Nanna’s Chinese Chews are my mother-in-law’s date-nut bars based on a vintage recipe from 1917! Enjoy these delicious, buttery blondies.
Have you ever heard of Chinese Chews? They’re absolutely delicious date-nut bars that were first published in the June 1917 issue of Good Housekeeping.
They’re not from China at all, and some believe the name came from dates being considered an exotic ingredient. My mother-in-law (the grandchildren call her “Nanna,” pronounced “Nah-Nah”) has made these for years, and they’re one of my hubby’s favorites.
I just had to get Nanna’s recipe to share with you.
First, I have to admit that my hubby used to ask me to make this dessert during the early years of our marriage, and it’s taken me decades to get around to it. In my defense….yeah, I’ve got nothing.
I’m kicking myself though, because these bars are so outstanding and relatively easy. I can’t walk by the cookie container without slicing off a couple of bites.
Think of buttery, chewy blondies with dates and walnuts, dusted in confectioners sugar…yum!
Second, I have to tell you how we were cracking up at my mother-in-law’s yellowed, handwritten recipe for “Chinice Shews.” Nanna, who is from Italy, had done her best in about 1970 to write down the recipe in English as it was told to her by a lady she knew.
My brother-in-law texted me a photo and called to read the recipe in a heavy Italian accent, as my mother-in-law howled with laughter in the background. Priceless!
Interestingly, Nanna’s date-nut bars include melted butter, while the 1917 version contained no butter or shortening. Another thing I noticed, which I thought was odd — there’s no baking powder or baking soda in my mother-in-law’s recipe.
I don’t know if that was intentional, but it works. (I was determined to make the bars as written and not futz with a legend!)
My only changes were to increase the baking time, since mine needed it, and to recommend lining the pan with parchment paper folded over the edges, to make for easy removal and cleanup. I also included some ways to make the preparation easier.
(Recipe Source: Barely adapted from my mother-in-law, who got the recipe in perhaps 1970 from a lady who passed away many years ago. The original Chinese Chews recipe was published in the June 1917 issue of Good Housekeeping.)
Nanna's Chinese Chews
- 8.5 ounces pitted dates (chopped)
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 8 Tablespoons salted butter (melted)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- confectioners sugar for dusting
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare an 8x8 pan by lining it with parchment paper and folding it over the edges of the pan to make for easy removal and cleanup. (If you don't have parchment paper, use foil and grease it well.)
- Chop your dates in a food processor or blender. (They are really sticky to chop by hand.) If starting with walnut halves, chop them until you have one cup.
- In a glass bowl or other microwave-safe bowl, melt your butter in the microwave, covering it with wax paper to prevent splashing. Stir in the sugar.
- Add the eggs and vanilla to your bowl and mix with a spoon until blended. Add the flour and salt and stir. Stir in the dates and nuts until blended.
- Pour the batter into your baking pan and use a spatula to even it out. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden. A toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center should come out clean.
- Let the pan cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Then lift out the Chinese Chews by grasping the parchment paper and transferring everything to a cutting board. Cut into squares (I did 16 large ones, but smaller squares work well, since they are rich tasting.)
- If you're not planning to freeze them, dust with confectioner's sugar. Transfer the bars to a rack to finish cooling. They taste best when completely cooled. Store at room temperature in an airtight container. You can freeze them without the confectioner's sugar and add the sugar when they are thawed.