I’ve made a variety of dessert/snack bars based on the simple ingredients of dates and nuts. Sometimes I substitute prunes for half the dates to bring the carb count down. Sometimes I add banana or other fruit. And I use a bunch of different flavorings.
You can make these raw (with a dehydrator) or cooked. I find that lower temperatures lead to a wetter bar and higher ones to a cakier one. But the proportion of ingredients changes that up too. If you do a very thorough blending job you end up with something like a Lara Bar, or you can leave the mix more chunky, which gives it more character.
I started using sunflower seed butter (aka sunbutter) a few months ago and discovered that they give the bars a chocolate-like look, mouth-feel, and even some taste. Since chocolate is the worst of Miriam’s food intolerances, that’s a really cool find.
Here’s the version of this recipe I used for a submission to the baked goods, bar cookies, competition at the Sonoma County Fair last week.
Sunflower seed butter (sunflower seeds, cane sugar, salt), 16 oz
Raw cashews, 2 cups
Dates, 14 oz
Ginger root, fresh, 2 TB
Cinnamon, 2 tsp
Cardamon, 1 tsp
Vanilla extract (vanilla, organic alcohol), 1 TB
Sea Salt to taste
Water as needed
Don’t worry about the amounts of the main ingredients. I used full containers so that’s what it came out as. My sunbutter is from Trader Joe’s. The dates are pitted deglet noor dates in a pre-packed container from Whole Foods. You can use any kind as long as they’re fresh (don’t use dried date pieces, the ones that look like elongated pellets). For the cashews, I just poured them into the empty sunbutter container to measure (and to scoop out residual butter).
As for the flavorings, those amounts are guesses. I did a lot of add and taste, add and taste again. I will note though that the batter was spiced beautifully but the bars came out very mild; the spices were in the background. When I do it again, I’ll double (or triple) the amounts. If they come out nice and strong I’ll call them gingerbread bars, but I was careful with the naming for the contest because I didn’t want them to be judged that way when they were so mild.
Chop the ginger root and put it in the food processor first. You want to make sure it’s well processed. Now add your other ingredients and blend until smooth. If you want a chunkier bar, take some of the cashews and process them before anything else and turn out to a bowl when they’re at the right consistency. Do this in as many batches as it takes for the size of your food processor.
Date notes: take the time to feel each one with your fingers before putting it in the processor. I usually find one pit for every 2 containers or so. And there are often the little end caps left on. Just one of these things will spoil your entire batch if left in.
Why add water if your goal is to bake or dehydrate out the liquid? Because food processor motors can only handle so much and it helps the mix come together. Don’t add too much water or baking will take forever and the bars will be overcooked and thin. I used perhaps a cup total for this batch, which is more than I usually need but my ingredients may have been dryer than normal. Just add a small amount at a time, as needed. Don’t measure because the amount you need will vary based on a lot of factors.
When it’s ready, mix in a bowl if needed, and turn out into a baking pan. You want the mix to be about 3/4 or 2/3 inches deep. My pan was enamelled so I did nothing to it but you may want to lightly oil a less smooth pan.
I baked at 250*F for about an hour. I prefer lower temps (150*F) for longer periods of time but of course I waited until evening of the night before the Fair contest to start these. Check often for burning (if you bake at a higher temp, they are easy to overcook). At lower temps you may need to flip them part way through to dry out the bottoms.
They came out perfect. When I use less cashew and bake at a lower temperature I get more a fudge-like bar. These surprised me by coming out cakey. In fact, Michael just assumed I used flour. They tasted like they had flour to me too. They were still great, even if they weren’t what I expected.
I chose the six best bars for the contest. The recipe made about 3 times this amount. Those were good sized bars too.
So…did I win anything? Nope. I wasn’t really expecting to. Aside from a touch of sugar in the sunbutter, the only sweetener was the dates. These weren’t really dessert bars, they were snack bars. And if you were a judge tasting cookie after cookie and suddenly came upon a low-sugar one, it would taste flat to you. I think they were delicious (and so did Miriam and Michael) but they weren’t really right for this contest.
I don’t know where I fell but there were 12 entries in the “bar cookie: other” category and I didn’t get one of the 5 prizes.
These bars were great for just eating but even better heated up in the toaster oven and served under vanilla ice cream (vegan of course).