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.
Did you make this recipe?
Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!
I’m excited to find this site. I want to to thank you for your time for this particularly wonderful read!! I definitely liked every part of it and i also have you book-marked to see new information in your blog.|
I have them in the oven. It is my first time making them. The batter was much thicker than I expected, making it a little harder to spread.
I didn’t have enough walnuts so I topped it off with pecans.
My husband will be my judge so I will give my review later.
I do enjoy reading your recipes. Keep them coming!
Thank you! A great recipe idea for Christmas!
Nice Blog !! A Very Healthy and Wonderful Recipe !!! WOW Nice Photos to See. I’ll Definitely Try it. Thank You for Sharing that Lovely Food.
Congratulations on your Nut Roll recipe being included in the Good Food Pittsburgh article.
Aww thank you!!
Date Dar Cookies. My aunt used to make them every Christmas, and I grew up on them here in Pittsburgh (actually, about 20 miles south of dahn-tahn). I’m now 55 and she passed in 1984. So my sister made a reasonably close replica of them, but when I seen the pictures in this recipe, these are the ones! So glad I found this article, I’m setting out to get the ingredients
I made this before and they come out very good, just don’t shop the days to fine. But this time I decided to try plums dried plums, AKA prunes. Turned out very good. It’s a great alternative for something very different.
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.
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’!!!
Aw, I’m SO happy to hear that you enjoyed these! Merry Christmas to you and your family!
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.
Hi Marlene, You could substitute those in without an issue.
Love your blog. It’s great!
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!
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.
Could you substitute pecans for the walnuts?
I love family recipes. I’ve never used dates but I’m definitely going to try this recipe.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
It can still be a Pittsburgh tradition. Doesn’t matter where it originated from. Traditions can be enjoyed by various groups over time and region.
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.
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 :)
Scrumptious! Love the use of dates in this cookie bar :)
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
I love recipes with dates in, will definitely add these to my to-try-list!
How would you suggest grinding the walnuts? With some of the sugar in a food processor? Please advise!
Hi Allie, I just did them in the food processor; no sugar.
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.
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.
I love the idea of a cookie table at weddings. What fun! This sounds like a perfect family recipes – just love dates!
I love your family recipes…they are always the best!!
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.
Ohhh I love dates! I could REALLY love them in cookie form I think!
Are the Date 16oz of weight or volume? These sound great! I can’t wait to make them!!
Hi Erin, By weight. I used two 8-ounce bags of dates.
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!
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 :)
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.
When I get married I am so taking the cookie table idea! Love it!!
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?!
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.
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.
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!
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!!
These look really good and I can’t wait to give them a try.
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?
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.
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 :)
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.
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.
Hi Sarah, I do think these can be frozen without a problem.
You make me miss Pittsburgh, I went to school there and spent a few great years in that beautiful city!
These look scrumptious! I need to make them sometime:))