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Tag Archives: Dates

The Great Date Bar Experimentation

Apologies for the title, I’ve watched a lot of Big Bang Theory episodes this week. Also apologies for disappearing for a month or so. Going to Turkey for the week before Christmas meant some serious pre-planning, organisation and socialising in early December followed by Christmas itself, the black hole that is now known as ‘twixmas’ and then rather than #NewYearNewMe, my body opted for #NewYearEpicMigraine. Good times. I usually use the festive period and time off work to do as much baking and cooking as I feasibly can. What actually happened was that I ended up doing sod all, so what should have been blogging material gold, turned into arid blogging desert.

To the experiment…..I’m ironically not that good at snacking. Its not that I can’t snack, I can put away a whole packet of Viscounts or French Fancies in a (clogged) heartbeat but I’ve never got ‘healthy snacking’ down. I had a brief foray a year or two ago when I discovered that I could manage some raw carrot sticks and hummus and I can eat the occasional fun-size banana but the whole ‘handful of almonds’ or ‘stick of celery and tablespoon of unsweetened peanut butter’ shtick – yak! I have however recently discovered that I actually quite like date based energy bars – the kind that include no added sugar but still genuinely taste sweet and don’t feel like health food. My particular favourite is the Cocoa Chocolate Orange Nakd variety but they’re 75p each or £2.50/£2.75 for a pack of 4. They’re 135 calories each which isn’t too bad when calorie counting (a banana is 90-120kcal depending on size) and I do actually feel like I’ve had a snack when finished, even though they’re only small. Nakd also handily provide its ingredients list with percentages so I decided that I’d try and recreate them at home….and here the experiment began…

Makes 10 – 148kcal each

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Ingredients:

140g Cashew Nuts
140g Dates
50g Seedless Raisins
20g Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Orange Essence
4 tsp Hot Water


My first step was to calculate the quantity of ingredients I would need to make 10 x 35g bars – 350g in total. The ingredients as listed on the Nakd bar I was trying to replicate are 40% dates, 40% cashews, 15% raisins, 4% cocoa and orange flavour – I assumed the missing 1% was made up of the flavouring and water. I measured the ingredients out per the above list and prepared my mini Kenwood chopper for some hard work.

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As I don’t have a large processor, the Kenwood mini would have to do – as a result I had to grind the ingredients individually. I started with 140g Cashews:

This was as fine as I was able to grind them without adding some sort of abrasive such as salt so I hoped that this would be sufficient and moved onto the 140g Dates and 50g Raisins.

My mixer struggled a little with this – the mixture was very stiff and tended to clump above the mixer blades. I had to let down the mixture somehow so added 1 tsp Orange Essence and 1 tsp Hot Water which did help somewhat.

I emptied the mashed dates into 20g Cocoa Powder and the ground cashews and started mixing, initially with a spoon but latterly with my hands – some proper schmushing was required.  The mixture was very dry so I added a further 3tbsp Hot Water which gave me the texture I was looking for.

I mushed the mixture into a flattish rectangle using a lined loaf tin to help me get an even shape – I spent a good few minutes on this to try and get the mix equally thick all the way to the ends and edges so each of my bars could be cut evenly.

I couldn’t see any reason to let the mixture sit or chill before cutting it so I went straight ahead and cut 10 bars with a sharp knife. The slab cut really easily with no tearing or splitting and the texture was very reminiscent of that of the Nakd bars.

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I didn’t want the bars to dry out so I wrapped each individually in greaseproof paper and put the batch (minus the one I tried!) into a sealed sandwich bag. I have put them in the fridge but there is nothing realistically that needs to be kept chilled so I will be moving them to my desk drawer next week (if they last that long).

Overall I’m super pleased with how these turned out – the dates aren’t clumpy, the bars look, feel and taste almost identical to the original and I’m fairly sure they work out cheaper to make for fairly little effort. I’ve calculated this as follows:

140g Dates – £1.12
140g Cashews – £1.75
50g Raisins – £0.17
20g Cocoa Powder – £0.16
1 tsp Orange Essence – £0.58

Total – £3.78
Per Bar – £0.38

With Nakd bars costing a full price minimum of £0.62 when buying a pack of 4 at £2.50, this means that you can make a saving of 24p per bar which is going to add up rather fast.

My Final Thoughts

Next time I make these, I will be adding all 4 tsp of hot water to the dates and raisins when they are in the processor to help the chopping – if its needed, it may as well be added where it is most helpful.

