You have to try my mother-in-law's Chinese Chews Recipe! These chewy, buttery, date-nut bars are based on a vintage recipe from 1917! You don't even need a mixer.
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.
Think of buttery, chewy blondies with dates and walnuts, dusted in confectioners sugar…yum!
Of course, this isn't a Chinese recipe. Some believe the name came from dates being considered an exotic ingredient.
My mother-in-law ("Nanna," pronounced "Nahn nah"), has made these for years, and my husband loves them. I just had to get her recipe to share with you.
It was a hilarious endeavor. Nanna, who is from Italy, had done her best in about 1970 to write down the recipe for "Chinice Shews" in English, as it was told to her by a friend.
My brother-in-law texted me a photo of the old, yellowed recipe and called to read it to me in a heavy Italian accent, while Nanna howled with laughter in the background.
Chinese chews ingredients
Interestingly, Nanna's date and nut bars include melted butter, while the 1917 version contained no butter or shortening.
And, there's no baking powder or baking soda in my mother-in-law's Chinese chews recipe. I don't know if that was intentional, but it works!
The dates are the stars of the show here. They add sweetness, chewiness and rich flavor.
But...they're super sticky to chop up, so here's my recommendation.
How to cut up dates
The best way to chop dates...is to forget chopping them. They'll stick to your knife, stop your food processor from running and form globs in your blender...Mamma Mia!
The solution is to use a pair of kitchen scissors (affiliate link) to cut the dates into small pieces. (In the photo below, you can see the dates on top that I cut cleanly, vs. the sticky blobs I had to pull apart from my blender.)
So, cut a pitted date in half the long way, then cut those pieces in half the long way again. Then, snip each strip into pieces. Done!
Making the batter
See the recipe card at the bottom for full instructions, but here is an overview with step-by-step photos.
- Melt butter in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave.
- Stir in the sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla. Stir again.
- Add the flour and salt. Stir to combine.
- Add chopped walnuts and cut-up dates and stir.
- Transfer the batter to a square pan lined with parchment paper.
Chews recipe tips
For easy removal and clean up, use enough parchment paper to hang over the edges of the pan. You can later use the paper as handles to lift the baked Chinese chews out of the pan. If you don't have parchment paper, you can use well-greased foil.
Slice the date-walnut bars before sprinkling on the powdered sugar, for neater results. You can slice them right on the parchment paper, with a cutting board underneath.
Frequently asked questions
You can make Chinese Chews in just under an hour!
You can double the recipe for a 9x13 pan. You may need to bake it for a few minutes longer. When the top is golden brown, insert a toothpick in the center to see if it comes out clean.
These Chinese Chews have stood the test of time for good reason. You have to add them to your baking repertoire!
More recipes like this
You might like my other cookie and bar recipes, this apple cake, sour cream pound cake and this white chocolate macadamia mug cookie. And don't miss my brownies!
Chinese Chews Recipe (Date-Nut Bars)
- 8.5 ounces pitted dates
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 8 Tablespoons salted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ 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.)
- Cut up the dates into small pieces with kitchen scissors. (They're really sticky to chop with a knife and don't do well in a food processor or blender.) It's best to cut a pitted date in half the long way, then cut those pieces in half the long way again. Then, snip each strip into pieces.
- 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 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. 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.
(Recipe Source: Barely adapted from my mother-in-law, who got the recipe around 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. This post was originally published on December 7, 2015 and is updated now with new photos and additional text.)
My friend has made these since she received the recipe in the 60’s. Her recipe is very similar, no salt (it is in the melted butter) and 1 teaspoon of baking powder. These are great and super easy to make.
Hi Samsy - It's fun to hear everyone's version of this recipe. It's a keeper for sure!
My Mother used to make this recipe for my Dad at Christams! He loved them. I have never tried her recipe, but now I will have to try in next Christmas. I will use your recipe as it has more details than hers did. Thank you for sharing and Merry Christmas!!
Hi Lucia - I'm glad you found this recipe here! You're welcome, and Merry Christmas!
I tried these today; only had about 2 oz. dates so I chopped up some raisins and an apple I had sitting around to get to the 8.5 oz called for. My hubby loved them! Moist and yummy! Thank you.
Hi Shari - I'm so happy to hear that! Thanks for letting me know.
These are my husband's favorite treat. My recipe has baking powder but no fat. It also has chopped maraschino cherries.
I think I'll try adding melted butter.
Hi Vickie - I love hearing about the variations people have for this vintage recipe! The butter makes these taste like blondies.
I was raised on these. My mother's recipe contains no fat, but does have baking powder.
Hi Szarinda - Oh, that's so interesting!
Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
1917-???? Really...Wow amazing recipe Andrea.
I know...an oldie but goodie! Thanks, Cheryl.
Denise @ Sweet Peas & Saffron
Ha ha! I love the old fashioned recipes with their politically-incorrect names 😉 These look too good!
They are really good, and I can see why they've been around so long. Thanks, Denise!
I am all about this recipe for “Chinice Shews.” I can imagine the fun of hearing your brother-in-law read the recipe card! These look delicious and I can't wait to try them.... Plus - there's something about a recipe that's been around since 1917. I love that!
I know what you mean! I was geeking out on the history of the recipe and how it changed over the years.