Dessert of the Month: Date and Oat Squares

When it comes to sweet treats, I often find myself craving something with a chewy texture, a mild sweetness and a little nuttiness. These squares have plenty of body from the toasted oats plus all of the aforementioned flavors -- along with a good dash of vanilla and orange zest to keep things interesting. Much of the sweetness comes from the dates, and the savory flavor of sesame seeds with a kiss of salt helps balance it out.

Above all else, these sweet treats are adaptable to whatever is on hand. Try substituting dried apricots for the dates and lemon zest for the orange. You could also add in other seeds like chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin or poppy in place of the sesame seeds. Any nut butter will work as a replacement for the cashew butter. Since the bars keep well in an airtight container for several days, they make a good breakfast treat for busy weeks -- or a snack to accompany a cup of tea and carry you through until the next meal.

Date and Oat Squares with Sesame Seeds

Makes 12 (2-inch) squares
2½ cups regular rolled oats
½ cup toasted almonds, chopped

6 tablespoons toasted un-hulled sesame seeds, plus more to sprinkle on top

8 Medjool dates, thinly sliced
½ cup brown rice syrup
1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil, plus more to oil sides of pan
3 tablespoons raw cashew butter
2 tablespoons tahini
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line an 8-by-11 inch baking dish with parchment paper, oil any exposed sides with coconut oil and set aside.

Spread oats over a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 20 minutes, stirring half way through. Remove from oven and place in a medium bowl. Raise oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Add almonds, sesame seeds and dates to the oats, toss to combine and set aside.

Place rice syrup and coconut oil in a small pot over medium high heat until bubbling. Remove from heat and stir in cashew butter, tahini, salt, vanilla and orange zest and mix until smooth, some small lumps are fine. Pour into oat mixture and mix until combined. Using damp hands press mixture into prepared pan, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before cutting.

Amy Chaplin is a chef and recipe developer in New York City. Her cookbook At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen will be available fall 2014. She blogs at Coconut & Quinoa.

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