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Baking With Dates ~ What to Know and How to Do It

Baking With Dates ~ What to Know and How to Do It

Baking with dates at home is easy, especially if you have a high-performance food processor. I use a Vitamix which makes it simple to blend dates to use in many recipes. A blender or immersion blender will work too.

You may know my household avoids palm oil. I noticed many foods that contained dates didn’t contain palm oil. Dates are a binder in the same way palm oil helps bind foods. They are also sweet. 

You can use dates in many baked goods, from cookies and cakes to bread, granola, and bars. Some ways you can use dates in baking include: 

  • Homemade date bars or energy bars
  • Date-filled cookies
  • Date bread and muffins
  • Pastries and scones
  • Nut and date granola or trail mix
  • Oatmeal and date pancakes or waffles
  • Nut and date crust for pies or tarts

Why Bake With Dates

Dates are a “real ingredient” versus all the chemicals and preservatives found in store-bought bakery. They are nutritious and a natural sweetener that can add depth and flavor to baked goods. Unlike processed sugars, dates contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that can provide a range of health benefits.

According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, dates have been linked to lower cholesterol levels, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation in the body. [1]

ScienceDirect.com explains that dates have a high content of easily digestible sugars such as glucose, sucrose, and fructose, along with dietary fibers, which aid digestion and benefit the gastrointestinal tract. [2]

A few granola bars without palm oil use dates as a binding agent.

Hadley Organic Pitted Deglet Noor Dates

Hadley Organic Pitted Deglet Noor Dates available at Costco

Where to Buy Dates

You will typically find dates in the dried fruit section. In most stores, this is in the produce section. Most all of these dates come pitted. Every once in a while there will be a stray pit so be aware of that. 

I mostly buy organic Deglet Noor dates from Costco. I buy them there because they are organic and less expensive than my local grocery store. (They are also less expensive than the non-organic dates at my store.) I also like that they come in a plastic tub instead of a bag.

Amazon also has a large selection of dates. Look for pitted dates to save yourself time. 

dates at Costco

I’ve seen these dates for sale at Costco

My local Safeway grocery store sells Mariani Pitted Dates in two pound bags. They are tasty and work well in baking; however, the bag doesn’t state what kind they are but I think they are Deglet Noor. They also sell Natural Delights Fresh Medjool Dates in a 12 oz container.

In addition to me baking with dates, my husband and son eat lots of dates as snacks. I buy 3 – 4 tubs of them every time I go to Costco.

How to Choose the Right Dates for Baking 

When using dates in baking, it’s important to choose fresh, high-quality dates to ensure the best results. Fresh dates will be plump, moist, and have a rich caramel-like flavor.

Dates come in many different varieties, including Medjool, Deglet Noor, and Barhi. Each variety has its own unique flavor profile and texture. I haven’t noticed a difference when baking with different types of dates. However, if a recipe specifies what date type to use, it’s best to use it. Also, keep this in mind regarding the moisture content of dates:

making date paste

Making date paste in food processor

Medjool dates

Medjools are often considered the “king of dates” due to their large size, soft texture, and rich flavor. They work well in baked goods that require a softer, more gooey texture.

Deglet Noor

Deglet Noor dates are smaller and drier than Medjool dates, with a more subtle flavor. They work well in baked goods that require a drier texture, such as granolas and energy bars. (However, in granola, my family likes different types of dried fruits, moisture or no moisture.)

dates in food processor

Dates in food processor

Tips for Baking With Dates

When selecting dates, look for plump, shiny, and moist fruits with intact skin. Avoid dates that are dry, hard, or have signs of mold or insect damage. Buy pitted dates but still be on the lookout for stray pits.

When baking, it’s important to keep the following in mind when using dates:

1. Freshness:

Dates can become dry and hard over time, which can negatively impact the texture and flavor of baked goods. Make sure to use fresh, soft dates for the best results.

