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Chinese Chews

Dating from 1917, Chinese Chews, with their crispy tops and chewy centers, are a very old traditional bar cookie featuring nuts and dates. Bake a batch and enjoy the same treat your grandmothers probably had for the holidays.

Chinese Chews on a vintage silver tray.

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We’re having a vintage-y kind of Christmas around here! First, I made some Graham Cookie Bars, then Haystacks, and now this very old recipe for Chinese Chews.

I remember my mother and grandmother making Chinese Chews every Christmas when I was a girl. They were and still are a tradition. They bake up with a beautifully crispy top and a chewy center. Perfect with your afternoon tea or coffee.

Knowing that this is a very old southern recipe, I did some internet research on its origin and read in several sources that it first appeared in the June 1917 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. And that was all I could find.

The historian in me just couldn’t let that go without looking further. So I kept searching until I found a digitized copy of that issue. And guess what! The recipe is right there on page 78 of Good Housekeeping. Published in June 1917. Submitted by Mrs. L. G. Platt of North Bend, Oregon. (And I’m getting right on those Lemon Dumplings on the same page, too!)

Still, no one really knows why they’re called Chinese Chews. There’s nothing particularly Chinese about them. My guess is that in those times, the dates seemed exotic, and anything exotic was perhaps associated with the Far East? I can’t say for sure.

What I do know is that these little bar cookies are very delicious. And they’re another recipe that has firmly withstood the test of time.

Some recipes for Chinese Chews call for vanilla, some use brown sugar, and some even add coconut. As far as I can determine, those are later additions. The version passed down from my grandmother is the same as Mrs. Platt’s and uses only dates and nuts. And the only fat comes from the eggs!

❤️ Why We Love This Recipe


  • It’s truly a heritage recipe.
  • Very easy to make – one bowl, one spoon, one pan, that’s it!
  • Uses common ingredients.
  • Perfect for holiday gifting.

🛒 Essential Ingredients


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  • Chopped Dates (If you can’t locate chopped dates, buy whole dates and chop them into small pieces.)
  • All-Purpose Flour (To use self-rising, simply substitute the same amount and omit the baking powder and salt.)

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

🔪 How to Make Chinese Chews


Preheat the Oven and Prep the Pan

  1. Start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter an 8×8 pan and set it aside.

Measure Dry Ingredients

Mixing bowl containing flour, sugar, baking powder, dates, salt, and nuts for the recipe.
  1. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, granulated white sugar, baking powder, dates, salt, and nuts.

👉 PRO TIP: In this batch, I used walnuts, but I do prefer pecans. They just have a richer taste, in my opinion.

Add Eggs

Flour, sugar, baking powder, dates, salt, and nuts with eggs added and stirred into the mixture.
  1. Add the eggs and, using a sturdy wooden spoon, stir until the eggs are incorporated.

👉 PRO TIP: This step requires a bit of effort :-) Since there’s no other liquid or fat in the recipe, the dough is fairly stiff. You can mix this in a stand mixer or a food processor if you like. I do it by hand because I’m lazy and don’t want to clean up those appliances.

Add to Baking Pan

Mixture spread into an 8x8 square baking pan.
  1. Spread the mixture into the pan you prepared at the beginning. Again, it’s a stiff dough, so you’ll need to gently persuade it to go into the corners.

Bake

Finished Chinese Chews cooling in baking pan.
  1. Bake for about 30 minutes and check for doneness. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean.

Cut and Serve

Finished recipe cut into squares on a cutting board.
  1. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then turn the whole thing out and cut it into small pieces about 1 to 1 1/2 inches square.
  2. Dust the tops of the bars with powdered sugar.

🍚 Storage


  • Store: Store in an airtight container (a plastic container with a tight fitting lid works best) at room temperature for about a week.
  • Freeze: Chinese Chews may be frozen in a freezer-safe plastic container for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before adding confectioner’s sugar and serving.
Chinese Chews on a vintage silver tray.
Lana Stuart.

More Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

📖 Recipe

Chinese Chews on a vintage silver tray.

Chinese Chews

Chinese Chews, with their crispy tops and chewy centers, are a very old traditional bar cookie featuring nuts and dates.
5 from 32 votes
Print It Rate It Save
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 42 pieces
Calories: 56kcal
Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8×8 pan and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking, powder, dates, salt, and nuts.
  • Add eggs. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  • Spread into prepared pan.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, cut into small squares.
  • Dust with powdered sugar.

