Canadian coffee shops hold little allure for me, as a tea drinker who is well aware that her tastes are an afterthought in this space. I have spent a great deal more time in them than I ever wanted to, but I do appreciate one thing that happened in Canada’s coffee shops: me getting introduced to date squares. Invented in Newfoundland, this distinctively Canadian pastry is two layers of oat and flour crust around a filling of date paste, and it mingles crunch, sweetness, sourness, and general heft to satisfying effect. There is a strange irony to encountering dates more often living in Canada than I did in Miami, given that I come from a culture strongly influenced by Mediterranean cooking, but life has a way of surprising us.
Date squares are simple, as baked goods go, but that has not stopped me from having difficulty with them. They lack the complex chemistry of bread or the subtlety of cake, making them ideal for a relatively untested pastry maker. The challenge I faced in optimizing this recipe was adapting this concept to my gluten-free satisfaction. Masa harina remains a capable substitute for ordinary flour in many applications, and I was eventually successful in creating date squares with it, after I accepted that honey would have to give way to brown sugar and I that I would have to use more butter than I thought I would to help it hold together.
This recipe results in approximately six date squares and can be served warm or cold. As someone who grew up in the US, I find items like this better suited to breakfast than any other part of the day, but baked goods also make fine desserts or snacks to accompany an afternoon hot beverage.
You will need a stove or similar bottom-up heat source, a saucepan, an oven, a baking dish, tools for mixing and spreading, parchment paper, and your favorite measuring tools. A potato masher or similar device comes in handy for mixing the crisp. The ideal size of baking dish for this recipe is 12” by 7” (30 cm by 18 cm).
- Dates, 2.5 cups or 425 g. These should be pitted, rather than containing their pits. Medjool dates are also ideal.
- Water, 1 cup
- Lemon juice, 2 tablespoons
- Brown sugar, 2 tablespoons.
- Baking soda, ½ teaspoon
- Quick-cooking oats, 1.75 cups. It is helpful to the final texture for there to be some whole oats in the mixture, so steel-cut oats and similar options are best avoided.
- Masa harina, 1 cup.
- Brown sugar, 1 cup.
- Baking powder, ¼ teaspoon
- Butter, 1 cup
Common Food Restrictions
- Gluten-Free: This recipe is naturally gluten-free.
- Ketogenic / Low-Carb: This recipe cannot be made low-carb without sacrificing its essential character.
- Low-FODMAP: Dates are high in fructose, making this recipe tricky for a low-FODMAP diet. The other ingredients are already optimized to reduce FODMAP content.
- Vegetarian/Vegan: Substitute coconut oil or vegetable shortening for butter.
- Preheat oven to 350 ° Line your baking dish with parchment paper, letting it hang over the sides. If the sides of the baking dish are exposed, butter the exposed surfaces.
- If your butter is not softened, leave at room temperature for 30 minutes or microwave for 10 to 20 seconds. The longer wait preserves more of the butter’s water content, which is ideal.
- To create the filling, combine the dates, water, lemon juice, and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Add the baking soda and simmer for five minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon and helping break apart the dates. The intended result is a chunky paste.
- To create the crisp, combine the oats, masa harina, brown sugar, and baking powder and mix well. Separate the butter into several chunks and mix and squeeze it into the mixture as much as possible. The butter must be well mixed into the other ingredients for the crisp to have the proper final consistency. A potato masher or similar device is ideal for making sure the butter and sugar are well combined with the other ingredients.
- Spread three-quarters of the crisp mixture onto the bottom of the baking dish.
- Spread the filling over the layer of crisp mixture, striving for a uniform thickness.
- Spread the remaining crisp mixture over the filling.
- Bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown.
- Let cool on a cooling rack for four hours.
- Separate into squares and serve.
Learning how to make date squares has been a fine way to accept Canada into my heart and guts as well as improve my baking facility. I now have a lovely new treat for friends and relatives who visit me, once people start visiting each other again. Happy eating!