Walnut Date Bars

Walnut Date Breakfast Bars

Last week on an oh-so-early Monday morning we climbed into the car and headed to the airport to catch a plane for Palm Springs, California. Around this time of year in Seattle we all start really craving sunshine and last year I promised myself that a break was in order, so after the holidays we just scheduled it and put aside all the questions about work and if it was even possible to leave for four whole days– and just left. Now I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a while to get into the groove of vacation and to not be sneaking in emails and worrying about business contracts and granola orders. But on Day 3 a funny thing happened: I started to feel as if I’d just finished a really good yoga class … but that feeling lasted all day long. Hello, vacation! How I missed you. 

Joshua Tree Hike
An unusually large concentration of our friends have visited Palm Springs this year and I was a little skeptical that it would feel overly fancy (think tight white pants and metallic sandals) but it was actually quite the opposite — or at least our experience was. We stayed at the Ace Hotel and had a room with a little patio that was perfect for early morning coffee drinking and late night star gazing. There were a lot of young families and it was surprisingly mellow. Our days were filled with lots of reading and strolling, some riding into town on bikes and sharing milkshakes. There may have been an 11 a.m. Negroni at some point which I was pretty delighted by.

Joshua Tree Cactus Garden

The photo above and below were taken on our jaunt to Joshua Tree, where we spent a day ambling about rocks and dusty trails filled with other-worldy cactus, Joshua trees and windy vistas. On our drive home we stopped at Shield’s Date Garden where I snatched up a jar of date butter and some blonde dates which are, apparently, a variety that Shields cultivated themselves. While there, we shared a date shake and sampled just about every date known to man.

Ace Hotel

Beyond Joshua Tree and biking into town, we largely stayed by the pool and read — with breaks to wander to King’s Highway, the hotel restaurant, for a meal (two words: kale salad!). I realized  about halfway into the trip that one of the things I loved about Palm Springs is there’s not a whole lot to cram in and do or see. Often when I travel I feel a bit of urgency to get to the newest restaurant or see the sights that friends have talked about — that ‘you must see this before you come home’ scenario. And that type of travel often feels rushed and frenetic and not all that restful, really. But in Palm Springs that doesn’t seem to exist. To be honest, we found most of the food in town to be underwhelming and were perfectly content sitting outside and reading and napping for a large part of the day.

2014-04-02 16.18.04-2

I’d planned on trying to recreate the date butter we bought at Shield’s for this post but I’m sorry to say that TSA took it from my carry-on bag. I felt I made a serious case for the fact that it wasn’t a liquid — it was just solid dates that had been smashed up, but alas Sam whisked me off and pleaded with me to stop making my serious case. Apparently I’d become pretty attached to the idea of that date butter (since then, Sam has ordered some for us online to try so I’ll report back!). Instead, today I’m sharing with you a recipe for Date Walnut Breakfast Bars from Jennifer Katzinger’s beautiful new book, Honey and Oats.

Dates and Walnuts

This book was waiting for me in a big stack of mail when we got home and instead of unpacking or showering or doing any number of things that made more sense, I dug right in. Honey and Oats reflects the way that I bake at home — with whole grain flours and natural sugars. In truth, I’d been flirting with the idea of a second cookbook that would focus more on natural sugars and low and behold, Jennifer has beat me to it! But I’m so glad she did; if you are excited about the way that whole grain flours change the flavor of a recipe, you should get excited about this cookbook for the way that natural sugars can do the very same. There’s so much good here.

I’ll surely write about another recipe from this book this season (so many bookmarked!) but because I had these beautiful new blonde dates and very little in the way of groceries at home, I decided breakfast bars were in order. Now the bars in Jennifer’s book are called Date Bars and they’re poised as more of a dessert but in truth, I think because they’re so low in sugar and have such a soft, crumbly crust that they’re really great for breakfast. I added ground walnuts to the crust which is already packed with oats and a little coconut sugar — I also added a touch more salt and on the next go around, I think I’d fold in some sesame seeds or flax seeds for a little crunch.

