These date bars are a Canadian classic made with a crisp buttery oat base and crumble topping and a sweet, sticky date filling. They’re perfect for snacking, potlucks, or a casual dessert.
This date bar recipe will make you friends. At least, that’s how it worked for my friend Lucie. She passed around a tin of her mom’s date squares at my very first McGill graduate seminar and I decided then and there that this girl would be my new BFF.
Luckily for me, she turned out to be smart, funny and loyal, on top of having great taste in baked goods. Our blossoming friendship was enriched by more shared tins of sweets from her mom, along with a complete Canadian education – from ice fishing and maple tapping to canal skating and poutine eating.
I discovered that date squares are a classic Canadian potluck staple, so it makes sense to give them an update with Canada’s own heritage wheat, Red Fife. This recipe is named after the utterly charming village on the Ottawa River where Lucie grew up: Burnstown, Ontario.–Emma Zimmerman
Date Bar FAQs
Where can I find Red Fife heritage flour?
We’re glad you asked. Heritage flours are a treasure – but they can be a challenge to source. Thankfully, we have the internet. Our friends at Hayden Flour Mills carry Red Fife products.
What does Red Fife flour taste like?
Slow Food Canada explains it best in terms of bread made with Red Fife “… a hay yellow crumb, with an intense scent of herbs and vegetables colored with a light acidity. The nose has notes of anise and fennel, and in the mouth, the bread is unexpectedly rich with a slightly herby and spicy flavor.” We’ve also heard that it lends a tender texture and a nutty, cinnamon-esque nuance to baked goods. Sounds fantastic to us!
Can I make oat flour at home?
Yes, and it couldn’t be more simple. Just add whatever type of oats you have at home (quick cooking, old-fashioned, or even steel cut) to your food processor or high-speed blender and blend until you have fine textured flour, about 60 seconds.
☞ Like bars and squares? Try these:
For the date filling
- 12 ounces pitted dates chopped
- 1 cup water
- Grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the dough
- 1 cup (5 1/2 ounces) bread flour such as Red Fife or Heritage, or substitute all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) oat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) butter diced and chilled
- 1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
Make the filling
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C) and line an 8-inch (20cm) square cake pan with parchment paper.
- Place the dates in a small saucepan, add 1 cup water and bring to simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the dates have softened, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and use a wooden spoon to mash into a smooth paste.
☞TESTER TIP: If you have difficulty mashing your dates, pop them into the food processor and blitz until smooth.
- Stir in the lemon zest and vanilla, then set aside.
Make the dough
- In a food processor, combine the flours, baking soda, salt, and ground spices, then add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Pulse in the brown sugar until evenly distributed.
- Firmly press two-thirds of the dough into the base of the prepared pan. Add the date filling, smoothing it out evenly with a spatula, then lightly sprinkle over the remaining crumbly dough.
- Bake until the top is golden and the date filling is bubbling through the crumble, 35 to 45 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and allow the date bars to cool completely in the pan.
- Use a sharp knife to cut into 16 squares and serve. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge for up to a week.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
A creamy date filling nestled between two layers of flavorful buttery crust is all it takes to want to make this date bars recipe. Add the fact that it all comes together with minimal effort, you’ll want to keep this in your regular arsenal of go-to dessert bars.
I ended up making the date bar recipe twice. During the first batch, I questioned the amount of baking soda, thinking it would make the dough too soft, which for me and my tasters it did.
Although the flavor was delicious — one person said, “heavenly” — the texture of the crust was very similar to the date filling. Some described them as “light” but the bars were really more mushy, even though fully baked. We were looking for a crust that offered up a sturdier structure to it.
I remade the date bars, adding 3 tablespoons of toasted oats and substituting baking powder for the soda. Those who compared both versions felt the additions helped with developing a crust they were looking for – soft enough but still had a stable base. (It wasn’t crunchy or hard.)
This date bar recipe is a classic. Buttery biscuit base, sweet date filling with a hint of lemon and topped with buttery “crumble”. So good.
You can definitely get more than 16 out of the recipe – they are pretty sweet – a half a square with an espresso is just perfect after dinner!
These date bars were super easy to prepare and really tasty. They were a bit hit with both adults and kids. The day they were baked they were tender and delicate; the next day after refrigerating them, they firmed up and one tester declared they were better the next day!
Mine took much longer to cook (60 mins) but no issues otherwise.
I brought these date-filled bars into work and they disappeared almost instantly to rave reviews! These date bars couldn’t be easier, and the recipe is a great one to have in your back pocket as it could be easily customizable with different dried fruits/spices etc.
The dates are so luscious as a filling, and the oat flour and cardamon are delightful additions that distinguish these bars from their counterparts while still delivering something that feels accessible and inviting.
The bars are quite sweet, this is definitely a dessert, but they could become a little more breakfast friendly with a reduction of sugar.
Originally published September 21, 2022