Saturday, June 29, 2013

Orange, Pistachio & Date Squares

I was never really a fan of slices or squares.

I guess I always thought of them as an inferior cookie... 
A stand-in for something greater.
Or, maybe the shape of a circle seems more appealing than a square?

I'm not really quite sure what it is, but I'm starting to appreciate their simplicity.

In Australia, slices are a big deal. Cookies are not so popular. And, if it is a cookie, they probably call it a "biscuit".

Although I LOVE a good cookie and will never tire of baking a classic batch of Chocolate Chips (really, how amazing are Chocolate Chip Cookies!? Unreal.), I have started to embrace the culture and see the appeal of a neat little square complete with layers of different flavours and textures.

Most recipes for squares, aside from brownies (which, to me, hold a category of their own! AMEN!), begin with some sort of biscuit base and then one or two more layers or toppings.

The base can range from shortbread to biscuit crumbs, and can be as simple as a one-bowl stir-up.

The crumbly mixture can just be pressed into the base of the pan without precision and baked until golden. This isn't NASA material.

The second layer can be creamy, fruity, chocolaty or fudgy.

Fruits, nuts, coconut, oats, seeds or chocolate can be sprinkled over top effortlessly to give them texture and good looks.

You can see how the combinations are endless and almost warrant a pantry clean-up.

So, I may be convinced that they can hold their own. They're great in a pinch and are a good place to start if you're new to baking.

These lovely recipe is a spin on your traditional Date Squares, using a sort of oatmeal cookie dough as the base and crumble over top. As a result, they hold together much neater. The flavours of choice are very Middle Eastern inspired: orange, dates, cinnamon and pistachios. They are exciting together.

The best part is how versatile they are - great for a potluck picnic (they travel well!), but elegant enough to be paired up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or vanilla bean custard for a dinner party dessert.

Dig in. Love it.

Orange, Pistachio & Date Squares
Makes about 16 squares

For the filling:
2 cups (275 g) dried pitted dates
1 cup water
1 tbsp orange juice

For the base:
1 ¾ cups (175 g) rolled oats
1 cup (142 g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (150 g) packed dark brown sugar 
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
7 tbsp (100 g) unsalted butter
1 tsp orange zest
1 large egg
1/3 cup (50 g) pistachios

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with foil and set aside.

Combine dates and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until very soft. Mash very well with a fork until smooth and then stir in orange juice. Set aside to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add butter and orange zest and rub it into the dry ingredients until evenly distributed and mixture looks like bread crumbs. Whisk egg with 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl and drizzle into oat mixture while tossing with a fork. Bring the mixture together with your fingertips until it forms soft clumps. Do not over work it at this point.

Gently press two-thirds of mixture into the prepared pan. Spread cooled date mixture evenly over top. Crumble remaining mixture over top and then sprinkle over chopped pistachios. Pat it down gently so that it sticks and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
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