March 7th, 2009

Date-Walnut Bars, with a Surprise

When I was helping Muna design the ambitious menu for the cooking class last month, we discussed whether or not to include a dessert.

“We really don’t focus on sweets the same way as Americans do. Not as a part of dinner,” Muna said. “Sometimes we have a nice piece of fruit.”

“Let’s not worry about a dessert,” I said.

“Of course, Baklava is easy to make,” she said.

I nodded. “Sooooo sweet, though.”

We fell quiet for a moment; sometimes you have to get quiet when summoning the kitchen muse for inspiration; then Muna’s eyes lit up with an “A-Ha!”

“My friend has this recipe for date-walnut bars. It’s really good. And healthy. You can’t believe how many nutrients are in dates.”

“Walnuts, too. I like that.”

The morning of the class I got her email with the recipe and it seemed simple: A short list of ingredients. No butter or oil, small amount of flour and sugar, and loaded with our nutritious headliners. No need to drag the big Kitchen Aid out of the closet either—this could be mixed up—dare I say—by Hand!

Still, my first attempt at making the recipe would be at the class—no matter, we’d all be learning together.

The batter was gooey, dense with nuts and dates, and took little time to make. The most effort went into chopping the fruit. I was concerned that the batter was too dense, but it baked up moist and chewy in less than thirty minutes. I liked that it could be easily cut into any size or shape.

Sure, these bars are calorie-rich–that’s the nature of dessert– but they’re so high in potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, niacin, countless amino acids, that a small piece is well worth it. While gobbling them up at class, everybody called them “Muna’s Brownies.” My little surprise–a discovery that enhanced them just a tetch more— came a few days later.

The following week, we made “Muna’s Brownies” for a First Harvest Café luncheon at the food bank.
(The recipe expanded ten-fold flawlessly.)
I wanted to garnish the bars, give them a little pizazz on the plate. We had heavy whipping cream on hand, but that alone didn’t seem right. What would be good? I wandered around the culinary arts center kitchen, feeling blank, hoping to access a bit of inspiration…

when I had my A-Ha! flavor the cream with cardamom—a heady spice that Muna espouses in much of her cooking.

I rummaged through our copious spice cabinet, which housed Everything But. Instead, I found a small jar of Garam Masala seasoning—that Indian compound of the big C’s in Spiceworld: coriander, cinnamon, clove, cumin, cardamom…along with black pepper.

I’d never whipped cream with all those spices–certainly not black pepper–but sometimes unlikely ingredients work. Following my kitchen-muse-nudge, I decided to go for it.
The lightly sweetened cream flecked with those fragrant spices and a little black pepper bite was the right complement to the bars—and an unexpected treat. It has opened a door to some new possibilities–already I’m thinking about some fresh takes on cream cheese icing for carrot cake!

“Muna’s Brownies” with a surprise spiced whipped cream

Date and Walnut Bars

2 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups chopped dates

Beat eggs until foamy.
Beat in sugar and vanilla.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together and stir into egg-sugar mixture.
Fold in walnuts and dates.
Spread mixture into lightly oiled 8″x8″baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 325 degrees.
Cut into squares while warm, but allow to cool before serving.

Spiced Whipped Cream
1/2 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 heaping Tablespoon Confectioners Sugar
1/4 t. Garam Masala spice blend -or-
1/4 teaspoon Cardamon and a pinch Black Pepper

Place all ingredients into a small, chilled bowl and whisk (again–easily by hand!) until thick peaks form. Scoop into a pastry bag outfitted with a star tip and pipe on top of each petite bar. Garnish with a sliver of date.

Posted in Desserts, Recipes

11 Responses to “Date-Walnut Bars, with a Surprise”
  1. Tony Says:

    I will pay you for these, plus shipping.

  2. Heather Says:

    I’m making these right away – love that muse of yours Nancy!

  3. Lisa Rivas Says:

    Oh this is so Yum! The spicing of the whipped cream is a phenomenal idea, got to try this :-)
    Also will be emailing this to my friend Rob O. here in Nashville. Thank you Nancy, I’m going to make these Muna’s Brownies…

  4. mark Says:

    Dates and raisins are good substitutes for fats. Whenever I want to lower the fat of a sweet dessert and dried fruits can be added, I will cut the amount of fat and add the dried fruit

  5. Dana Says:

    YUM – I think these would be perfect for a breakfast with tea. This is a blog with the most creative of recipes, and the styling is as instructive as it is beautiful. Keep em coming!

  6. Jennifer Murphy Says:

    Dear Nancy,

    Thanks so much for this fabulous site! I’m a colleague of your daughter’s here at USAID (Madeleine and I are both on the PMI team).

    I complained to her that I needed a good stuffed pork recipe. There’s only one problem. Ok, two: first problem? I am, according to my boyfriend, not the BEST cook (what does he know?!!). Soooo… I can’t do anything too complicated. Second problem: I don’t have a ton of time this evening so if it requires more than say.. 2 hours prep time, might be tricky.

    Do you by chance have any suggested recipes? And really — the site is great. Very good recipes and also easy to navigate. Thank you and hope you are well. We don’t want Madeleine to go back to CDC… trying to get her to stay here. :)

    Warm regards,

    PS: one more thing — I am not a fan of either mayo or mustard!

  7. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Jennifer! Well, here’s my quick-quick recommendation for your stuffed pork for tonight’s endeavor:
    I like an herbed bread & fruit stuffing–you can make it with either a good french style bread/baguette or with cornbread. In a skillet under medium heat,sauté diced onion, celery, and apple in a little butter and olive oil until browned. Season with salt, black pepper, a few chopped fresh sage leaves and put into a work bowl. Break baguette into small pieces–you’ll need about 2 cups to stuff a pork loin–and stir into with the sauteed mixture. Moisten with a little vegetable broth or chicken stock. (like 1/2 cup). Cut a pocket into the pork loin–cutting lengthwise halfway through the loin, and then lengthwise again on either side of the main incision so that the pork loin opens up and flattens. Stuff with your mixture, and roll closed. Season the exterior with olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary and roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Allow to rest 10 minutes before carving. It’s not that hard, and there’s no mayo or mustard! Good luck!

  8. Jennifer Murphy Says:

    Nancy! a) sorry — didn’t realize (forgot!) the comment would be public. Yikes… didn’t mean to take up so much space; and b) THANK YOU! Sounds fabulous and I can’t wait to try it :) (oh and c) I’m sorta a nut about the no mayo/mustard thing… might be bordering on phobia but what can I do??!)

    I’ll let you know how it turns out! Thanks again for your time/energy/recipe and as they say: keep blogging!

  9. Lou Says:

    Hey Nance, Plan on trying this one – been looking for desserts that are not too terribly bad for you. This one would be healthier without the cream…but, oh well, you can’t have everything!

  10. Judy Says:

    I can’t wait to try the Date & Walnut Bars; I can practically taste them right now!
    I’m loving your website, and especially the photos.
    Best of continued luck.

  11. Teresa Lutterman Says:

    Absolutely beautiful photographs–thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to trying these bars and other recipes!

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