2. Pitting:

Make sure to remove the pits from the dates before using them in your recipe. This can be done by slicing the date lengthwise and removing the pit with the tip of a knife or by using a pitter tool. 

The dates I buy from Costco have been mostly pit-free. There may be 1 – 2 in a container. I feel around but it’s usually not an issue. I’d say the greater “issue” is the stem part on top. I remove those when I see them.

3. Soaking:

If your dates are dry, try soaking them in hot water for about 10 minutes to soften them up before using them in your recipe. This will help improve the texture and make them easier to blend or chop.

4. Substituting:

Dates can be used as a natural sweetener in baking, but they are much sweeter than sugar. If a recipe calls for sugar and you want to substitute dates, you will likely need to use less.

Additionally, substituting dates for sugar may affect the texture and moisture content of desserts and bakery, so it’s important to adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

Using Dates as a Natural Sweetener

When using dates as a sweetener in baking, it’s important to keep in mind that they are much sweeter than sugar. According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, dates can be up to 80% sweeter than sugar. [3]

Many recipes that use dates also use pure maple syrup or honey. Like dates, these are sweeter than sugar. [4] Take this into consideration when adding ingredients. Nuts and seeds go well as do spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Rather than adding milk chocolate chips, consider using semi-sweet chocolate chips.

using dates to make bars

Using dates to make bars

How to Substitute Dates for Sugar in Baking

To substitute dates for sugar in baking:

  1. Blend pitted dates in a food processor until they form a paste.
  2. Use the paste in place of sugar at a 1:1 ratio.
  3. Just as sugar is considered a “wet” ingredient, dates are as well. Add the dates when the recipe instructs you to add the sugar.
  4. You may also need to adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe to account for the added moisture from the dates.

Substituting dates for sugar in baking can affect the moisture content of the recipe. [5] This is because dates have a high moisture content and can add extra moisture to baked goods. In some recipes, this is okay but in others, you may need to reduce the amount of liquid so the texture isn’t affected. 

When Not to Substitute Dates for Sugar

When using dates as a sugar substitute, be sure to consider the type of recipe and the desired outcome. Recipes that rely heavily on sugar for structure, such as meringue cookies or other types of cookies and desserts may not be good candidates for a date substitution.

However, recipes that are more forgiving in terms of moisture content, such as granola, quick breads and muffins, can often be adapted successfully.

Also, substituting dates for sugar can result in a different flavor profile. Dates have a rich, caramel-like flavor that can complement many types of baked goods. However, this flavor and taste can also be strong and may not be suitable for every recipe.

adding date mixture to nut and oat mixture

Adding date mixture to nut and oat mixture

How to Make a Date Paste

To make date paste:

  1. Soak pitted dates in warm water for 10 – 15 minutes.
  2. Blend dates in a food processor until smooth. You can adjust the amount of date paste depending on how sweet you want your baked goods to be.

Making date paste is really easy when you have a good blender or food processor. It’s much like blending almonds for almond milk or blending peanuts to make peanut butter. When using date paste in a recipe, you may need to adjust the other ingredients to account for the extra moisture. For example, you may need to reduce the amount of liquid or increase the amount of flour to maintain the proper consistency.

How to Make a Date Filling

To make a date filling:

  1. Chop pitted dates and combine them with water or orange juice in a saucepan.
  2. Cook the mixture over low heat until the dates have softened and formed a paste.
  3. Optional: Add other ingredients such as nuts, spices, or citrus zest to customize the filling.

More Uses

Add them to existing recipes

Another technique for using dates in baking is to chop them finely and sprinkle them over the top of baked goods before putting them in the oven. Or add chopped dates to pancake or waffle batter. Dates can also be used as a filling, such as stuffed cookies or breads.

Use them as you would use dried fruit

Add chopped dates to this homemade granola recipe before baking it. I like using dates in granola because they add more moisture than other dried fruits such as dried cranberries.