A note on coconut sugar: I’ve been experimenting with this natural sugar more and more at home. It looks a lot like brown sugar and tastes much less sweet than granulated white sugar. Made from the flower buds of the coconut palm, it’s becoming more popular among natural sweeteners because of its darker flavor profile and beneficial nutrients including a handful of vitamins and minerals. You can find it at many health food stores, but if you’d rather not make the trip you can use your favorite natural sweetener here instead (natural cane sugar like turbinado would be great). 

Date Walnut Breakfast Bars

Date Walnut Breakfast Bars

  • Yield: 16-24 bars
  • Prep time: 58 mins
  • Cook time: 35 mins
  • Inactive time: 1 hr
  • Total time: 2 hrs 33 mins

When I make these again, I think I’ll put the date mixture into the food processor and smooth it out a bit — it has a rustic texture which in many ways is perfect for the crumbly crust and topping but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like with a more uniform filling. For the record, Sam likes them just as they are.

Slightly adapted from: Honey and Oats 

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups (390g) pitted, chopped fresh dates
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cups (70g) walnut halves
1 1/4 cups (185g) whole spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups (150g) rolled oats
1/2 cup (65g) coconut palm sugar (or any natural cane sugar you like)
1/2 cup (115 g / 1 stick) cold unsalted butter, sliced into small cubes

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.

In a medium saucepan, simmer the dates in the water for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently and mushing them down as you go. Continue until a thick paste has formed; avoid letting the mixture boil or burn.

Meanwhile, lay the walnuts out on a small baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside to cool. Once cool to the touch, pulse in a food processor until coarse and crumbly.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, oats, ground walnuts, and coconut palm sugar. With a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry mixture until crumbly. Add 2-3 tablespoons cold water and mix lightly until larger clumps begin to form.

Press 3/4 of the dough into the prepared pan. Spread the date mixture on top. Cover with the remaining dough and pat it down lightly. Bake until the top is lightly browned, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool for 1 hour before cutting into slices (I prefer 2-inch square slices but 1-by-3 inch rectangles are nice, too). While I do think these bars are best enjoyed the day they’re made, feel free to cover leftovers and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Comments

  1. Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen

    This is so funny. I, too, think the food in Palm Springs is very meh. Even the restaurants that people rave about I find all about the "scene." But whatever, Palm Springs is amazing. It's the perfect place to do absolutely nothing. And shop. I love the vintage shopping there! These bars look dope.

    1. megang

      So true, Adrianna. Even the "good" restaurants felt very meh to us ... we ended up eating at The Ace quite a bit and strangely didn't do much shopping! Next time ... rode on bikes by a few vintage stores I'd love to hit up next time around.

  2. Stacy

    I just made an incredibly similar recipe from Rose Carrarini's Breakfast, Lunch, Tea! It, too, was delicious, but I've been scheming about tweaks, including less sugar and fewer dates, which both are reflected in this recipe. Because also, I am waiting for that book... They brought it the other day but didn't leave it at my stoop - the nerve! (:

    So glad you got a nice vacation in!

    1. megang

      The nerve! Stacy, you're going to like the book. It has a million things I want to make and I know it won't appeal to everyone b/c it is pretty darn low sugar -- but that's my jam lately :) Hope you're doing well. Come visit Seattle this summer!

  3. Tania @ The Cook's Pyjamas

    I only used natural and unrefined sugars now, having weaned myself off refined white sugar a few years ago. I love the complexity they add to baking and the fact they are not as sweet. Whenever I travel to Asia I scour the local markets for new sugars to try. Palm sugar is quite similar to coconut sugar and may be slightly easier to find in some locations due to its use in Thai cooking.

    1. megang

      Thanks, Tania. Yes I think coconut palm sugar is the same as coconut sugar, yes? Not sure why this is more confusing than it should be! But I agree re: the complexity with baked goods and the exciting opportunity to add flavor. I hope you enjoy the recipe. Also: have you tried date sugar? Good stuff.

  4. Traci

    The Joshua trees... other-worldly indeed, but so beautiful! So glad you got a respite in and that you just DID IT! But I would have never thought the TSA would have interest in dates. I've got some dates and walnuts on the ready in the fridge. Instead of spelt flower though, I think I'll try the cracked Kamut I have on hand. Thanks for sharing Megan!

