Monday, November 26, 2012

Rum-Spiked Date Bars

“Why is the rum gone?” – Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
No, in this post’s title I’m not talking about establishments of questionable character peopled by patrons of equally questionable character and their companions for the evening in whom they hope to induce a state of inebriation and consequent personal benefit. I don’t even know anything about those things. Really. And until recently I knew almost as little about the crumbly yet gooey cut-out-of-a-pan-in-a-rectangular-fashion cookie known as date bars.

I can’t remember how long ago I made these bars. Two weeks? Could it be three? It was well before Thanksgiving, anyway, but it seems reasonably appropriate to tell you about them now as I’m thinking about letting my Squash Certificate expire and renewing my seasonal License to Cookie.

This is my little spin on a classic date bar recipe as I found it in Bon Appetit Desserts by Barbara Fairchild. This was kind of a bold move for me, since I’m not really that “into” alcohol. (How many times have I said that on these pages, only to allow a good recipe to make a liar out of me?) I even passed over the golden colored dark rum in the cupboard and reached for the more intensely flavored black spiced rum. To ensure that the rum flavor did not boil away as I cooked and infused the dates, and armed with the success of these eggnog muffins, I added a splash of rum extract as well.

It’s hard for me to say just how much the rum extract achieved in terms of flavor in the case of these bars. The black spiced rum I used (Kraken brand…can I admit I bought it for the label?) gave the date layer a darkly rich and pleasantly bitter tone, and, since I didn’t test the recipe without the extract, I’m not sure which source of rum flavor was the dominant one. Much like someone who has enjoyed enough rum, however, I don’t really care.

This is not to say that these bars are all about the rum, however. They are delightfully sweet and gooey with a delicious caramel flavor contributed by the dates and by the brown sugar in the surrounding buttery crust and topping layers. Those crust and topping layers, which have a fabulous taste and texture themselves, seemed to be too crumbly to hold together when I pressed them into the pan, but there’s enough butter in the mix (yum!) to hold the dry ingredients together as they bake and the date layer is sticky enough to help keep things in place.

In addition to just leaving the rum out (see headnote in the recipe below) I think this recipe could go in many different directions with some simple substitutions and/or additions. How about orange liqueur with the dates and some orange zest in the crust, for example? Or what about a dried apricot version with amaretto? Could this go on long enough that I could be content with simply making all the various versions of these bars that I could think of, eschewing any other type of cookie? …Don’t count on it!

Date Bars with Spiced Rum
If you wish to make these without the rum, you can replace it with an equal amount of water and replace the rum extract with additional vanilla extract.

1 ½ cups chopped pitted dates
1 cup water
½ cup black spiced rum (I used Kraken brand), or rum of your choice
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon rum extract

1. Combine the dates, water and rum in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently until the dates are very soft and the mixture is thick and syrupy. This should take about 15 minutes, but rely on texture more than time. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan by spraying it with nonstick spray or smearing it with butter.

3. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Pulse a few times to combine well. Add the cut-up butter and pulse several times until the mixture is just starting to form moist clumps. Make sure the butter gets evenly distributed by stopping the processor and stirring the bottom of the mixture to the top if necessary.

4. Press about half of the flour mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan to form a crust layer. Stir the rum and vanilla extracts into the cooled date mixture and spread the date mixture over the top of the crust layer. Top with the remaining flour mixture and press gently into place.

5. Bake until the edges are brown and the center is set, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16-20 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Graham Cracker Almond Bars

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