Other Uses for Dates

  • No-bake bliss balls and bites like these carrot and date energy bites 
  • Fruit and date smoothies and milkshakes
  • Nut and date-stuffed meat and poultry dishes
  • On charcuterie boards

Storing Dates

Store dates in an airtight container at room temperature. Once you open them, seal them and store them in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. They can last for several weeks to a few months, depending on the variety and storage conditions.

FAQs

How do you use dates in baking?

Dates can be used in baking by adding them to the batter for natural sweetness, texture, and moisture. They can also be blended into a paste or used as a natural sweetener in place of sugar.

How can I use sugar instead of dates in a recipe?

To substitute dates for sugar in a recipe, use about 1 cup of date paste for every 1 cup of sugar. Depending on what recipe you are making, you may need to reduce the liquid amount because dates add moisture. 

Do you need to soak chopped dates before baking?

Soaking chopped dates before baking is optional, but it can help to soften them and add moisture to your baked goods. If they are hard, you may try soaking them.

What pairs well with dates in baking?

Dates pair well with nuts, chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon, and other warm spices in baking.

What is the ratio of date to sugar?

A good rule of thumb for substituting dates for sugar is 1 cup of dates for every 1 cup of sugar.

How many dates would equal 1 cup of sugar?

Approximately 1 cup of chopped dates or date paste is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar.

Which date is best for baking?

Medjool dates are often preferred for baking because of their larger size, softer texture, and sweeter taste.

How long to soak dates before baking?

Soak dates for at least 30 minutes before baking to soften them and make them easier to blend.

Can Medjool dates be used in baking?

Yes, Medjool dates can be used in baking. They are often preferred for their larger size and sweeter taste.

Is baking with dates healthy?

Baking with dates can be a healthier alternative to using processed sugar, as dates are high in fiber, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients.

Can I use dates to replace sugar in meringue?

No, don’t use dates to replace sugar in meringue cookies and other desserts where the sugar provides the structure.

Do dates need to be refrigerated?

After opening the package of dates, keep them sealed in the fridge so they stay fresh. 

Baking With Dates

Because my household avoids palm oil, I make all of our desserts at home and use dates a lot in baking. Date palm fruit is different than palm oil.

As if I need more reasons to bake at home, I like that using dates means I am using a real ingredient. Oftentimes these recipes use dates instead of flour, as in crusts and to strengthen bars. I like that dates are naturally sweet and form a soft, chewy texture.

I make this vegan bars recipe as well as apple and date bread, oatmeal date cookies, walnut and date energy bars, muffins, granola, and more.

Dates have a distinct flavor that blend well with various ingredients and spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. Depending on how sweet you want to go, they taste amazing caramelized with brown sugar and nuts on the stovetop. Yum!

When used in baking, dates can serve as a healthier alternative to processed sugars, adding natural sweetness and nutrition to recipes. Dates are a great alternative to processed sugars, as they provide natural sweetness and a range of nutrients. According to the USDA, dates contain fiber, potassium, magnesium, and other essential vitamins and minerals. [6]

Have you tried baking with dates? What do you make, and why do you use dates? Let me know in the Comments. Here are some ideas of other things to bake as well. Learn why I never buy premade desserts

References:

[1] Kim, Y. J., Kim, M. S., Lee, S. J., & Lee, J. H. (2016). Beneficial effects of date palm fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Journal of Medicinal Food, 19(6), 527-533. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2015.0072

[2] Science Direct.com: Clinical effects of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.): A systematic review on clinical trials

[3] Noranizan, M. A., & Lee, S. (2012). Effect of date palm fruit (Phoenix dactylifera L.) on the glycemic control of diabetic patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 49(2), 255-262. doi: 10.1007/s13197-010-0225-4

[4] Maine Organic Farming and Gardeners Association (Feb 2021). Sweetener Substitution Basics 

[5] King Arthur Baking Company. (2022). Substituting Honey and Maple Syrup for Sugar in Baking. 

[6] United States Department of Agriculture. (2020) and Very Fit Well about dates nutrition