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A date with dates and chewy flapjacks

December 21, 2011

Dates, oats, golden syrup, sunshineDo you remember your first date?  Not the girl meets boy kind – the brown, sticky fruit with a long, smooth stone in the middle.  My first date was eaten as a Christmas treat; my Mum would buy a small, wooden box, rounded at the ends with dates lined up each side of a long plastic fork. Do you remember these? The dates were slightly dry but sticky and sweet and it became taken for granted that our annual box was just part of the festivities; no-one really knew why.

Little did I imagine that I would one day live in the place where date palms first originated thousands of years ago. The United Arab Emirates is one of the biggest producers of dates in the world (3rd or 5th depending what you read).   This versatile fruit is used in so many ways in Gulf cuisine and there is an annual date festival which lasts for six days.  Opinion is varied and hotly contested about which variety of date is the best and even at which stage of ripeness to eat them.

Date flapjacks

The stages of ripening of dates ( in the United Arab Emirates):

  • Hababaw: when the date is really tiny,
  • Khalal: the date becomes green, and some people like to eat it,
  • Besr: When the date is ripe and full in colour,
  • Ratab: when it’s half coloured and the other half starts to brown,
  • Tamer: is when it’s dried.

La Mère Culinaire answered my questions about dates.  I was keen to find out more after a lovely day at her house where dates were provided at every meal, little date cakes called btheeth were eaten for breakfast and I left with bags of the best dates I had ever tasted.   These were the Khlas variety,  considered the best kind; others varieties include Nghal, Barhi, Khnaizi, Loulou, Yabri, Bu ma’an, Shaishi, Bucheebal (there are hundreds of varieties and they are often known by different names depending on the country).Date flapjacks

The Khlas dates were like sticky toffees in date form, the musky sweetness offset by the fragrant flavour of some chopped fennel seeds.  She told me that older people like to nibble on the green khalal dates which are quite bitter, as well as the ripe ones.  Dates are used to break the fast during Ramadan, in everything from date ‘honey’, date ‘champagne’ and as an ingredient in sweet and savoury dishes.  The young leaves can be eaten, the seeds ground into flour or meal for animals, the flowers added to salads, the sap turned into molasses and the oil into soap.  In a desert land you can see that its versatility would be valued highly.

Sadly, my family are date-haters so I looked for a culinary cloaking device to tempt them with my delicious booty.  When something tastes this good, and these sticky, moreish morsels are SO good, you just want everyone to share the pleasure.  I hoped that these flapjacks wouldn’t be too sweet but they were just right.  The subtle fennel flavour added a lovely dimension too.  I wish I could report evangelical conversion from my brood but alas no, you’ll have to take my word that these were fabulous.  They keep well too…which is just as well as I polished off the lot over many days (always with a cup of tea of course).

Date flapjacks and ingredients

Sticky date flapjacksadapted from Leon, Baking & Puddings


225g dates (weighed after stoning)
55g golden syrup
170g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
250g jumbo (whole) or rolled oats (or a combination)

  1. Heat the oven to 170 C.  Butter a 20cm x 20cm baking tin.
  2. Roughly chop the dates into small chunks.
  3. Melt the syrup, butter and sugar together in a large pan over a gentle heat until all the ingredients have melted (the mixture looks like liquid fudge).  Stir in the oats and then the dates.  Mix thoroughly.
  4. Put the mixture into the tin and level the surface, pressing down firmly with a spatula.  Bake for about 30- 35 minutes until golden – do not overcook unless you like them crunchy.  Mark into squares (4 x 4) while still warm, and remove from tin once cool.

*You could add a small amount of roughly ground fennel seeds (about 1/4 teaspoon) to the mixture if your dates do not contain them.  I’ve also found a recipe from Dan Lepard which includes tahini – sounds like a very sensible combination to me.

DatesSo tell me about your first date (fruity or otherwise!)…

  1. December 21, 2011 8:59 am

    Wow..I had a date with Dates recently on my blog 🙂 this one looks like I am now hooked to this wonderful fruit gain!

  2. December 21, 2011 9:16 am

    These look absolutely delicious!!
    I’m not a big fan of oats but these make want to take a bite!

    Thanks Sally!

  3. Farwin permalink
    December 21, 2011 9:29 am

    Thanks for all the info on dates.Sally.Though I love dates never knew there are so many varieties.Love dates and oats and this is a lovely combination.

  4. December 21, 2011 9:31 am

    I actually cannot remember my first date…isn’t THAT sad? But what I do know is that I have always liked them. Or loved them, actually. And so I do envy your access to REAL local dates. The exotic fruit is truly multi-faceted (I had no idea you could do all those things with dates, nor that they were served so often). Mmmm…. the flapjacks seem like a great idea and if you lived in Colorado, someone around here would name them “energy bars” because they are so packed with good things. Thank you, Sally!

