Then there’s the name: I’ve asked around and done some research, and can’t find anybody who knows how these came to be known as Food for the Gods. But I have some ideas. First of all, the recipe most likely comes from a Spanish bread called pan de datiles, or date bread. Philippine cuisine was heavily influenced by American, Spanish and Chinese cooks before the dishes were “Filipinized” for use of our native terroir and palate. Dates and walnuts were considered luxurious, and the taste is certainly heavenly, so that could be the connection.
As for making them, you can use a stand mixer, but this recipe is easily done by hand. Medjool dates are soft, moist and yield the most fruit. Chilling them in the freezer before chopping keeps them from sticking to your knife and fingers. Don’t overchop; larger pieces help keep the batter moist. Toasting the walnuts brings out a nuttier flavor and makes them crunchier. Find gluten-free flour at most supermarkets, or use unbleached organic all-purpose flour. Coconut sugar is a low-glycemic food and a great substitute for granulated white sugar. Don’t overbake or they won’t be chewy.
Find colored cellophane sheets at craft stores or online. Wrapping Food for the Gods can be a fun project for the kids — unless they (or you) eat them all first.
Recipe note: The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month.
- 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) chopped walnuts
- 2 cups (240 grams) measure-for-measure gluten-free flour blend, such as King Arthur Baking brand (may substitute unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably organic)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound (450 grams) Medjool dates, chilled in the freezer, then pitted and chopped (each date cut into four pieces)
- 3 sticks (340 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 cup (220 grams) packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup (180 grams) coconut sugar (may substitute granulated sugar)
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
Place the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant, shaking halfway through. Let cool completely.
Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan (or two 8-inch square pans) with nonstick cooking spray, then line with parchment paper or aluminum foil (no need to spray if using foil), leaving a generous overhang on the two long sides. Coat the bottom and sides of the parchment or foil with the nonstick spray as well.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt until fully incorporated.
In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup (30 grams) of the flour mixture with the dates and walnuts. Toss together, making sure the date and walnut pieces are coated and separated.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar and coconut sugar until the sugars are dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking each until thoroughly combined before adding the next egg. Whisk in the vanilla extract and then the flour mixture in two additions. Add the coated dates and walnuts in two batches, folding together with a spatula.
Pour the batter (it will be thick) into the prepared pan and evenly smooth the top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating from front to back halfway through, until the edges and top have a golden crust but the middle remains slightly underdone, with a toothpick inserted in the center pulling up moist crumbs. Sprinkle with the sea salt.
Transfer the baking pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour.
Wrap each piece in a 6-inch colored cellophane square (like a small present), twisting the ends tightly to close.
Calories: 310; Total Fat: 16 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 61 mg; Sodium: 166 mg; Carbohydrates: 42 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 31 g; Protein: 3 g.
Adapted from Los Angeles chef and writer Isa Fabro. Fabro is the owner of IsaMADE, which showcases a varied repertoire of projects with creative industries, fostering an ongoing dialogue of community service and cross-cultural exchange.
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