Monday, May 27, 2013

Crispy Date Bars

If you want to be the hero at the next pot luck, then bring these bars. Seriously, you'll have instant celebrity and people will offer their first born child for the recipe. They're that good. I mean really, they are THAT good. Crispy, nutty, sticky, sweet, cream cheesy, shortbready treats. Oh, you say you don't like dates? Hmmmm, have you tried them? Have you tried them in these bars? I think not. I know, dates lean a bit to the exotic side of the dried fruit world. Kind of sticky and weird with a peely papery skin that looks pretty gross. Take a leap of faith and try one. Just close your eyes and pop one into your mouth. Chewy, creamy, snappy and sweet. Delish!

I'm not entirely sure where this recipe came from. I've been making them since before I had children, since before I got married, since before I moved out of my parent's house. I probably started off making them for my Dad since two of his favorite things are rice crispy treats and dates. For the longest time, I had a handwritten copy of the recipe and then somewhere along the way I typed it up and that's the copy I have now. I suspected that the recipe came from a book at some point so I Googled it and my search landed me squarely on the Rice Crispy Cereal recipe site. So as not to make angry, a corporate giant like Kellogg's, I'm going to link to their recipe and just show you how they're made. One note though on their recipe, I totes recommend you use pecans instead of walnuts. I also don't add the optional milk into the icing. But that's just me, do what you like. . .

Ingredients: AP flour, brown sugar, butter, chopped dates, sugar, an egg, crispy rice cereal, chopped nuts (I'm using pecans, of course.), and vanilla. You'll also need some powdered sugar and cream cheese for the icing but I forgot to show them. My bad!

Start by lining a 9 x 9 pan with parchment paper allowing a few inches to hang over the side. It doesn't need to overlap like I've shown here, I was just too lazy to cut it to fit. You can skip this step, it isn't necessary but it does help to get them out of the pan once they're finished. Oh and parchment paper on not, no need to grease the pan.

Before you start, the butter should be at room temperature. For the first layer mix one stick of butter with the flour and brown sugar. Use a fork to cut in the butter until you have a thick dough.

Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan in a dense even layer. Bake at 375°F for 10-12 minutes until the whole thing is golden brown. Remove and let cool.

Meanwhile start the date mixture by putting another stick of butter, one cup of chopped dates* and the sugar into a large saucepan. Stirring constantly bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 3 minutes. 
*I used already chopped dates from the bulk bins at my grocery store. That light powdery coating is oat flour and keeps them from sticking together. You can use whole dates if you like but chop them before you measure. Keep in mind that chopping whole dates can get pretty sticky! Either way will work just fine. 

Next beat an egg until well combined. Then you're going to temper your egg by adding a scant 1/4 cup of the hot date mixture to your egg, beat it in well. Then add another scant 1/4 cup and mix in well. Keep up this process until you feel the outside of the bowl and it is pretty warm to the touch. You may end up using 1/2 the date mixture to get it to this stage. Thats ok, just go slow, 1/4 cup at a time or you'll end up with bits of scrambled egg in the mix. (As this may take a while, you might want to take the date mixture off the heat just during this step so it doesn't burn.)

Return the tempered egg and date mixture to the pan, stir in well and cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble. Keep stirring constantly. The tempering process happens pretty quickly (hence I have no pictures) so make sure you have everything ready to go before you start cooking the dates.

Remove from heat and stir in rice cereal, nuts and vanilla until well combined. Again, the mixture cools quickly and gets pretty sticky so it helps to have all the ingredients pre-measured.

Pour the date mixture over the cooled crust and press it down firmly and evenly. You want a pretty dense layer. It helps to used the back of a spoon that's been buttered to press the mixture down. Refrigerate to cool and firm up the mixture.

Lastly make the icing. Combine the powdered sugar, cream cheese and vanilla and beat a low speed, using a hand mixer, until smooth.

Spread over cooled filling and refrigerate until firm. You can cut the bars in the pan but I find it much easier to lift the entire thing out of the pan, using the parchment paper and put it on a cutting board. Using a very sharp knife, cut lengthwise into 4 even strips then cut each strip into 6 pieces. If you want more, bite sized servings, cut into 1 inch strips and then squares. They cut easier if they are well chilled but taste better at room temperature, so once they are cut, let them sit out a bit before serving.

I'd like to tell you these are low calorie. They're not. I'd like to tell you that they're low fat. They're not. However, once you taste them, you just won't really care. What I can tell you is they're delicious. So next time you have to take a treat to a pot luck, church picnic, school play or bunco game, set aside the brownie mix, look away from the chocolate chip cookie recipe and give these a try. You won't be disappointed.

Here a link to the recipe: Crispy Date Bars 

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