Saturday, November 24, 2018

Andrea's Special Date Cookies

Growing up, summers involved trips to North Dakota to visit my mom's side of the family.  I don't know if it's a North Dakota thing or a Scandinavian thing, but at each home we visited, we were presented with a staggering array of foods and we were expected to eat some of everything, even if we had been to three other homes that day.  Lefse, ham, locally made summer sausages, rolls with actual farm butter, cookies, etc., always presented as if this was an everyday occurrence and we just happened to show up at the right time. 

The largest spread was always at Helga and Andrea's home.  Helga and Andy were sisters (and my mother's aunts) and even though Helga was married to Dave - and everyone adored Dave - it was never Helga and Dave, always Helga and Andy.  And Dave.

Great Aunt Andy, my sister and myself (the short one)
I was really too young to appreciate how much effort went into preparing all the food, but I do remember appreciating how delicious everything was.  Unfortunately, because we lived so far away, I never had a chance to learn any cooking secrets from them.  I was given Helga's roll recipe a while back, but I haven't worked up the courage to try them yet because Helga's rolls have achieved mythical levels of deliciousness in my memory.  I am fairly certain that nothing I could make would taste as incredible as what I remember.  Soft, buttery, light as a feather, slathered in unbelievably good salty butter.  Mmmmm....

Ahem.  Anyway.

A few years back my mom came across a recipe of Andy's, called Special Date Cookies. The instructions were something along of the lines of, "mix, crisscross with a sugar-dipped fork and bake."  People weren't sticklers for details  back in the day.  Mom remembered them as very good, pale and only lightly browned on the bottom.  Well, at least that was something to aim for!

I had intended to try these many times, but just never got around to it.  Then, a few weeks ago, I came across some Medjool dates that had gone hard and while trying to decide what to do with them, I remembered Andy's cookies.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe (because I can't leave things alone).  First, I halved it because it looked like it would make an enormous amount of cookies.  I'm glad I did, because I ended up with 47 cookies from a half batch.  Second, I rolled the dough balls in Sugar in the Raw before crisscrossing them because it seemed like a good idea.  We all liked the extra crunch the coarse sugar gave the cookies, so I'm sticking with it.

Technically, I suppose I made a third change.  The work bowl on my ~22 year old KitchenAid food processor was on its last legs already, and when I started trying to chop the dates in it, the blade seized up.  After several attempts to redistribute the dates for chopping, I added some bourbon to soften them.  It worked well enough to let me finish chopping those dates, but both the work bowl and the plastic cover on the spindle were broken beyond repair.  The motor still works, but alas, replacement parts are no longer available.  RIP, food processor.  You served me well.

For the record, I'm pretty sure Andy would NOT have approved of the addition of bourbon to her cookies!  I couldn't taste bourbon in the final cookies, but I did enjoy a few little bites of bourbon-soaked dates.  Hic!

Poor old food processor!

I wasn't sure how flat to mash the cookies while crisscrossing, so I tried some thinner (not all the way flat) and some thicker.  The thinner ones had the nicest final texture, I think.  I also guessed at 325F for the oven temperature, because I was afraid of over-browning them. 

The finished product!  I think these should have been mashed just a little flatter for the best texture

We really liked these cookies.  They have a nice date flavor and aren't overwhelmingly sweet, which we prefer, and the coarse sugar adds a nice texture.  They also keep well for several days.  We polished off the last one after about 8 days and while the texture had softened over time, it was still good.  As usual, though, I liked them best while still warm from the oven. 

Andrea's Special Date Cookies (Printable recipe)

  • 3/4 cup soft butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • coarse sugar for rolling the dough balls (I used Sugar in the Raw)


Preheat oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Stir in the milk and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in two or three additions, mixing well each time. Fold in the dates. Roll the dough into small balls, then roll in coarse sugar. Crisscross and flatten with a fork. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom only.

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