I made an assumption when looking at the Nakd ingredients list that the percentages given related to weight of the ingredients. My calorie calculations (using My Fitness Pal) tell me that each of my bars (35g each) contain 148 Kcal compared to Nakd’s 136 Kcal. There does seem to be a lot of ground nut in these bars – not enough to affect the taste but I do wonder that if I revisited the percentages on a volume rather than weight basis, maybe that would be more true to the original recipe and would reduce the calorie count of each bar. I will try this at some point the future and I will also revisit the amount of water I used as I think less with be needed to counteract the dryness of the ground cashews.

There are obviously endless possibilities of flavour combinations to be tried here. Various other nuts could be substituted – pecans, walnuts or the ubiquitous almond and other dried fruits could be added/substituted – I have bought a bag of dried figs to try for example and a friend recently experimented with dried apricots.

Just in case you are concerned, I am not advocating any kind of sugar, gluten or dairy free or otherwise ‘clean’ diet – I just happen to like these bars and they just happen to have no added sugar or gluten in them. I guess they’re vegan too aren’t they! I hate myself for posting this and I will continue to eat them with a builders brew with 2 sugars and cows milk. And a slice of ham.

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Wedfest – Afternoon Tea – Sticky Toffee Buns

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Way back when, my good friends, Gemma and Laurence, now owners of the The Champagne Concept in Harrogate, got engaged and proceeded to arrange what became fondly known as ‘Wedfest’ over a bank holiday weekend in May 2015 at Rise Hall in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Rise Hall is a beautiful venue owned by Sarah Beeny, the renovation of which was the subject of a Channel 4 show called Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare. As it was early days for Rise Hall, G&L were able to essentially hire the hall as a shell and bring in everything that that wanted (most venues have lists of approved suppliers to choose from), importantly including the food and drink.

As a result, we ate well. So well. We had an evening hog roast, scrambled egg breakfast spread, mostly cooked by the groom, a wedding breakfast of carved-at-the-table lamb, an evening buffet of Harrogate pork pies, carvery ham and the cheese cake cheese, (its a cake of cheese, not a cake with cheese. Oh never mind – look at the picture) and a street food breakfast van to mop up the hangovers. And did I mention they deal in champagne? Yeh we were drunk! In hindsight, three of those pork pies was excessive. I continue to have no regrets. I’m lying I had 4.

The first food encountered by early arriving guests however, was an afternoon tea, which I was honoured to be asked to make. Eek – squeaky bum time! Now I can bake ok, I enjoy baking and I even put a bit of pressure on myself by entering the odd bake-off event but this was on a scale that I’d never encountered.  60 people to cater for, including at least one wheatard and a gluten and dairy free mother of the groom. As I graduated from the Anderson/McInroy school of “Never Knowingly Under-Catered’, I had a lot of cakes to make. And I had to try and make them look a little bit pretty (not my forte by any stretch).

I came up with a plan involving going to my house in Grimsby to bake the day before and cadging a lift off of my father over the Humber Bridge the morning of. My father did a stunning job of sous cheffing for me which was a huge help, especially considering he wasn’t invited to the wedding – he did get a sneak peek at Rise Hall however! Logistics, sorted, I just had to figure out what to bake!

I considered scones a no brainer for afternoon tea so I made my White Spelt Scones which I served ready filled with clotted cream and jam. Next up was a groom request for lemon drizzle so I made a tray-bake version of these Lemon and Cointreau Drizzle Mini-Cakes (without the Cointreau, if only I’d thought of that addition before!). I then searched though my numerous Cookbooks for a great gluten and dairy free chocolate cake and after a couple of tests, settled on this Nigella Lawson Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake.

Lastly, I wanted to make what had then become a bit of a classic in my repertoire – these sticky toffee buns. Adapted from a Simon Hopkinson recipe for Hot Sticky Toffee Pudding, I’ve made this as a tray-bake, a layer cake and finally these mini-cakes/buns. I won a category (best tasting I think) in the summer of 2014 at the Bermondsey Street Festival bake off with them which cemented my decision.

The overriding themes with all of my chosen bakes were ease, previous experience and transportability.  The scones were split and filled, the toffee buns iced and drizzled and the chocolate orange cake garnished on site in the most amazing butlers pantry kitchen.  All in all, I was super proud of how everything turned out and there was nothing left, so I took that as a good sign – I also received quite a lot of lovely compliments from the other guests, which led to some serious blushing but was lovely to hear. I’m not sure L ever did get his square of lemon drizzle however 😦

Serves 12

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Cake Ingredients:

175g Dates
275ml Boiling Water
50g Salted Butter or Low Fat Spread
1 tsp Sea Salt Flakes
75g Demerara Sugar
75g Dark Brown (Muscovado) Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
175g Self Raising Flour
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

Sauce Ingredients:

200ml Double Cream
80g Salted Butter
80g Dark Brown (Muscovado) Sugar
1/2 tsp Sea Salt Flakes

Buttercream Ingredients:

140g Salted Butter
280g Icing Sugar
1/4 of the above sauce

3 Small Dates


Firstly, make the sauce by gently heating 200ml Double Cream, 80g Salted Butter
80g Dark Brown (Muscovado) Sugar and 1/2 tsp Sea Salt Flakes in a small saucepan.  I keep stirring the mix until everything is melted and a a little thickened. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes or so. Don’t let it boil for long as it could end up tasting bitter.

