Date Bars Gone Bad, Or Maybe Not

March 22, 2011

You know what I hate?  Poorly written recipes.  You know what else I hate?  Wasting quality ingredients.  Which is why I will never make these bars again.*

In searching fora different book, I came across my copy of Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey.  I wondered, “Why haven’t I been using this book more?”  Now I know.  First there was the unclear directions about refrigerating the dough and then there was the fact that there was a full third too much of that dough.  I essentially threw out 10 tablespoons of butter.  Add to that the fact that the final baking time was off.  Way off.  Like the recipe said the bars would be done at 30 minutes.  Mine were done at 60.  I understand accommodating for oven differences and add 10 minutes here and there.  But double the amount of time?  Did anyone test this recipe?

This was the weekly treat and I’m sure the crew will enjoy them and might even request the recipe.  But my math skills would need to be much better in order to tell you how to either successfully cut the recipe for the dough by a third, or to increase the amount of date filling for an additional set of bars in a smaller pan to accommodate the leftover dough.  Ahem.  Too. Much. Trouble.

*But here is the thing.  I wrote the above paragraphs as I was checking the pan in the oven and while I was waiting for the bars to cool.  I was fully prepared to hate them.  I sheepishly have to tell you they are delicious.  A totally wonky, poorly written, proportionately-off delicious recipe.  What do you do with that?

I’m going to give you the recipe as written.  If one of you out there in Internet land can figure out a better way to make these bars, of if one of you makes them successfully using this recipe as written, will you let me know?  Please and thank you.

(UPDATE: I just want to clarify that the book in question is Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor – NOT Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy.  The latter is the most recent book by Alice Medrich and has been celebrated by everyone who has used it.  Note to self: do not use a four adjective title for any future cookbooks.)

One Year Ago: Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Two Years Ago: Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower and Parsley Pesto

Chewy Date Bars
Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey
Makes 24 bars

A couple of hints.  I was not clear on whether I was supposed to refrigerate the dough pressed into the pan as well as the topping dough.  I did just to be safe.  You will need a stand mixer for the dough.  I have the “professional” size Kitchen Aid and it struggled.  Do not attempt to mix it on medium.

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ tsp. salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/3 cups desiccated coconut

For the date filling
1 pound dates, preferably Medjool, pitted and coarsely chopped
1½ cups water
¼ cup granulated sugar

Combine the butter and sugars in a large bowl.  With an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the butter and sugars together until creamy.  Add the vanilla and salt and beat to combine.  Beat in the flour, baking powder, and 1 cup of the coconut just until a soft dough forms.

Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Press one-third of the dough into the pan to form a bottom crust.  Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Combine the dates, water, and granulated sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  Cover the pan and cook the dates, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft and have turned into a glossy brown mass, 10 to 15 minutes.  There still may be chunks of dates in the mixture.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.  Transfer the date mixture to a food processor fitted with a metal blade and, using short pulses, grind the dates to a fine paste.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325ºF.  Bake the bottom crust until firm and just beginning to turn golden around the edges of the pan, 20 to 25 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Spread the date filling evenly over the crust.  Crumble the remaining dough over the date filling to form a pebbly, crumbled topping.

Return the pan to the oven and continue baking until the topping is firm and crisp and just beginning to color, about 30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup coconut.  Let cool to room temperature on a wire rack.  Using a sharp knife, cut into 24 bars.


  1. Sorry the recipe was a nightmare. I am glad you still enjoyed the final product.

    Comment by Maria — March 22, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  2. I’ve heard someone else complain about this book (or was it you?) and so I have a feeling that the recipes are just hit or miss in terms of ingredients and directions. I have it sitting sheepishly next to my bed. And one of these days I will bake something from it. Perhaps my mathematical mind (ha) will take on these date bars!

    Comment by Joanne — March 22, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  3. I love date bars, I may take this recipe on!

