Zia Lena’s Date Bars
These date bars come from my great aunt’s recipe book, and will surely be your next favorite. These soft cookie bars are filled with plump, chopped Medjool dates and ground walnuts, perfect for a Christmas cookie tray or a mid-day treat!
The Pittsburgh Cookie Table is one of my favorite regional traditions, and if you aren’t familiar – I am really excited to introduce you! The roots of the tradition are a bit murky, but various lore has been written about in everything from The New York Times to local news outlets. Though it is still normal to have a cake at a wedding, here it is customary for the couple’s family and friends to bake homemade cookies. At the reception, they are all lined out for guests to eat throughout the evening. Even better, to-go boxes are often available, so you have plenty of treats to remember the couple by.
Years ago, I went to a wedding with a fabulous cookie table that featured date bars, which unlocked a childhood memory. My great aunt, my Zia Lena, had a beautiful date bar cookie recipe that I loved every time I had eaten it and I wanted to try making it on my own. After multiple passes through handwritten family recipes and coming up empty, I had to call some relatives in Wisconsin to track this down. I love it so much, and I am happy to share it with you.
I have done plenty of cookie and dessert bar recipes over the years, many with a brownie or thick cake-like consistency. Alternatively, these are thinner, and their texture is like a soft biscotti. Each bite is soft and just spongey enough to bounce back. Super simple and packed with dates and walnuts, these are a delicious alternative to other, more mainstream, cookie bars.
This is a nice, basic recipe with just a handful of basics and two somewhat specialty ingredients.
These are the basics:
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Granulated sugar
- Vanilla and salt
Aside from those, we chop up a ton of dates and use ground walnuts, which blend perfectly with the rest of the dough to make these delicious little squares!
A quick note – be sure not to chop the walnuts, as they will be too bulky; the ground walnuts are meant to give some oomph to the actual dough/batter. You’ll want to run the walnuts through a food processor, buy ground walnuts at most grocery stores (especially around the holidays), or be super patient and just finely chop over and over again until you get the consistency of ground nuts with no big pieces remaining.
What kind of dates should I use?
Depending on where you live, there may be only a few kinds of dates available to you – or you may have so many you aren’t sure where to start! The time for date harvesting is autumn/winter, which is when you will find the freshest and/or larger quantities at the store. Thanks to that timing, the date bars are made for your holiday trays!
Many recipes call for Medjool dates and that is what I recommend for these. They have the perfect sweetness and texture for baking and are the easiest to find. However, any type of date will do!
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a 10×15 rimmed baking sheet.
- In a medium bowl whisk your flour and baking powder; set aside
- Mix your sugar and butter with a stand/hand mixer until combined but crumbly.
- Add eggs, water, and vanilla, beating again until smooth. Scrape the sides as needed.
- Reduce speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until totally combined.
- Finally, fold in the dates and walnuts
- Pour your batter into the prepped pan and bake for 20-25 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean)
Serving and storing date bars
I use a smaller pan so I can make nice even squares – but you can do whatever you like when you slice these up. I do prefer to dust with powdered sugar after they have cooled a bit, but are still warm enough to have the sugar stick and settle in.
In an air-tight container, you can store these at room temperature for up to 1 week, which makes them great for gifting. They can also be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap, and then inside of a storage bag or container, and put in the freezer for up to 1 month.
More desserts like this:
I would absolutely love it if you made these date bars; if you do, please stop back and leave a rating and let me know how you liked it! ENJOY! 😍
- 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 16 ounces (453.59 g) pitted dates, finely chopped
- 1 cup (117 g) walnuts, ground
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 10x15-inch jelly roll pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder; set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- Equipment: 10x15-inch pan (also known as a jelly roll pan)
- Dates: Medjool is my preferred option, but you can use any variety.
- Walnuts: Be sure to use ground walnuts, not chopped. Run them through a food processor, buy pre-ground walnuts, or chop finely over and over until you get to ground consistency.
- Storage: The date bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
- Freezing Instructions: Wrap individually in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container or resealable freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month.