Thursday, March 14, 2013

A March Pick-Me-Up

Last March break, I didn't need much of a pick-me-up. It was warm and spring-like and perfect for adventuring outdoors. The year before that was just as good. Sun streamed into my apartment and made for a wonderful, romantic space to work and bake. This year, the week started off promising -- last Saturday and Sunday were gorgeous. But as the week progressed, we saw rain, flurries and now, frigid temperatures. I do see the sun peaking around my balcony -- an excellent sign. But I'm going to need a little more than that to cap off my week of relaxation.

So, I made a little pick-me-up treat: sticky, crumbly date bars. I made them on Monday when it was rainy and damp and perfect baking weather. I haven't worked too much with dates -- I made a nice date snacking cake once, and added it to my granola a few times. But this time, they totally stole the show. And it was easier than I expected. Something magical happens when the dates get softened and cooked in water, and then pureed to a chunky, sweet, sticky filling. Just for kicks, I added some dried cranberries to the date mixture which added a nice subtle tang.

Besides the glorious filling, the rest of the recipe came together in a snap -- basic ingredients like flour, oats, milk, and oil made up the soft cookie-like base, and in the topping was much of the same, with an added sprinkling of nuts. I used chopped almonds, but I think walnuts or pecans would have been better. A handful of shredded coconut would have been a great addition. The whole thing gets baked until the top gets nice and golden. I was nervous when slicing because I thought the filling out ooze out and make a mess but it didn't. These bars are definitely soft and tender and probably won't travel too well in a ziplock bag, but they do slice without falling apart, and are definitely healthy enough to enjoy at breakfast.

The first time I remember eating a date square was with two friends, sitting at the Second Cup at Queen and Augusta (which is now sadly gone) and washing it down with an Italian soda. And while there's no buttery-rich crumble and crust in these vegan ones, one bite and I was sent back to that time.

Vegan Date Bars
adapted from The Yummy Vegan
makes one 8'8 square pan -- about 16 nice sized squares

For the filling:
1.5 cups of pitted dates
1/2 cup of dried cranberries (you could go 100% date -- just add a squeeze of lemon)
1.5 cups of water
2 tablespoons of maple syrup

1. Place the dates, cranberries and water in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes, or until the dates get soft and start to break down.

2. Puree using the hand-blender to your desired consistency. Add the maple syrup and stir well. Set aside.

For the base:
1 cup of spelt flour
1/3 cup of rolled oats
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of olive oil (or canola, or coconut)
1/4 cup of soy milk (or regular .. or almond)

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl until a soft dough forms. Press evenly into the bottom of a square baking pan.

For the crumble topping and assembly:
1/3 cup of spelt flour
1/4 cup of rolled oats (or spelt flakes)
1/4 cup of choppd nuts
3 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla

1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix until a loose crumble forms.  On to the assembly!

2. Spread the cooled date filling evenly over the base. Scatter the crumble topping on top and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until the top turns nice and golden brown.

3. Cool completely before slicing and enjoying.

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