Filipinos are known for their overabundant holiday season celebrations. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the Philippines, so between Easter and Christmas, there is nothing to tide us over (except for birthdays). That’s why Christmas is such a big deal. The kitchens are busy for weeks ahead. People bake all kinds of edible gifts, like my favorite spiked fruit cakes that are given out to friends and family. We stock up on holiday staples such as Queso de Bola (cheddar cheese ball) and boxes of hamon (ham, no turkey). Some people (my mom’s mom) give notices to their favorite butcher to reserve meat for them to make ham (she makes a mean pineapple pork ham and chicken ham. Imagine that.).
One of the favorite “cakes” during the holidays is called Food For the Gods. I miss them dearly and until now, I haven’t had them since 2001. They’re basically date and walnut bars. [Don't wince, date-haters, I was one of you, too. You won't even notice you're eating dates when you have these.] These are so good, you’ll really have to leave some for yourself at home if you’re taking it to a party because they will disappear.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in the upper middle position. Line a 9″ x 13″ rectangular pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- Sift all-purpose flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Transfer half this mixture in another bowl and dredge the chopped dates in there.
- Combine melted butter, brown sugar, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Mix until batter is uniform. Add honey and mix.
- Fold flour into the batter using a rubber spatula. Lastly, fold the dredged dates and walnuts.
- Pour the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. Pour the mixture to the prepared pan. Spread evenly. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes . It should be done when you poke a toothpick through the middle and it comes out clean. The center would still be wet.
- Cool completely before slicing into bars.
I already made 4 batches of this recipe so I pretty much have it down to a science and to the exact flavor and consistency I want. Hope the following tips help you when you make them!
Baking pan: I used a standard size cookie sheet and the thickness of the bar is just perfect!
Dates: DO NOT use pre-chopped ones that come in boxes because they are coated in sugar and will make your bars too sweet. It is cumbersome to chop a cup of dates, but it will be worth it!
Baking Time: Mine was perfectly baked in 25 minutes.
Cutting: Resist the urge to eat it just minute out of the oven. Patience! Let it cool completely and cut into bars. A dough cutter works really well for this purpose.
Traditionally, the bars (about 2″x4″) are carefully wrapped in aluminum foil–yes, individually. Then it’s wrapped in cellophane, and placed in gift boxes or plastic containers. I couldn’t find the crunchy cellophane that I love here so I settled for gift wrapping plastic. It’s a little tougher to wrap and twist at the ends, but they look quite fancy when given away as gifts. And look (to the right)–so pretty!
Serving Suggestions: You can also cut 2″x2″ squares and put them in paper cups if you’re serving them at a party. They’re sticky, chewy bars, so spare your guests the sticky fingers. They pair well with coffee. Some people find it too “rich”, so you can also serve them in smaller, more bite-size pieces.
ADULT Version: Before wrapping them in foil, you can also brush some brandy at the top and bottom. They are incredibly good as well.
Shelf Life: The question is–will it even last a day?! Hah. These are very shippable and will probably stay good at room temperature for 3 days. Beyond that, please wrap and place in the fridge.