    Comment by Emily — March 22, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  4. Hi Dana.
    You should write to Alice and tell her about your difficulties. She has a blog now with an email address as well.
    She’s very nice and has recently addressed some issues people were having with her Dulce recipe.
    Just a thought.

    Comment by Ren — March 22, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

  5. Ren, it is not Alice Medrich’s new book (which has a somewhat similar title). This one is several years old and is called Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey which is by Jill O’Connor. I will clarify on my site!

    Comment by dana — March 22, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

  6. Whoa. What a bummer. For whatever reason, I never got that book…maybe the butter gods were looking after me! Ha! At least they tasted good; they sure look delicious in your photo. On a separate note related to your last post, Ottolenghi’s Plenty is featured in the April/May Fine Cooking “reading room”!Certainly a book worth having!

    Comment by Nina — March 22, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  7. Good to know. I have that book also.

    Comment by Ren — March 22, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

  8. Thanks for the clarification, I have the book by Alice Medrich. I saw the book you used before and didn’t end up buying it because of the cover (I know, shallow, but it’s telling sometimes!). Sorry to hear about your bad experience. I hate recipes that don’t work, especially if I paid for said recipe. :)

    Comment by Joy — March 22, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

  9. at least it didn’t TOTALLY make it into the Fail Folder! Holy cow! 4 sticks of butter!

    Comment by tracy — March 22, 2011 @ 9:58 pm

  10. Will there be a not four adjectives in the title cookbook…?!

    Sorry about the mess. Would it have helped to halve the dough?
    That would higher the filling to dough ratio, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And you would throw out less (hate when that happens).

    Comment by Annika — March 22, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

  11. 4 sticks of butter?! Are you sure the recipe wasn’t written by Paula Deen? Sorry the bars were such a bummer to make. It’s so frustrating to waste good ingredients! I love dates, but I despise cooking with them because I hate pitting and chopping them.

    Comment by Kathy — March 23, 2011 @ 12:32 am

  12. I don’t have that book and am sorry your experience with it was so frustrating. I do love date bars, however, and the best recipe for them that I’ve come up with is from an old Bon Appetit: So so so delicious. (And only 1.5 sticks of butter!)

    Comment by Edith-Nicole — March 23, 2011 @ 2:00 am

  13. They look absolutely delicious to me! Your touch makes everything you cook delish!

    Comment by Maris (In Good Taste — March 23, 2011 @ 10:43 am

  14. I am glad they turned out better than you originally expected. they look amazing

    Comment by leslie — March 24, 2011 @ 12:00 am

  15. I am relieved to know that at least you ended up with something. What a shame it would have been to have thrown away all that good butter and those delicious, sticky, chewy, messy and gooey dates.

    Comment by Molly — March 24, 2011 @ 1:46 am

  16. i might give these a go then….love a good recipe challenge

    Comment by vanillasugarblog — March 25, 2011 @ 12:30 am

  17. When I have one experience like that with a cookbook, I tend not to trust anything else in the book. Good to know the bars were delicious anyway though!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — April 4, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

  18. Yikes that does sound like a really frustrating recipe. I had wanted to get that cookbook but maybe will hold off now. Good thing the bars turned out in the end though!

    Comment by Ashley — April 14, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  19. As the author of Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey, I am very so sorry you didn’t like the recipe for Chewy Date Bars. I do have to point out that pan size does matter when successfully executing a bar cookie recipe. Also, the directions clearly state that the bottom crust bakes for 20-30 minutes, THEN is topped with the date filling and crumbled (uncooked) shortbread dough and then baked for an ADDITIONAL 25-30 minutes. SO the entire recipe is, indeed, baked for a full 50-60 minutes, not 30. It’s always a good idea to read the recipe through once before starting to bake it. Glad you liked the flavor of your final recipe even if you had trouble with the directions.

    Best Regards,

    Jill O’Connor

    Comment by Jill O'Connor — June 8, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

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