A trip to Toronto when I was seven years’ old is anchored for me by one thing: not the CN tower, or Niagara Falls or my cousin’s wedding, but a visit to the farmers’ market, and in particular, a potentially life-changing stall. A tall, russet-cheeked man was in command, his floured apron stretched taught over his protuberant belly.
And on his table lay not the garish, sprinkle- speckled swirls that would have drawn a normal child. Instead, tray after tray of rubbly slabs of oat and date crumble bars were arrayed.
The date layer of the bars was jaw-clenchingly sticky, and thick – not like the mean, shop-bought equivalent. The oaty outer layers were both crunchy and then soft, golden and not overly sweet, allowing the natural date sweetness to shine through.
. For the last seventeen years I’ve been raiding bakeries and markets, seeking to relive the experience, but the date and oat crumble bars always disappoint – too saccharine, too solid, too floury. In between raids, I’ve been working on my own: these are the closest I have come to Toronto’s best kept secret. I added the crushed amaretti to give them a little twist. Feel free to leave the sugar out of the crumble if your palate is adjusted to the less-sweet.
It’s incredibly hard to resist them when they emerge from the oven golden and crisp, but I think they taste even better when they have cooled and the flavours are more distinct (or maybe try them both ways, just to be sure…).
NB. They can be made gluten-free by substituting gluten-free flour for spelt.
400g medjool dates, pitted & roughly chopped (about 20)
3 tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp finely grated orange zest
100g wholemeal spelt flour
50g dry amaretti biscuits
40g light brown muscovado sugar
¼ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
A square 20cm baking tin (or tin of equivalent area), lined with baking parchment, with sides and base fully covered.
1) Preheat oven to 180°C
2) Place all ingredients for the date filling in a pot and place on a medium heat. Stir as the mixture begins to simmer. After about 5 minutes, when the dates have broken down into more of a paste and all the water has evaporated, remove from the heat and set aside.
3) Pour all the crumble ingredients into a blender and pulse until the mixture still has some texture and is slightly coarser than sand.
4) Pour 2/3 of the crumble mixture into the base of the tin, and, with your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the mixture down evenly across the base of the tin until firm and compact. Pour the date filling over and spread evenly across the base. Then pour over the remaining crumble mixture and press down until even and as compact as possible.
5) Place in oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.
6) Slice and allow to cool before devouring. Keeps well in an air tight container in fridge for up to 5 days, or in freezer for 2 months (also tastes delicious when frozen).