Before eating primarily vegan, I had never even touched a date in my life. They always seemed like these weird, gross, dried up things that my grandparents might have lurking in the back of their kitchen cupboards (they don’t by the way, my grandparents are pretty awesome). After I started the transition into vegan baking, I primarily started with substituting pureed bananas in for eggs or butter. Almost every article on vegan baking pointed to the banana as a suitable substitute, but I wasn’t quite buying it. Depending on the recipe, the hint of banana was left behind and if I want a chocolate chip cookie, I want a straight up cookie. Not something that tastes like it’s been stored with over-ripe bananas for a few days.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of using a ton of plant based butter substitute. Things like Earth Balance and coconut oil definitely have their time and place in sweet and savory treats alike, but I wanted to find a way around buying a large bucket of oil-based vegan butter that was more plant-based. In part, this was inspired by my dad, who is fully committed to eating a plant-based, no oil diet (diet isn’t really a word I love for this, but you know what I mean, a way of eating!). I wanted to be able to share the vegan sweets I baked while he didn’t have to pass on. After talking it over with my dad and looking into suitable sub-ins for butter, he came upon date paste. Hooray! Now, how do we go about making/buying this magical plant-based stuff?
The first option is to buy date paste (in this case, prune paste) pre-made. While this can be hard to find, the convenience factor makes it worth extra effort. I haven’t been able to find this or an equal substitute at anywhere like Whole Foods or any other health stores yet, but am always on the lookout. The basic rule of thumb is that the Lighter Bake is substituted in for half the amount of butter that is called for in the recipe. No, I won’t lie to you and say that the results are just like that of using butter, but, I never seem to get complaints when I bake with it in the right recipes.
The second option fur substituting in dates is to make your own paste. This can either be done each time you need a batch of date paste or in bulk and stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks. By soaking dates in water and giving them a whirl in a food processor with a bit of water, the result is a thick, but a great substitute for butter in some recipes. This tutorial from The Chalkboard Mag gives a pretty good step by step of how to make the best paste and ensure great results. I love making a batch and having it around, rather than waiting for the dates to soak each time.
Now, all of that being said, I want to bring up the point that not all recipes are cut out to have date paste used as a sub-in for butter. I’ve found that the best recipes to use date paste/Lighter Bake in are the ones that have other flavors going on rather than the buttery component. For example, my No-Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies are a great way to use date paste instead of butter, because a number of chocolate chips still gives the cookies a good amount of flavor and sweetness, while still needing the paste as a binder. On the other hand, chocolate croissants or lemon bars aren’t going to do well with date paste in them. But that’s ok! Baking with dates has their time and place, and it isn’t in everything.
On the other hand, something that relies on a fat/buttery component needs something on the neutral flavored side to hold up as the main flavor profile, like Sugar Cookies.
All that being said, give it a try! I know it seems weird at first, but it’s one of my favorite baking tricks now! I know this was exhaustive and detailed about little teeny dates, but what can I say, more dates paste=more chocolate chip cookies, so I’m down with it.
Here are more recipes using my beloved date paste:
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