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April 10, 2021

The date squares from Maurice’s wife!

Do you recall? Last October 8, I told you the story about the handsome Irishman who always ate big breakfast wieners. And how I had to create a special plate for him, EGGS MAURICE? To thank me, his nice wife brought me a lovely plate of delicious date squares. I promised you the recipe, and here it is.

Date squares are just the thing when you want to enjoy a comforting treat that is both crispy and moist, nourishing and delicious. Read on for Mme Germaine’s recipe, to which I’ve added my own touch based on some 30 years of experience as a self-taught restaurant cook. To make 9 big squares, you will need an 8-inch square ovenproof baking pan.

-Personally, I always double the recipe and I wrap each piece separately before freezing, so I always have some on hand for an evening snack. True, I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but give me a cup of black tea, a good movie on TV and one of these squares, and I am in heaven. Even more so, since it turns out dates are rich in antioxidants and have anti-aging benefits. 

~ Set the oven to 350°F.

To make 9 squares, place 2-1/2 cups of chopped pitted dates in a pot with 1 cup of water, 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 tsp. of vanilla.

- I use orange juice instead of water and replace the brown sugar with a small can (390 ml) of crushed pineapple with its juice. Dates contain iron, potassium and magnesium – all essential nutrients that my slowly aging body needs.

~ Gently cook the dates, stirring until you obtain a purée. Allow to completely cool.  

- In the summer, I place the pot in a large bowl full of ice cubes or in a snowbank if it’s winter. The snowbank is ideal for cooling fudge and caramel while you whisk or even a big pot of soup when you need to quickly serve small portions to hungry kids.

~ For the crumble, combine 1-3/4 cups of quick cooking oats, 1 cup of regular white flour, 3/4 cup of white sugar, a pinch of baking powder and 3/4 cup of softened butter in a bowl.

- I skip the white sugar and use a little packet of stevia or monk fruit sweetener. Especially these days, with Madame Pandemic ensuring we are amply padded around the waist! I have no desire to change my rocking chair. I like dates and I eat them because they are full of vitamins, minerals and other things that are good for me. But above all, I eat them because they are delicious!

~ Spread half the crumble over the bottom of a well-buttered baking pan. Press down firmly with your fingers. Next, evenly spread the date mixture on top. Finish with the remainder of the crumble, pressing very lightly and taking care to completely cover the layer of dates. 

- For a few years now, I have been reducing the quantity of oatmeal in the crumble slightly and replacing it with slivered almonds. It’s a great idea that I got from a specialty magazine whose name escapes me now. It seems to always make the squares extra crunchy and every mouthful a bit tastier.

The key is to make sure you divide up the crumble evenly. Don’t add so much on the bottom that you don’t have enough for the top.

Date squares are a bit like life really! Everything is a question of balance. Knowing how to love is just as important as knowing how to work. Oh, how those words grate on my ears: I am no master when it comes to balance! We can always improve, however; it’s never too late to surprise yourself.

~ Cook for about 50 minutes or until the crumble is nicely golden. Allow to cool at least 4 hours or overnight before removing from the pan and cutting into squares.

- I cut them up directly in the pan once they have completely cooled, using my egg spatula to carefully remove each piece. I then wrap them up and slip them into the freezer.

~ Back then, I thanked Mme Germaine several times for introducing me to date squares. I had never made them before, probably because my mom had never made any. Plus, dates were probably hard to come by in the Gaspésie in 1950.

As soon as Mme Germaine shared her recipe with me, I began making them, following her handwritten instructions to a T. And the customers loved them for a lunchtime dessert. The taxi drivers were the first to ask for a few to take on the road. This meant I had to double the recipe to have enough for everyone. Each time I served date squares as the dessert of the day, I had to wrap up 8 to 10 big pieces to satisfy the demand.

~ Seeing all the happiness in such a small diner, an attentive angel quickly decided that we needed more of them in the world. And as I turned my attention to creating a second paradise, then another and another, Mme Germaine’s date square recipe faded from my mind. Hundreds of cooks that came after me took over dessert duty with great verve. 

~ But it came back to me, along with the story of her husband, the attractive Irishman who required big breakfast wieners with his eggs. And since then, I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit to suit my tastes.

The pandemic lockdown has given me a lot of time to practice becoming the world’s best grandma. And I adore it! The freezer is full of servings of various soups, shepherd’s pie, beef with vegetables and individual chicken pot pies. It’s all ready and on hand to take out and heat up for my flock of famished teens. And I almost always have some tasty date squares lovingly wrapped up for my beautiful Pénélope.