Date bars have turned my daily dessert world upside down. You see, up until a few weeks ago I had never even heard about date bars, but after the first batch I knew I had found my new favorite, go-to cookie bar. These bars are made with only four major ingredients — dates, oats, butter, and a bit of brown sugar — and come together in about the time it takes the oven to preheat. They happen to be naturally gluten-free and low in added sugar, which means they're the kind of treat that makes a near-perfect after-school snack (but something that pairs deliciously with a bourbon night cap too).
That's not even the best part, though! Biting into these bars is the most delicious adventure in contrasting textures. The top is crisp and buttery with oat crumble, while the date filling is sweet as caramel and just as lush. The same oat mixture that crisps on top becomes chewy and nutty on the bottom of the pan. Personally, I call dibs on the corner pieces, but here's how to make a whole pan of these delicious old-fashioned date bars.
What Is an Old-Fashioned Date Bar?
Date bars are similar to jam bars or other "crumb bars." A rough crust is divided into two portions — a larger one for the bottom crust and a smaller one for the crumble top — and a jam or jelly filling is sandwiched in the middle. The bars bake up rich and jammy but not too sweet.
We take advantage of dates' natural thickening power to make a quick date paste by simmering finely chopped dates for just a few minutes with a little water. Cool the paste for about 30 minutes before adding it to the crumb base.
How to Make Oat Flour
Making these bars gluten-free is easy with the use of oat flour. As long as you have oats and a food processor, blender, or small spice grinder, you already have oat flour on hand. I like to grind my oats as I need them and find that a coffee grinder that we reserve for spice grinding works best. Process the old-fashioned oats for at least three minutes to make them the consistency of flour.
A Note on Gluten-Free Oats
Oats are naturally gluten-free, but many oat processors also package wheat and other grains in the same facilities leading to cross contamination. If you are making these bars for someone who is gluten-free, look for oats that are labeled gluten-free from a reliable source.
The Best Dates for Date Bars
While I'm fairly certain that you can use any dates for date bars, Medjool dates are the easiest to find, often the most affordable, and give the bars that caramel-like filling. Kitchen shears make light work of finely chopping the dates for making the filling.
How To Make Old-Fashioned Date Bars
Makes 12 (2-inch) bars
What You Need
- For the date filling:
dried dates, pitted and finely chopped
- For the oat crust:
old-fashioned oats, divided
packed dark brown sugar
(1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Measuring cups and spoons
8-inch square baking pan
Food processor or coffee grinder
Cook the filling: Combine the dates, water, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Cool the filling: Remove from the heat. Cool the filling for at least 30 minutes before making the crust.
Prepare the pan and heat the oven: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
Make oat flour: Process 1 cup of the oats in a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor until it resembles flour, about 3 minutes.
Make the oat crust: Combine the oat flour, remaining 1 cup of coats, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work into a crumbly mixture by beating with a sturdy spoon or spatula. Measure off 3/4 cup of this mixture and set aside.
Pack in the crust: Pour the remaining crust mixture into the prepared baking pan. Tightly press the crust mixture into the pan.
Add the filling: Spread the cooled date filling into the crust.
Top with remaining crust mixture: Crumble and sprinkle the reserved 3/4 cup crust mixture over the filling.
Bake: Bake until the crust is golden-brown and the filling is beginning to brown around the edges, 30 to 35 minutes.
Cool and slice: Remove the bars from the oven to a cooling rack and cool for 1 hour before slicing into 12 bars.
Gluten-free oats: Oats are naturally gluten-free, but many oat packagers also package wheat in the same facilities. If you are making these bars for someone who is gluten-free, look for gluten-free oats.
Storage: Store leftover bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.