The Secret to Healthy Desserts: 6 Recipes That Get Down With Dates
Are you interested in unlocking the secret to healthy desserts? The answer doesn’t even require much digging. Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, and are often used as an ingredient in desserts and other recipes, naturally sweetening dishes and offering several nutritional benefits. The fruit has certainly been around for a while now, but it has been gaining in popularity within the past year, and now more health conscious consumers are catching on to the fact that dates can easily be enlisted in cooking and baking to sweeten dishes, sometimes even taking the place of sugar or other artificial sweeteners.
The health benefits of dates are far-reaching, but one of the best things about the natural fruit is that although it is high in sugar, studies have shown that dates are actually a low-glycemic index food and do not significantly raise blood sugar levels after they are eaten. Dates are also loaded with fiber, have been shown to lower triglyceride levels, and deliver vitamins and minerals that are necessary to maintain optimum health.
Now, you really have no reason not to get down with this naturally sweet fruit, and dessert is arguably one of the best ways to give dates a try. Here are six healthy dessert recipes using dates that give traditional desserts a run for their money. Why use added sugar when you can just use dates?
1. 5 Ingredient No-Bake Vegan Date Squares
First up, a no-fuss easy vegan dessert recipe from Oh She Glows. As the name of this recipe suggests, these date squares require only five ingredients, and they come together in under 30 minutes with no time in the oven. The star ingredient in this dessert is of course the date (surprise!), but there are also a lot of other elements that make up the dessert that give it its impressive nutritional profile. Loaded with whole raw almonds, regular oats, and coconut oil, these date squares reflect a dessert that any health eater can get down with. Cheers to natural sugars!
- 1½ cups whole raw almonds
- 1½ cups regular oats
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 10 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- 25 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- ½ cup water
Directions: Line a square pan (8 by 8-inch) with two pieces of parchment paper going opposite ways. In a food processor, process the almond, salt, and oats until a fine crumble forms. Now add in the dates and process until crumbly again. Melt the coconut oil and add to the mixture and process until sticky. You can add a tiny bit more oil if the dough is too dry. Remove from processor, set aside ¾ cup of the mixture for later and press the rest of the mixture very firmly and evenly into the pan.
Grab your pitted and roughly chopped dates and water and process in the food processor until a paste forms. You will have to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl often. You can add a tiny bit more water if needed, but you want the paste quite thick. Scoop out the date mixture onto the crust and gently spread with the back of a wet spatula until even.
Sprinkle on the ¾ cup of mixture you set aside and gently press down with fingers. Refrigerate in the fridge until firm for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Cut into squares and serve. Store in the fridge or freezer.
2. Vegan Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles
Next up, another vegan dessert that has no added sugar and no baking time, a trend that you’ll see continue throughout our highlighted recipes. Instead of five ingredients as was the case with the aforementioned date squares, this recipe for Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles from the Minimalist Baker has just six ingredients, and they all (save for the pretzel) come with their respective health benefits. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, hello!
Once again, all you need for this dessert is a good food processor and some patience, as you might want to taste test your truffles as soon as you make them, but you’ll have to wait until they freeze!
- ½ cup pitted medjool or deglet nour dates, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes then drained
- ½ cup salted natural peanut butter
- ¾ cup raw almonds or roasted peanuts
- ½ cup mini pretzels, broken/packed (plus more for topping)
- 1¼ cup chopped dairy-free dark or semisweet chocolate
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil (optional)
Directions: Place peanuts and/or almonds in the food processor and process until you reach the consistency of a meal. Then add in pretzels and process until only small bits remain. Remove mixture from bowl and aside. Next, place soaked dates in the food processor and process until small bits remain and/or it forms into a ball. Next, add the peanut butter and mix until well combined. Then add in the pretzel nut mixture a little at a time and mix until a dough is formed. You shouldn’t need to use it all. Once you have a dough that’s easy to form into balls, scoop out 1 tablespoon amounts and roll/carefully form into balls. Set on parchment paper and place in freezer to chill.
Next, melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 30 second increments. Once melted, stir in coconut oil to help the chocolate thin and become easier to dip the truffles. Remove truffles from freezer and, one at a time, dip them into the melted chocolate. Use a fork to remove them and tap away excess chocolate. Transfer back onto parchment paper and top with pretzel pieces or additional crushed pretzels. You will likely have leftover chocolate, which I recommend using to either double dip the truffles or dip pretzels in. Repeat until all truffles are dipped. Place back in the freezer or fridge to set. Store leftovers in an airtight container or bag at room temperature. Transfer to freezer for longer term storage.
3. Peanut Butter Date Special K Bars
Up at our No. 3 spot is the recipe for Peanut Butter Date Special K Bars from Half Baked Harvest. Have you caught on to the fact that peanut butter and dates go well together yet? This dessert enlists one of our favorite cereals and takes it to a whole new level, while also combining peanut butter, dates, almond milk, and vanilla extract to give us the sweet and salty flavor that we’re sure you’ll soon love to love. Give this dessert to a date non-believer and you’ll have a convert in no time. Or better yet, feed your guests, and keep the no-sugar secret to yourself.
