-inch square pan; you’ll just need to increase the baking time.


  6. Lynda Sullivan on September 5, 2013 at 4:32 am

    These look really good and I can’t wait to give them a try.

    lynda sweetsaffronspice.com


  7. Leia on September 5, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Of all the recipes you have posted on your blog, the family hand me down’s are by far the best. Along with the stories behind them. Your family history triggers memories that make the recipes that much better. Thank you, and thanks to your family for loving the food they prepared.
    This one will be made today!!


  8. Tieghan on September 5, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Ok, Pittsburg wedding sound kind of awesome. A cookie table and a cake!? Yes, please!
    I have never had date bars, but I do love dates! These look really great and I cannot wait to give them a try!


  9. Terri on September 5, 2013 at 8:16 am

    When my sister got married in Connecticut all of us Pittsburghers brought cookies for the cookie table with us. The venue and other guest were not sure what to make of it but it wouldn’t have been a true Puttsburgh girl wedding without the cookies.


  10. Louise on September 5, 2013 at 8:28 am

    My son and daughter-in-law just moved to Pittsburgh, I had forgotten you lived there. I will be rereading your posts for things that you have mentioned about the great city.


  11. Lily @ Life, Love, and Cupcakes on September 5, 2013 at 8:48 am

    I’ve never had a date bar but they sound delicious. I LOVE the idea of a cookie table…why has that not caught on yet?!


  12. Liz @ Tip Top Shape on September 5, 2013 at 9:02 am

    When I get married I am so taking the cookie table idea! Love it!!


  13. GBTtown on September 5, 2013 at 9:18 am

    With all of these dessert recipes, and your latest admission that you like them, how is it you do not weigh 700#s?
    Maybe we should discuss an in depth exercise program.


  14. Jan on September 5, 2013 at 9:50 am

    First of all, cookie table at wedding! BRILLIANT! Especially when it’s the family providing all the different cookies. I think that’s such a wonderful gift to the bride & groom!
    Second, these date bars look perfect. You can really see all the little date pieces from your photos, and I like the texture. I’m really excited about this recipe because I’m a huge fan of dates and I don’t think there are enough date recipes out there! Thank you for sharing this 🙂


  15. Fran@fransfavs.com on September 5, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I’m an Italian who grew up in Boston, and I remember the cookie tables there as well! I love your post about them, and your Zia Lena’s date bar cookies look absolutely wonderful. They’ll be great for the holidays–can’t wait to make them!


  16. Erin on September 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Are the Date 16oz of weight or volume? These sound great! I can’t wait to make them!!


    • Michelle on September 7th, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      Hi Erin, By weight. I used two 8-ounce bags of dates.


  17. Jamie @lifelovelemons on September 5, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Ohhh I love dates! I could REALLY love them in cookie form I think!


  18. Erin | The Law Students Wife on September 5, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Oooo, I forgot how much I love to bake with dates. Thanks for the reminder. I have a date with myself, my oven, and these bars ASAP.


  19. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on September 5, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I love your family recipes…they are always the best!!


  20. Tricia @ Saving room for dessert on September 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I love the idea of a cookie table at weddings. What fun! This sounds like a perfect family recipes – just love dates!


  21. jennie on September 5, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I can’t wait to make these for my Italian husband. He’ll love them. I am from Youngstown, OH originally (now living in NYC area) Miss the family cookie tables, they don’t do them here.

    By the way, do you have a family recipe for “crossada” (not sure of spelling) it’s a dough based cooke/bar that has a fruit filling with a lattice of dough on the top.


  22. Carol on September 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Cookie tables are also a tradition in northeast Ohio where I grew up and still live. I have been to weddings over the years where there has been not just a cookie table, but a cookie room, at the reception. Boxes and cellophane bags are sometimes provided for guests to take cookies home. If not, a purse works.


  23. Allie B. on September 5, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    How would you suggest grinding the walnuts? With some of the sugar in a food processor? Please advise!


    • Michelle on September 7th, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      Hi Allie, I just did them in the food processor; no sugar.


  24. Becca @ Crumbs on September 5, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I love recipes with dates in, will definitely add these to my to-try-list!