    1. megang

      I know that the TSA agents are enjoying that date butter now, Traci! Kamut flour would be great in these. I hope you enjoy the recipe and the rest of the week! ~Megan

  5. sara forte

    so glad you made the trip! We are hoping to do one night away before the babe comes and Palm Springs is the perfect place for a quick getaway. So happy you gave into feeling vacation - truly the best. Date shakes are SO amazing and I am sure your bars are nothing short of that either.

  6. Katie @ Whole Nourishment

    These bars look absolutely lovely. Since dates are quite sweet, does the coconut sugar do more for the overall consistency of these bars than to just sweeten? And what a wonderful sounding trip. The best ones when the focus is to just relax and lounge.
    P.S. I would have been mad about the date butter too, that is totally not liquid!

  7. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe

    Too bad about that date butter, but how wonderful that Sam has ordered you a jar! I am so enjoying your cookbook Megan (speaking of many bookmarks! And that granola was everything I'd hoped it would be and more) - if Honey & Oats is anything like it, I will have to check it out for sure. I'm glad to hear you had a nice vacation - it was well deserved, I'm sure.

  8. Christina @ but i'm hungry

    These remind me of the date and nut bars that my grandma always made, but I love that they're health-ified, which makes it much more likely that I'll be able to find reasons to make them. They look wonderful!

  9. Alanna

    These sound absolutely delightful! Love the use of natural sugars.

  10. Denise

    This makes me happy, that you had happy times in one of our favorite places. Nothing like a little pool time, sunshine and a negroni to get the body back on track!

  11. Liz @ Floating Kitchen

    Sounds like the perfect vacation. And these breakfast bars look incredible. Can't wait to try them out!

  12. Krys

    These bars look divine - perfect for a road trip snack! I wonder if I can substitute the sugar component for a small amount of honey?

    1. megang

      Hi, Krystal-
      You know, substituting a wet sweetener like honey for a dry sweetener can be a bit tough. I think you could work in a little honey but I worry that they'll be overly sticky if you did a full substitute. If you experiment, let me know how it turns out! Happy Friday ~Megan

  13. Francesca

    Ohh great minds! We're just back from holiday where we stayed at the Ace in Manhattan :) These look pretty amazing - I'm looking at a 'healthy start' after consuming inhumane quantities of meat at every corner. Cheers!

  14. Hillary

    Do you have a suggestion for replacing the butter? My daughter is sensitive to dairy (and eggs-boo), and so we're avoiding both these days.

    1. megang

      Hi, Hillary-I want to say that coconut oil would be o.k. but I haven't tried it so I can't be 100% certain. I bake with coconut oil a lot and think that since this isn't a super flaky pastry and has much more of a rustic crumb, I have a feeling it will be just fine. Let me know! ~Megan

  15. Shannon Oslick

    Megan,

    Just wanted to say How much I'm loving Honey & Oats as well! Worked as the photo assistant on it. It reminds me of your book so much. I thought I'd started to learn a little something about whole grains, then I realized-oop! I know nothing =)
    I love your interpretations of the recipes! Sometimes I forget to play with the ingredients myself.

    Just had to tell you how much I always love reading your blog- the writing is SO GOOD! Definitely my favorite.

    Keep it up ;)
    Shannon

    1. megang

      Hi, Shannon!
      I'm so, so glad you're enjoying the blog. And I LOVE the Honey and Oats book, too. I want to make every. single. thing. in it! Knowing nothing is kind of fun, too ... then you get to learn about this whole big, wide world of newness. Thanks for taking the time to say hi. Hope you're enjoying the weekend! ~Megan

  16. Maria

    Hi, what can I substitute the spelt flour for?

    1. megang

      Hi, Maria-
      Spelt flour is a really easy one to substitute in for most flours. So feel free to use all-purpose if that's what you have on hand. Whole-wheat would probably work just fine. I bet oat flour would be tasty ... have fun. ~Megan

  17. Ashley

    I finally got around to making this yesterday (with a few modifications) and we really enjoyed it. We'll definitely be making it again. Thanks for sharing!

Join the Discussion

Winter Comfort Food

Winter Morning Porridge

Winter Morning Porridge

I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead. 

Read More
Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine).  Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).

Read More
Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard

Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard

If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype. 

Read More
Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup

Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup

People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.

Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.

Read More
Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust

Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust

It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little. 

Read More