  5. sue permalink
    December 21, 2011 9:43 am

    working as a cook at a childrens nursery in the UK i served dates as a snack in a morning, and i hated them but actually i had never even tried one (yep a 5yr olds braver than i was) one day encouraged by my little brood i ate one too…………. little did i realise how fab they are. converted!!

  6. December 21, 2011 9:47 am

    I never knew the names of all the different stages of date ripening, this is so informative. Would love to go to one of the date festivals with you and Arwa sometime, I keep missing them 😦

  7. December 21, 2011 10:22 am

    Mmmhh, marvelous! Flapjacks are so addictive.

    Happy Holidays!



  8. December 21, 2011 4:35 pm

    I don’t remember my first date! I’m not a very big fan of them either but like to eat them in masked forms, like date biscuits and things, so I’d probably be a good candidate for these flapjacks 😉
    I love your photos…especially where you’ve written “dates” and “oats” and drawn an arrow towards the food. Very cute.

  9. December 21, 2011 4:45 pm

    This is the perfect date with dates! I adore flapjacks, and they don’t come better than when they’re super sticky and rammed with fudgy, delicious dates. My mum used to make a version with tahini which was gorgeous, but for unadulterated pleasure this simple version sounds, and looks, perfect.

    I’ve not made flapjacks in a while actually – need to remedy that soon!

  10. December 21, 2011 4:46 pm

    This is the perfect date with dates! I adore flapjacks, and they don’t come better than when they’re super sticky and rammed with fudgy, delicious dates. My mum used to make a version with tahini which was gorgeous, but for unadulterated pleasure this simple version sounds, and looks, perfect.

    I can’t believe your family don’t like dates…does that mean no sticky toffee pudding?!

  11. December 21, 2011 4:54 pm

    Well am SOLD! they look tasty, I just want to dip them in that coffee mug and eat my way through them!!
    BTW in Jordan, people make Date Maamool to also celebrate the festive season, it is not only had in EID! So dates are a big part of the festive season there 🙂 So I too share your passion for festive dates :))

  12. December 21, 2011 6:16 pm

    lost my comment…anyway, I used to hate dates, they reminded me of a certain creepy crawler. Now I use them often in savory or sweet dishes, although don’t usually eat them plain- too sweet. Thanks for the explanation of the date ripening cycle (Tamar means date in Hebrew and is also a popular girls name). Love the flapjacks!

  13. December 21, 2011 10:48 pm

    Gorgeous sounding recipe. I would definitely add the crushed fennel – love that idea. Beautiful as always, Sally. Loved getting the gen on dates, too.

  14. December 22, 2011 1:55 am

    I look forward to trying the date and fennel combination.

  15. December 22, 2011 2:04 am

    Sally, I’ve never made flapjacks before, thank you for the recipe! Have a wonderful Christmas!

  16. December 22, 2011 9:18 am

    Dates have this distinctive taste and texture that will always remind me of my trip to the Middle Eastern Region. I love that it is sweet but healthy. My Arabic- doctor friend, Rajab told me that the fruit is very rich in Potassium which makes it very good to be eaten by patients before surgical operations, etc…
    I would love to try your dates version of flapjacks. Thanks for sharing!

  17. December 22, 2011 4:21 pm

    These look perfect for with a cup of tea.
    🙂 Mandy

  18. December 23, 2011 8:05 am

    My whole family love dates and these will be a sure winner. Merry Christmas, Sally xxx

  19. December 23, 2011 10:10 am

    Your opening line made me laugh out loud! I do remember my first date only becaue I ate it so late in life. I wasn’t a big fan until I came across a very juicy almost chocolaty variety at a hotel Iftar buffet- neverlooked back since! These flapjacks look healthy indeed 🙂

  20. December 23, 2011 12:16 pm

    That sounds incredible, I love to use dates in my desserts they have such wonderful flavor, and I’m lucky to live in an are that produces some wonderful varieties.

  21. December 28, 2011 9:16 pm

    We just came back from a long week stay with my in-laws and there is nothing sweet(nor savoury) to drink our tea with, so now you made me crave for flapjacks, and I must say I’m extremely picky when it’s about rolled oats – sometimes I’m mad about them, other times I hate them. Same with the dates. But these flapjacks sound seductive.

  22. December 28, 2011 9:17 pm

    I do love a flapjack but I always make them too soft or too crispy! I don’t know what I do wrong. Dates would be a good addition. Hope you had a fabulous Christmas Sally.

  23. June 7, 2013 8:30 am

    I really want to try this recipe! I didn’t realize how delicious dates were until my friend invited me over to share an amazing Ramadan dinner, and her family broke the fast with the best tasting dates I’ve ever had. I’d also like to try blending dates and using them as a sweetener and for nice texture in certain recipes like brownies. Your posts are so educational, and I really appreciate that. Thanks for visiting my blog and following me! I love your blog so it made my day 🙂

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