  25. 3girls1apple on September 5, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Mmmm, mmm, mmm! These look so yummy! I never knew that fun fact about Piitsburgh though. Ya learn something new everyday! Cant’ wait ti try out the recipe. xoxo


  26. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com on September 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Scrumptious! Love the use of dates in this cookie bar 🙂


  27. Martha in KS on September 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Michelle, are you going to have a big reception with a cookie table? I associate cookie tables with Italian weddings. I sent this to my niece with a fabulous BF, who I hope will be part of our family in the future. I’ll volunteer to bake for days.


    • Michelle on September 7th, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Martha, We are having a smallish, casual party at our house in lieu of a reception, but we WILL be having a cookie table 🙂


  28. Rose on September 5, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    sorry to disappoint you but this is not at Pittsburgh tradition. we have have been doing this for years here in Toronto, Niagara Falls, Quebec, Montreal,
    Windor etc. etc. etc. We set up the coookie table for weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, anniversaries…anytime there is a big celebration, our
    cookie table is set up and of course I have used some of your recipes.


  29. Heather on September 5, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    These look amazing, and I will definitely be making them soon! And, I think the rest of the country needs to embrace the cookie table tradition.


  30. Karen - Cinnamon Freud on September 6, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Love this tradition! Makes me want to rope someone into marrying me right now, just to get the cookie table. These date bar cookies would be a great addition to any cookie table.


  31. Shannon on September 6, 2013 at 3:39 am

    I tried these last night and they turned out only ‘OK’. When comparing mine with the photos I think the problem was the dates- mine were much bigger. Do you have any tips or secrets to chopping dates finely?


    • Michelle on September 7th, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      Hi Shannon, I use a very large chef’s knife and have patience. It takes awhile to get them chopped up nice and fine, but it’s definitely worth the time!


  32. Charlene Yuhas on September 6, 2013 at 6:22 am

    Funny you should mention cookie table, as am from Youngstown, OH (about and hour from Pittsburgh) and the ethnic traditions are alive and well in this area. I am Italian also and NO wedding is complete without the prerequisitie cookie table. As I was reading your post, I was actually baking cookies for a wedding next weekend. I sell Christmas cookies so I get alot of request for weddings also. Thank you for sharing all the wonderful ethnic recipes from your own files. Sometimes just the memories that flood you when you are making a “family” recipe is worth it!


  33. Annamaria @ Bakewell Junction on September 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I love family recipes. I’ve never used dates but I’m definitely going to try this recipe.


  34. Robin on September 6, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Could you substitute pecans for the walnuts?


    • Michelle on September 8th, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      Yes, definitely!


  35. Nancy Long on September 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

    love dates and will be making these – my fav cookie of all time is my grandmother’s date-pinwheels and I make them every Christmas. One of my sons mentioned them recently.


  36. Jess S. @ Floptimism on September 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Hi there! My name is Jessica, and I run a food blog called Floptimism where, every Saturday, I write a Weekend Wrap-Up post to share all of my favorite internet finds from the past week. I wanted to let you know that I absolutely loved both this post and the one on Homemade Greek Yogurt, so much so that I featured them both in my blog’s Weekend Wrap-Up. I’ve included the link to the post in case you’re interested. Thanks for such wonderful recipes!



  37. Shamim on September 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Love your blog. It’s great!


  38. Marlene Hoffman on November 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I already have 16oz. Of the sugared chopped dates. Seems like a lot for the recipe. I know you use the other dates. Is there a difference in the amounts? I hate to waste what I already have.


    • Michelle on November 13th, 2013 at 10:58 pm

      Hi Marlene, You could substitute those in without an issue.


  39. Sandy on December 16, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Oh my WORD, these are out of this world. God Bless you and your Zia Lena. I had two bags of dates that needed using up, one of whole dates and one of chopped, but even the chopped were too big for my liking. I put both bags of dates together in my food processor with the cup of walnuts and pulsed them together a few times, and they came out perfect. These are like pillows! I skipped the powdered sugar only because I didn’t have any and didn’t want to make a trip just for that one ingredient. My mother and two aunts have already requested the recipe from me. Thank you so much for this treat, they’re just wonderful! Wishing you a Merry Christmas with all of your ‘boys’!!!


    • Michelle on December 16th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Aw, I’m SO happy to hear that you enjoyed these! Merry Christmas to you and your family!


  40. Leslie on October 10, 2015 at 12:59 am

    I made this recipe exactly as directed today. The bars were very good and got rave reviews from the fam. Thank you for sharing your family recipes. They are my favorites.


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