Did you know date squares are a Canadian dessert?
I didn’t until this year when I began seeing a lot more Canadian food-themed posts to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary (Happy Birthday Canada, btw!)
In Manitoba, date squares are known as Matrimonial Cake. I tried to do a bit of research on it, but there really isn’t much information to be found. Most of the hits on Google share date square recipes, with many from today’s great bakers like Martha Stewart and Ricardo.
I got this information from Little Gray Bird’s blog post on Matrimonial Cake.
Some feel it is called matrimonial cake because of the two separate layers brought together by dates which symbolizes two people courting and solidifying the relationship in marriage. Others feel that the smooth and rough textures of the date squares represent the easy and difficult times of a marriage. Some believe that it was individually wrapped, handed out at weddings, and then single gals would place it under their pillow and dream about their future husband.
It seems like date squares really came into fashion in the 1930s.
Today, they are still a classic. I knew them growing up because my mother loved them. As a kid, I favoured more outrageously coloured cupcakes and things filled with chocolate. I thought date squares were “for old people.”
Now, at the ripe old age of 27, I’m hooked on them. C. is also a fan, usually favouring date squares over any other treat in the glass case at the cafe.
Most of those delicious date square recipes I found in my history hunt were loaded with sugar and fat. Seriously, some recipes called for 2 cups of brown sugar. Wowza!
Dates are already very high in sugar. I wanted to come up with a recipe that let the dates shine, without adding too much extra sweetness around them. To keep the carb count down even more and pump them up with fibre and protein, I used oats and almond flour. This recipe is completely vegan and gluten-free.
If you don’t suffer from celiac disease, you don’t need to scour the world for gluten-free oats, regular oats will do. If you’re not vegan, you don’t need to use coconut oil or vegan margarine. Regular margarine will do! Same goes for the maple syrup. If you’re not vegan, go for honey. If you’re really out of luck or if you’re on a budget, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar will do.
I’m wishing you the happiest, yummiest Canada Day weekend to you and yours!
Disclaimer: I call them Healthy Date Squares because, compared to your average date square, these are pretty damn healthy. Of course, if you’re trying to lose weight or if you avoid sugar altogether, even these beauties aren’t your best choice. They are still meant to be a treat and treats are just a small component of living a happy, healthy 80/20 lifestyle.
Healthy Date Squares
Makes 16 squares
- 3 tbsp melted coconut oil or vegan margarine
- 2 cups almond flour (or, ground your own almonds in a food processor)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp maple syrup or honey if not vegan
- 1 1/2 cups oats
- 1/4 cup applesauce
- 3 cups pitted deglet noor dates, soaked in hot water
- Juice of 1/2 an orange or 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, mix together your oil or margarine, almond flour, salt, maple syrup, oats and applesauce. Set aside 1/3 of the mixture. Press the remaining 2/3 of the mixture into a parchment-lined 9 x 9 pan.
- Place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes and then set aside.
- In a glass bowl, soak dates in hot water until soft for 15 minutes. Drain the water. Using a handheld blender, food processor or high-horsepower blender, blend dates until smooth, though a few lumps are fine! Stir in orange or lemon juice.
- Spread the date mixture over the base in the pan and crumble the remaining 1/3 of the almond-oat mixture on top. Return to the oven to bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the top is starting to become a light golden brown.
- Cool completely, slice and serve! Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.