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.
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!
- 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
Let’s Go Step-by-Step
I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.
Preheat the Oven and Prep the Pan
Start by preheating the oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter an 8×8 pan and set it aside.
Measure Dry Ingredients
In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, granulated white sugar, baking powder, dates, salt, and nuts.
In this batch, I used walnuts but I do prefer pecans. They just have a richer taste, in my opinion.
Add the eggs and, using a sturdy wooden spoon, stir until the eggs are incorporated.
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
Spread the mixture into the pan you prepared at the beginning. Again, it’s a stiff dough, so you’ll need to persuade it gently to go into the corners.
Bake for about 30 minutes and check for doneness. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean.
Cut and Serve
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.
Dust the tops of the bars with powdered sugar.
- 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 an freezer-safe plastic container for up to two months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before adding confectioner’s sugar and serving.
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- 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
- 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 and dust with powdered sugar.
- If you can’t locate chopped dates, buy whole dates and chop them into small pieces.
- To use self-rising flour, simply substitute the same amount and omit the baking powder and salt.
- In this batch, I used walnuts but I do prefer pecans. They just have a richer taste, in my opinion.
- 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 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 health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.
— This post was originally published on December 14, 2012. It has been revised with additional information..