This is another of my mum’s recipes that I’ve tinkered with a little. These crispy date and chocolate bars – or ‘date slices’ as they were known in our family are easy and delicious. They are perfect for lunchboxes, picnics or after-school snacks. They require very little actual cooking and are a great thing to make with children. In fact they were one of the first things I made when I was little.
The other great thing is that, unlike when I was little, we’re all a bit more aware of catering to food allergies now. These cakes are gluten-free, free of added sugar and can easily be made dairy-free too. Oh, and unlike most free-from things, they are egg and nut-free too. So with all that stuff that isn’t in them, what is in them? Well it’s very simple – chocolate, dates, puffed rice, butter or coconut oil and a pinch of salt.
Whenever I eat these I think of my first night at university in Leeds. Like most 18 year olds I was pretty much gagging to be let off the leash, so when my parents dropped me off at my halls of residence I told them to leave me to it until the next day. I had dreams of my first night being in the bar making new friends and showing off my carefully curated outfit. What I didn’t realise was that all the other newbies were being better children than me, and they were all heading off for last suppers with their respective parents. So instead of living the high life, I spent my first night of uni in my room on my own, self-consciously listening to Massive Attack with no food other than the box of these date slices that my Mum had left me with. The next day my poor mum and dad returned to find their slightly less cocky daughter, with a slightly less full box of cakes, very grateful for their company.
Crispy date and chocolate bars ingredients (makes around 16-20 bars)
275g (9oz) Medjool dates, weigh them without their stones
115g (4oz or 1 stick) salted butter or coconut oil
85g (3oz) puffed rice, I like the natures path rice puffs as they are 100% rice with no other ingredients. Be aware that Kellog’s Rice Crispies, while traditional, have added sugar and all sorts of other stuff.
A pinch of sea salt
500g (1lb) chocolate – I use Green and Black’s 70% dark chocolate. You may want to use milk chocolate or a lower % dark chocolate for children. Be aware that the lower % chocolates tend to include dairy if that is an issue for you
Optional – 2-4 tablespoons Grade b pure Maple syrup or honey
1. Line a metal baking pan with foil so that all the sides and bottom are covered. There is no need to butter the foil. I use a tin that is 30x30cm (12 x 12 inch). If you have a bigger tin your bars will be thinner.
2.Melt half of your chocolate. I break mine into small pieces then melt it in my microwave. Depending on your microwave this will take 3-5 minutes. Check and shake the chocolate every minute to avoid it over heating. Alternatively, melt it in a bowl sitting on top of a pan with a couple of inches of water below. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water
3.Pour the chocolate into your prepared tin. Tilt the tin so that the chocolate spreads over the base evenly. I often use a silicone spatula to finish off the spreading. You will be left with a very thin later of chocolate. Pop the tin into the fridge while you prep the filling
4. Finely chop your dates and put them in a saucepan with your butter or coconut oil. Cook them on a medium heat for around 3 minutes. At first they will separate (see photo) but give them a really good stir and as the dates melt they will mix into the fat. Be careful the mixture will be really hot. If you are making this for someone with a sweet tooth, add a couple of tablespoons of honey or maple syrup and stir it in well
5. When the date mixture is melted, pour half of the puffed rice into the pan. Give it a really good stir (I use my set of salad servers to do this) so that the rice crispies are covered with the date mixture. Then gradually add the rest of the rice and mix well. It will be pretty dry and look like the photo below
6. Take the tin out of the fridge and pour the date mixture on top of the chocolate. Use the palm of your hand to really press the crispies into the pan. You need them to be really pushed in so that your finished bars won’t fall apart.
7. Melt the remaining chocolate and pour it over the crispies. Spread it with a spatula. I like to sprinkle Maldon salt on top of the chocolate for a sweet and salty hit
8. Put the tray into the fridge to set up. This usually takes at least 2 hours
9. Once it is set, put a chopping board on top of the tray then turn the pan and board so that the pan is sitting bottom side up on the chopping board. The pan should lift right off and the foil should then peel off very easily leaving you with a big slab.
10. Get your biggest sharpest knife – this bit is really important because the bigger and sharper it is, the fewer cuts you will need to do and the less crumbling you will have. First cut the slab into long rows then cut the rows across to make square shaped bars. You will have some collateral damage as the odd bar will crumble. These crumbled bits are lovely on ice cream.
11. Store the bars in an airtight container or freeze them. They can be eaten from frozen or you can can leave them out to defrost.
You can now buy the equipment I use in this recipe through my shop. I’ve spent years testing my favourite bits of equipment so rest-assured that whatever I recommend is the best tool for the job and will give you great results without cluttering your kitchen with unused tools.
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