Leave the sauce to cool and thicken whilst making the cakes.

Preheat the oven to 180c or equivalent.

Line a 12 hole muffin tin.

Tip – you can use muffin cases if you wish. I used this 12 hole mini sandwich cake tin from Lakeland (an older version that I got half price!) which has loose bottoms for super easy removal. I just greased these tins with butter. Neutral flavour frylight spray should also do the job. 

Using sharp scissors, snip 175g Dates into the jug of a blender or bowl of a food processor (not a stand mixer – you need blades here). Cover with 275ml Boiling Water, put the lid on and leave the dates to soak for 5 minutes.

Tip – If using ready cut dates, skip the cutting stage. Obvs.

After the dates have soaked, blitz them to a smoothish paste.

Tip – I now proceed to make the bulk of the cake mix in a blender as its the best way I’ve found to break up big lumps of muscovado sugar that inevitably form and minimises the washing up. If you only have a little processor, dump the date mix into a mixing bowl once pureed then blitz the sugar quickly and proceed manually. At a stretch, you could use a stick blender to blitz the dates. If you have no processor whatsoever, you’re going to struggle. Check out my Recommendations page for some tips of cheap mixers to purchase – it’ll be worth it. 

Add 50g Salted Butter or Low Fat Spread, 1 tsp Sea Salt Flakes, 75g Demerara Sugar, 75g Dark Brown (Muscovado) Sugar, 2 Eggs and 1 tsp Vanilla Extract to the blender or processor and blitz until smooth.

Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl and gently fold in 175g Self Raising Flour and 1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda.  The mixture will start to froth a bit, don’t be concerned, this is the bicarb starting to work.

Tip – Several times, I have added the flour to the belnder and combined that way to make this a truly one bowl mix but it over mixes, develops too much gluten and makes the cakes tough so I’ve learnt to not be so lazy and actually just use another bowl. Plus, it gives you another bowl to lick out. Bonus. 

Fill the 12 muffin tins to a little below their rim.

Tip – This recipe is apportioned to my mini cake tins so with slightly smaller tins, you may have mix left over. No bother, either make a second, probably smaller batch or make a small tray-bake with the leftovers. 

Pop into the oven for circa 20 minutes. A skewer will never come out truly clean because of the sticky nature of the buns but you want to make sure there is no runny mix left in the middle and they will feel good and springy to the touch.

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Leave the buns on a wire rack to cool. If using a non stick tin like mine, leave them into the tin to mostly cool then use a plastic knife to release them. Take them straight out of the tin if using liners.

Meanwhile, make the buttercream by beating 140g Salted Butter and 280g Icing Sugar together.

Add 1/4 of the toffee sauce a little at a time. Make sure the sauce is totally cool before doing this.  if the mix seems a little loose – it wants to be able to hold its shape – add extra icing sugar a bit at a time.

Tip – I like to whip butter icing with an electric whisk to give it a nice light texture but you could make this by hand with a wooden spoon or spatula, just beat it for as long as you can be bothered. 

Leave the buttercream to the side somewhere cool whilst you fill the buns.

Take half of the sauce mix and fill a piping bag with a medium round nozzle. My method for doing this is shown in the picture below.

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Tip – I don’t own a piping bag, this was a disposable one but I do keep a couple of cheap plastic nozzles lying around which I sometimes use with a sandwich bag with the corner cut off for make-do piping. I’m not really a pretty piping kinda gal but I’m yet to find a better method of injecting filling into a cupcake. 

Prod each (now cooled) cake from the top, in the centre, with the bag nozzle and squeeze about 3/4 teaspoon of sauce into the middle. Repeat until all cakes are filled.

Spoon a good dollop (technical term alert) of the buttercream onto the top of each cake.

Drizzle the remaining sauce over the cakes in a gung-ho messy fashion.

Quarter 3 Small Dates using sharp scissors and press onto the top of each cake for a final nipple like garnish. Classy.

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