I don’t bake often, but every now and then, I just feel the need. For me, it’s not about the eating (which is probably why I don’t do it more often), but rather it’s about going through the process of baking. Like a mini-project with an end result. Something my favorite Schwabe and his kids thank me for. I’m pretty sure they wish I did it more often. If it’s not them eating my baking, then you will find me giving it away to whoever I can. As a good measure of course, only to save my dearest Schwabe from himself. Yes, otherwise he might just find himself indulging a little too copiously to his regret. But certainly, I’m not cruel enough to expose him to the scent of baking sweets only to wave them under his nose and steal them away. I do of course, leave a slice or two behind.
Chinese Chews have been a Christmas favorite in our family for decades. This simple recipe has been passed onto me, by my Aunt Heather, whose Aunt Ilse passed it onto her, which may or may not been passed onto her by an Aunt too. But since that’s not for sure, then credit can be given to my great aunt Ilse for this well-loved Chinese Chews recipe.
What exactly are Chinese Chews?
I guess you could say they are simply date and walnut squares with powdered sugar. And why are they called Chinese Chews? I did a little digging and it turns out no one really knows for sure why they landed with such a funny name. Apparently, the very first recipe for them appeared in a 1917 issue of Good Housekeeping. There is nothing Chinese about them, but they are chewy. And they are undeniably a dessert and not a healthy snack bar. Though, I did reduce the sugar by half, so maybe they are just a little bit closer to being something we can consider “energy-giving”.
There are many variations to the original recipe, but instead of adding a little Elle-factor, I pretty much stuck to my family’s traditional recipe – one that has been handwritten on recipe cards and has remained with us through all the years and withstood the test of time. Every Christmas you can find this classic cookie being made by pretty much everyone in my family, along with Heather’s ever so treasured sugar cookies (and yes, I did manage to get her favorite, tried and tested, for over 25 years recipe – so stay tuned for that).
So here they are. From my family to yours. Classic Chinese Chews. Sweet, chewy, nutty. You’re welcome.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (90 g)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1/2 cup superfine (caster) granulated sugar (100 g)
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped (120 g pitted, about 12-14 small dates)
1 cup chopped walnuts (100 g)
icing sugar, for sprinkling
NOTE: Ilse’s original recipe called for 1 cup of sugar, which when tested on zee Germans was much too sweet. I adapted it the second time and they absolutely loved it!
1. Preheat oven to 300°F / 150°C. Grease a 20 x 30 cm pan (8 x 12-inch) and dust with a little flour. Flouring the greased pan helps the squares from sticking and makes it easier to remove them after baking. You can also line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to make things easier.
TIP: for thicker squares, use a 20 x 20 cm pan and bake 5 minutes longer.
2. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until mixed, then using a sifter or fine mesh sieve, sift the mixture into a medium-sized mixing bowl.
3. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with an electric beater until foamy, about 1 minute.
4. Add the dates, walnuts and egg to the mixing bowl with the flour. Stir until well combined (you can expect the batter to be very wet and sticky). Pour into the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly (about 5-10 minutes), then cut into small squares and roll or sprinkle with icing sugar while still warm.
PS) These also freeze well.