- 1 cup packed medjool dates, pitted + chopped
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 2-3 tablespoons almond milk, coconut milk, or regular milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4-5 cups corn flakes (use gluten free corn flakes for a gluten free bar)
- 10-12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
Directions: Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray or line with parchment paper. Set aside. Add the dates and salt to the bowl of a food processor and process until they form a thick paste. Add the peanut butter and 2 tablespoons milk, process until smooth and creamy. Scoop the mixture out and into a microwave safe bowl, microwave 30 seconds, stir and microwave another 30 seconds. Continue until the mixture is warm and melty. This took me one minute. Stir in the vanilla. If the mixture seems too stiff add one more tablespoon milk, but no more. If you add too much milk the cereal will become soggy.
Add the cereal to a large bowl. Slowly mix in the peanut butter mixture until throughly combined. Press the cereal into the prepared baking dish in an even layer. Microwave the chocolate on 30 second intervals, stirring after each, until melted. This took me about 1½ minutes. Spoon the melted chocolate over the bars in an even layer. Cover the pan and place them in the fridge for 1½ -2 hours or until firm. You may also put them in the freezer for 30 minutes, but I find the fridge works best. Remove the bars 10 minutes prior to serving, cut, and store in the fridge.
4. One Nutty Date
Next up, cookies! Since dates can be the star ingredient in baked goods, too. This recipe for One Nutty Date is featured on Eating Well, and although it is more time consuming than the aforementioned recipes and requires some added sweetener in the form of brown sugar, the judges over at Eating Well still deem the dessert relatively healthy thanks to the health benefits dates provide, along with the healthy fats that come along with the peanut butter and walnuts found in the recipe. These cookies prove that dates can provide the necessary sweetness in just about anything, and this recipe makes three dozen cookies, with each individual treat coming in at only 114 calories, according to Eating Well.
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup smooth natural peanut butter
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces pitted dates, chopped
- ⅓ cup walnuts, chopped
- 8 ounces white (or dark) chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat brown sugar, butter, peanut butter and cinnamon in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well mixed. Add egg and vanilla; continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; beat until well mixed, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Stir in dates and walnuts. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour before baking.
Use a small scoop (1⅜-inch to 1½-inch) and drop balls of dough 2 inches apart onto an ungreased baking sheet. Gently press each ball to flatten slightly. Bake the cookies until the edges are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. To decorate, place white chocolate and oil in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium, stirring every 30 seconds, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. To drizzle, dip a fork in the chocolate then wave it over a cookie to create a lacy finish. Let the chocolate set for at least one hour. Alternatively, dip the top side of the cooled cookies in melted white or dark chocolate and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
5. Date, Rum, and Pecan Ice Cream
Now that we’ve got baked goods covered, what about some date-flavored frozen goods? That’s where this recipe for Date, Rum, and Pecan Ice Cream from Brown Eyed Baker comes in. Sure, this dessert is more decadent than the others we have covered on this list, but we still thought it deserved a shout out because this ice cream’s maple flavor paired with the rum and dates yields a taste explosion in one’s mouth, and we’re pretty sure you’ll make a healthy exception for this delicacy. Unfortunately, this recipe does require an ice cream maker, which makes it a no-can-do for many bakers; however, if this dessert isn’t reason enough to finally invest in one of those appliances, we don’t know what is.
- 12 dates (4 ounces), pitted
- ¼ cup dark rum
- 1 cup whole milk
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- large pinch of salt
- 1¼ cups heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 cup maple-glazed pecans
Maple Glazed Pecans
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- 1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
- Big pinch of salt
Directions: To prepare the dates, chop them into ½-inch pieces. Combine the date pieces with the rum in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir. Cover and let macerate at room temperature for at least 4 hours (this can be done up to 1 day ahead.)
To make the ice cream, warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Mix int he vanilla and rum, then stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.
Heat the maple syrup in a small skillet or saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil. Stir in the pecans, then cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once again. Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove them from the heat and let cool completely. The nuts will still be wet and sticky when cooled. Chop maple-glazed pecans coarsely.
Freeze the custard mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the wet pecans and date pieces.
6. Fudge Babies
We’re concluding our list with one more five-ingredient no-bake recipe, just to tie up the overlying theme of this date-studded post. Although the fruit holds its own in baked desserts (see No. 4) and frozen goods (see No. 5), it really shines in the no-bake department, and the fruit’s fudgy texture has a lot to do with that. Speaking of fudgy texture, we come to Fudge Babies for our last highlighted dessert, and this recipe comes straight from Elana’s Pantry. With an ingredient list made up only of dates, cacao powder, walnuts, vanilla extract, and sea salt, this dessert really can do no wrong, and what’s more, it comes together in no time. Pull out your food processor once more for recipe No. 6, and give all five of these ingredients a spin. Roll your mixture in little balls and get ready for a lip-smacking fudgy treat. This dessert is sweetened solely from those fruits found on the date palm tree.
- ½ cup Medjool dates, pits removed
- 1 cup walnuts
- 3 tablespoons cacao powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt
Directions: Place dates, walnuts, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt in a food processor. Pulse on high speed until smooth. Remove mixture from food processor and roll into little balls. Serve.