Notes

  • Mixing the batter does require a bit of effort. Because there’s very little liquid or fat in the recipe, the dough is fairly stiff. You can mix this in a stand mixer or a food processor if you like. 
  • Store in an airtight container (a plastic container with a tight fitting lid works best) at room temperature for about a week.
  • May be frozen in a freezer-safe plastic container for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before adding confectioner’s sugar and serving.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 56kcal | Carbohydrates 9g | Protein 1g | Fat 2g | Saturated Fat 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat 1g | Monounsaturated Fat 1g | Trans Fat 1g | Cholesterol 8mg | Sodium 27mg | Potassium 38mg | Fiber 1g | Sugar 7g | Vitamin A 13IU | Vitamin C 1mg | Calcium 10mg | Iron 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on December 14, 2012. It has been revised with additional information..

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Recipe Rating




61 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This is the same recipe I have from a bakery long closed down. I grew up in a very small town in Florida and the entire population loved Chinese chews. The only difference is to bake at 350° for 15 minutes. then roll into balls and coat with powdered sugar. I love to make these every Christmas. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’ve heard from a few other people over the years that roll them into balls coated with sugar as well. They’re great either way.

  2. Gail Woodman says:

    5 stars
    My Mom used to make these but after she cut them into squares, she rolled them into balls and rolled them in sugar.

  3. 5 stars
    These are the best cookies ever. Not too sweet and nice and soft
    My family loves these. I freeze them and then when ready to serve dip them in icing sugar.

    1. They really are so good, aren’t they?! Just perfect and old-fashioned.

  4. Lana as you researched the history of Your recipe did you ever see instructions to roll the bars into a log shape and toss in a small bowl of granulated sugar? These remain uniformly moist and are favourites of our family and friends.

    1. Hi Darla – No, I haven’t seen instructions for Chinese Chews made in that way. Lots of other candies and cookies are rolled and coated with powdered sugar, though.

  5. My grandmother made them every Christmas. I still make them every year. However I make one traditional and one with dried cranberries. Marvelous. Have also made them gluten free for my sister and she loved them.

  6. 5 stars
    I realized after the reason mine took longer to cook was because I used a smaller pan.

  7. 5 stars
    Was interested in making such an old fashioned recipe so made tonight. They came out really good. I did have to cook longer but maybe because I used glass pan. I love them ❤️ Thank you Lana

  8. Bette Moore says:

    5 stars
    loved them 5 stars.

  9. I had forgotten all about these! Mom used to make them every Christmas and the name was the coolest thing to us as children.

  10. Anne Davis says:

    5 stars
    What could you suggest in place of the nuts that would be appropriate? I am not allergic, but cannot have nuts or seeds, etc. as part of my diet.
    Thanks, Anne

    1. Hi Anne. I have never tested this recipe with a substitute for the nuts, so I’m sorry that I can’t help with that.

  11. Sheila Pfeister says:

    5 stars
    I am so glad you have posted this recipe. We made them with gluten free flour and they are perfect. Thank you.

  12. Sarah Swain says:

    5 stars
    Just like I remember at my Grandma’s when I was a kid. I even used pecans from her yard that she shelled and froze herself 24 years ago. They keep for ages. I miss her.

  13. Eddie Ramsey says:

    I have been making these since my grandmother passed and I finally got the recipe. And love it.

    1. I can only assume that you are questioning whether there should be butter in the recipe. There is no butter in this recipe. As I said in the post, the only fat comes from the eggs.

  14. LISA T FREEMAN says:

    My mom made these growing up (we are from New Jersey living in the South). No one here in Mississippi knew what they were but liked them. She added green and red candied cherries cut in halves and also coconut. I may try to make these this year since it has been so long since I’ve had one!

    1. Hi Lisa – I hope the Chinese Chews turn out great for you. They’ve been around for a very long time and we always make them at Christmas.

  15. Sunflower says:

    5 stars
    So easy. So tasty. A quick, delicious dessert! Thx.

  16. Larry Margolis says:

    5 stars
    I’ve made these twice, they’re great! Quick and easy!

  17. 5 stars
    Hi Lana – I made these yesterday and had to hide them from hubby today so there will be some left for C’mas.
    We only had whole dates so I cut them in half and chopped them in the food processor. Since hand mixing has gotten hard for me I went ahead and put the remaining ingredients in there too and it mixed up fine. Made an easy recipe even easier.
    Thanks,
    Sheila

  18. Larry Margolis says:

    5 stars
    Easy to make and tastes great, not overly sweet.

