Classic recipes with a twist can work, and they can work decidedly well. But they can often lead to something, for lack of a more eloquent word, gross. Sometimes, you mess around, get creative, and mute the fluorescent blinking arrows that exclaim, “Disaster ahead!” And you fall on your cooking bottom with Frankenstein’s monster peering down at you from the kitchen counter in all of its disgusting, inedible glory.
There are many recipes I’ve tried to make new, many of which, have failed beyond belief. The black tea I tried to infuse into rice pudding gave it an unwelcome, bitter-in-a-bad-way edge and murky, bottom of Lake Ontario hue. I made the pudding over the winter holidays when I was visiting my dad, who grew up on his Grandmother’s traditional Danish risalamande (the story behind, and my slightly tweaked version of my family’s recipe is in Whole Bowls–no black tea is involved, of course), and his face spoke volumes. I rarely make something that off, beyond saving, and I despise wasting food, but that batch went straight in the trash.
I’ve ordered my fair share of rebooted classics, too. A pumpkin gelato I chose thinking it would be a transcendent experience, was quite the opposite (yes, I was sober). And a chocolate carrot cake I picked off a tea house menu when I was 13 or 14, was an abomination of a tried and true steadfast sweet. That same, regrettable afternoon of the chocolate carrot cake, my mom, who was with me at the time, ordered a date square. Her date square was the standard, old-timey, almost too sweet-leaning square, nearly the size of a dinner plate. The top and bottom crust was, as it always is with date squares, soft and granular, encasing a tarry, saccharine interior that makes you want to chug a pitcher of water so you can clear your throat. They needed a makeover. They needed a makeover, like, post haste.
And that’s exactly what I’ve done. A date square made over with a sturdy, crispy, cookie crust; gusty crumble; and gooey, caramel hued, vanilla imbued interior. And, unlike traditional date squares, you can hold these in your hand without them crumbling onto the floor below you. With my recipe, the aforementioned dinner plate is built right in. I think my mom would have liked them.
This recipe here is gluten-free, vegan, and contains no added sugar in the filling. Why no sugar in the filling? Because dates and dried figs are almost too sweet on their own, and adding more sugar would be unwise, in my opinion. I’ve been enjoying these for breakfast, for dessert, for an afternoon snack with tea, reading on the couch, driving (I love to eat while driving, which I may or may not have mentioned before). Truly, there is really no moment in life when this particular hearty, oaten, figgy date square is not appropriate. Perhaps eating these in the shower is pushing it…or is it?
After slicing this batch up, I prematurely popped the squares in the freezer, thinking I couldn’t possibly eat the entire pan before they went stale. I was incorrect. If you’re a planner, defrost them at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. If not, warm them in a low oven (or microwave; yes, I did) until heated through. The crust and crumble will remain crisp after freezing and defrosting (tested: even after microwaving), and the interior stays sticky and moist.
These perfumed, homey fig and date squares are a classic recipe made new, made better, made for me, made–if I may be so bold–beautiful.
- 8 large dried figs, topped and torn
- 8 large, juicy medjool dates, pitted
- Zest and juice of 1 navel orange
- ¾ cup water
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (pure is best here)
- 4 cups large-flake rolled oats, divided
- 1 cup whole unsalted raw or roasted unsalted almonds
- ½ cup agave nectar
- ½ cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8x8-inch square metal or glass baking pan with parchment paper, leaving overhang for easy removal.
- For the Filling: Add all filling ingredients except vanilla extract to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, until fruit is plump. Transfer to a blender or food processor along with vanilla and puree until mostly smooth and sticky (like the texture of jam).
- For the Crust & Crumble: Add 2 cups oats and almonds to a blender or food processor and blend until a fine flour forms. Add to a large bowl with agave and coconut oil and mix until fully combined. Mix in remaining 2 cups whole (unblended) oats, salt, and cinnamon. Press half of mixture into prepared pan; evenly cover with prepared filling; crumble over remaining crust and crumble mixture.
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until crust is golden brown on top and crisp on the bottom. Cool completely in pan. Slice into squares. Store airtight at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 2 months.