I remember the first time I met my future mother-in-law. Just so sweet. A gracious, gentle lady. A throwback to yesteryear, Andy Hardy movies, nay, perhaps even ‘Little House on the Prairie’. All of this is said with total love and respect. But that first visit, it made me feel so unworthy!! Not that I’m a bad person, at all. But my humour may be a tad more sarcasm-laden, my filter may need some work, my independent streak may need some harnessing. So I wasn’t sure what she made of me. But, all these years later, everything is going fabulously well- I’d like to think she’s more than just resigned that they’re stuck with me! (btw, Jim share’s my love for all things off-the-wall, left-of-centre etc, and can surpass even my sarcastic streak; now the family has two of us oddballs)
Anyway, when we were getting ready to set up house, just before we got married, Lynn, Jim’s mom, presented me with several ‘Company’s Coming’ cookbooks (a Canadian staple in kitchens, especially out in Western Canada) and some recipe cards. She said to me, “I’ve marked Jim’s favourites throughout the books, and these others are hits with the family.” I got the hint. If I was going to make Jim (and Lynn) happy, make sure to learn to make said recipes.
I will admit, some of the recipes and dishes were ones that I had never made, let alone heard of. And one of them is this recipe. I had never really cooked with dates before. I had obviously heard of them. I’m sure someone brought a snack with dates to school before. Were they anything like ‘fig newtons’?? (I soon learned the difference!!) Anyway, I kind of hid this recipe at the bottom of the pile, since I couldn’t really relate to it. But then one evening we were all together visiting with Jim’s folks. After dinner was over and the dishes were washed, Lynn pulled out a 9×13 pyrex baking pan and began slicing it up into serving sizes. It looked so dark and mysterious! The aroma was still lingering, a warm, earthy, sweetness. I was in anticipation to what the texture would be like. When I bit into it, I just melted. It was rich; not too sweet, but sweet; crunchy from walnuts; and gooey from melted chocolate. And oh so moist! I asked her what it was. She just looked at me, “It’s the Date Nut Chocolate Cake recipe I gave you.” Oh oh…I just gave away the fact that I had not baked it yet. I’m sure she was now wondering what else I hadn’t cooked. Was I even feeding Jim at all!?? Well, after that first bite, I vowed to make it, if not for Jim, then for myself!
Yes, I’ve called it Squares here. But you can easily cut it up larger and present it as cake. It isn’t really so much the traditional bar, with the typical layers of crust, gooey centre and crumbly or chewy topping. But there is a lovely topping that is created during the baking process that captures much of the nuts and chocolate combo. So go ahead and call it what you want. Just call it. And bake it. And isn’t the original recipe card Lynn gave me wonderfully foreshadowing!? It has a Lemon on it. I like lemons… duh.
RETRO CHOCOLATE DATE NUT SQUARES
- 1 cup dates , chopped
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- 1 1/2 cups AP flour
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter , softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 coconut palm sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup packed coconut palm sugar
- 1/2 chopped , toasted walnuts
- 1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Put dates and baking soda into a large bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Stir and set aside.
Prepare a 9x13 baking pan with non-stick spray or grease it with butter.
Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl with a whisk.
With a mixer, beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time.
Then add the flour mixture till just blended.
Take the batter and pour it into the dates and water. Stir. The batter will be runny.
Pour into the greased baking pan.
Combine the 1/2 cup of coconut palm sugar, nuts and chocolate chips together in a bowl. Spread these evenly over the runny batter. Some will fall into the batter, that's fine.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
Let cool on a rack completely before slicing.
The original recipe called for brown sugar. Yes, this is totally acceptable. I've used coconut palm sugar- it has a few added nutrient benefits (fine, it's still sugar) The flavour is wonderfully like brown sugar- that caramel, warm sweetness.
My mother in law stated on the card that this could make 54 squares. This is indicative of the many pot-lucks and get togethers they attended out west, and how moms always brought enough to share!
If you actually want to achieve this number, really ensure that you have let the pan cool entirely before cutting into it, or else it will be more crumbly, than nice neat squares.