  19. Gwenn Goo-Yates says:

    Interestingly Lana, your recipe is identical to the one I’ve been following for over 50 years. It’s from the historic Culinary Institute of America. I inherited my mother’s cookbook, and when it began to fall apart, I bought my own. Imagine my surprise to see Chinese Chews on the Internet! (Actually, I was looking for nutritional info.)
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      Yes, this is a very old recipe, Gwenn. I remember my grandmother making it every Christmas.

  20. I have an old family recipe for Chinese Chews and make these bar cookies every year. But the recipe I have is much richer so I will try your lighter version the next time. My recipe: 1c butter, 1 egg, 1c flour, 1c sugar, 1c chopped dates, 1 c chopped nuts( I use walnuts) 1T vanilla, 1tsp salt. Spread in greased 9×9 pan, bake 325 oven , top rack, for 45-50 minutes, cut while hot, when cool roll in powdered sugar. I bet some people had this recipe from family as its been in our family since early 1900’s.

  21. The recipe looks delicious and would like to try it. I didn’t see any mention of butter.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      That’s correct. Just a little butter for prepping the pan.

  22. I’ve never heard of Chinese Chews before, but they both look and sound delicious!!

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      They really are great, Sues. It’s an old, old recipe – one that my grandmother always made and she just passed away in September at 101 years old.

  23. I have been trying to get this recipe from grandmother for along time ago and she would not give in on it but now I got it

  24. We have an old family recipe for Chinese Chews. It probably originated in England about the time of yours. BUT- this one has chopped ginger, which is fairly noticeable in the eating, and I have always assumed that is why they are “Chinese”. I am guessing that at some point an American thought the ginger was too spicy and modified the recipe away from the original English one (English had lots of spices from the Empire!) and maybe it has stuck in its modified form.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      I’ll bet you’re right, Steve. Very interesting!

  25. Hello Lana,
    This recipe looks wonderful but I do no care for dates. Do you think dried apricots or dried cranberries might work?
    When sending you an original recipe, how should I get it to you? I really like your web site. The red and white background just makes me grin in its familiarity. Becky

  26. Janine rose says:

    I haven’t had these for forty years. I was so happy to see your recipe. Excellent results, exactly the same cookie thank you so much.

  27. my grandmother used to make these. i had a craving and decided to look at her recipe, and because her hand written recipes were, let’s say, sketchy, i decided to look it up online, and this is exactly it! Yum. Do you remember congo bars and blondies? :)

    1. I do remember congo bars now that you mention them! I’m going to have to look up a recipe and make some soon. Also, there’s a blondie recipe here on the blog. Just do a search and you’ll find it :-)

  28. Nancy@acommunaltable says:

    Wow, I haven’t thought of these (or had them for that matter) in ages!! So glad you posted these – with all the new cookie creations on the web, its refreshing to see the old tried and true recipes !!!

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I truly enjoy keeping the old recipes alive.

  29. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking says:

    These look really yummy, Lana! Love the addition of chopped dates… great holiday sweet!

  30. My mother used to make this recipe all the time!!!! She passed away in 1997, and being the dolt that I can be at time, I never asked Mum for the recipe!!! Thank you so much for taking a culinary trip down memory lane!!!!

  31. Make some for Polly. She loves them.

    Miss P

    1. I know! I thought about that the whole time I was making them.

  32. Pardon the typo . . . dimension!!! lol

  33. Thanks soo much, Lana! Have searched my beloved Mother’s recipe box repeatedly for this very recipe. Reminds me so very much of Christmas and her! You have definitely brought another demension to my world.

    1. I hope you’ll make them and enjoy them, Rosie!

  34. Robyn Stone | Add a Pinch says:

    One of my very favorite bars, Lana! Love these!!!

    1. Thanks, Robyn. I really enjoy keeping these old, traditional recipes alive. I saw your post for Chinese Chews so I know you must feel the same :-)

  35. Cookin' Canuck says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever tried Chinese chews, but I must say they look really, really good. And I love the simplicity of the recipe!

    1. I think you’d enjoy these, Dara. It’s one of those really quick and easy recipes which is so great for this busy time of year.

  36. Might just find the courage to make them with J-man. You know how I am about baking :)

  37. They look great! And I don’t even like sweet stuff.

    1. Thanks, Kay! They’re a really old-fashioned bar cookie that I remember having every Christmas when growing up. I hadn’t thought about them in a long time but I’m glad I did!