Coconut Date Balls

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Coconut date balls are a holiday favorite in our family. My grandmother’s recipe is simple to make, on the stove top with no baking, and the dates impart a luscious caramel flavor. And a bonus: they’re gluten-free!

coconut date balls on parchment paper
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Are Coconut Date Balls a cookie? Or a candy? How about simply: a treat. An incredibly good treat that comes down to us from my grandmother, Alice Abowd (wife of Richard, confectioner), who had an extraordinary sweet tooth. I don’t know how long Rice Krispie treats have been in circulation, but I have to believe that these are a precursor to them. Made not with marshmallows but instead a heavenly caramel-like base of dates, butter and sugar. Together with the texture of crisp rice cereal, I can’t help but call these chewy-crisp sensations a grown-up Rice Krispie treat!

Why I love this recipe

The main reason I love this recipe is how to prepare it: on the stovetop, no baking required. The cookies come together as quickly as a batch of Rice Krispie Treats–other than the shaping. Forming little balls takes a minute, but what a fun minute it is. They hold their shape readily when the mixture is still very warm. Roll the balls in coconut, and that is all! 

Back in the day, at Christmas my mother would roll the little balls in red sugar, shape them like a strawberry, and even place a plastic green stem in the top. Why a strawberry for Christmas, I have no idea! Midwest mid-winter dreaming of fancy fruit? Must be what her mom did because the recipe reads, “Strawberry Cookie.” Then she shifted to rolling the balls in coconut, as evidenced by her revisions in a different colored-ink. I never really knew these sweets had dates in them, or even Rice Krispies, when I ate them with total abandon as a child.

If a date cookie, or date treat of any kind, sends your hand to another corner of the cookie plate, all I can say is: trust—if not me, then the formidable sweet-maker my Grandma Abowd was—and delectable will be yours.

Ingredients

This is a basic recipe with ust a few simple ingredients that make these a holiday sweet treat.

Medjool Dates. Buy pitted dates to make the chopping process even faster. Medjools are very soft and sticky, which helps them break down easily as they cook.

Butter. Go with it, these are holiday cookies after all!

Sugar. The old fashioned recipe calls for granulated sugar.

An Egg. Just one, lightly beaten.

Crisp Rice Cereal. Just two cups; use any brand of Rice Krispies.

Nuts. Toast and chop walnuts or pecans. These are optional (I leave them out!).

Shredded Coconut. Desiccated coconut, which is shredded unsweetened coconut, is the best for coconut date balls because it sticks to the balls more uniformly. This coconut looks and tastes wonderful. Coconut flakes are too large for these little balls.

Coconut bowl with date balls for rolling

How to make Date Balls

Step 1. Pit and chop the dates. Do this by hand with a sharp chef’s knife or in the food processor, where you will need to scrape down the bowl a few times as the dates puree.

Step 2. Melt the sugar and butter over low heat. Low heat is important here to prevent the egg from scrambling.

Step 3. Add the egg and stirring constantly, increase the heat to medium low. 

Step 4. Add the dates and cook until they break down and a thick, caramel-like sauce forms. Use the back of a wooden spoon to break down the dates against the side of the pan as you stir.

Step 5. Remove from heat and add the crisp rice cereal, and nuts if using, to the date mixture. Stir until to coat completely. 

Step 6. Shape the bite-sized balls. When the mixture is just cool enough to handle, but still very warm, shape heaping teaspoons of the mixture into cohesive balls between the palms of your hands. 

Step 7. Roll in coconut in a shallow bowl and place them on parchment paper lining a baking sheet.

Coconut date balls on parchment paper

How to store them

Store date balls in an airtight container or a zip-top plastic bag the same day you make them. The balls won’t lose their shape or stick together, so no wax paper between layers is necessary. 

Date balls don’t freeze well. The Rice Krispies soften. 

Date balls do travel well though! They won’t break in a box of treats when shipped!

Substitutions and Tips

Here are some fun ways to change up my coconut date balls recipe:

  1. Make the coconut date balls nut-free by omitting the nut option.
  2. Give them more nutty flavor by adding a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter or almond butter with the dates.
  3. You can substitute the coconut with toasted sesame seeds or chia seeds.
  4. For extra flavor, add ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.
  5. For warm spice flavor, add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom.
  6. ​Substitute the butter with coconut oil in equal amounts.
  7. Make chocolate date balls by adding 1/4 cup cocoa powder with the egg. Chocolate coconut date balls are a natural combo! Avoid adding chocolate chips to make chocolate coconut balls, because the texture will be too hard for the chewy texture of these.
  8. Use toasted coconut for deeper, toasty coconut flavor.
  9. Make coconut date rolls but shaping the date mixture in a log rather than the sweet balls, before rolling in coconut.
Coconut date balls on a parchment lined sheet pan

Frequently asked questions

Are dates rolled in coconut good for you?

Many styles of coconut date balls are healthy energy bites. This old-fashioned recipe is more of a treat that includes butter and sugar.

Should you soak dates before blending?

Soft medjool dates need no soaking before blending. If using a blender, the dates may need to be loosened around the blades with a spatula and a little water added to get them moving.

What are Bliss Balls or Energy Balls?

Bliss balls, sometimes referred to as energy balls, protein balls, bliss bites or power balls, are a combination of dry and sticky ingredients such as dates, nuts, coconut, dried fruits and seeds. 

How do you grind dates without water?

Simply select soft, fresh Medjool dates and they will grind easily. Finely chop the dates before grinding to help get them there.

How do you blend dates in a food processor?

Chop pitted, soft Medjool dates, then add them to the food processor. If using a standard (7- cup or larger) processor, use at least 2 cups of chopped dates so they don’t get caught under the blade.

Are dates rolled in coconut good for you?

Many recipes for coconut date balls are healthy energy bites filled with fiber and protein. My recipe is more of a rich holiday treat!

Are dates as healthy as figs?

Dates and figs have a similar nutritional profile. Figs have more calcium, but dates are lower in fat (though higher in sugar). Dates are sticky; figs are crunchy with many tiny seeds in the flesh.

What types of dates are most nutritious?

Medjool dates are considered the healthiest of the date varieties.

Do dates need to be refrigerated?

Dates are best in an air-tight container at room temperature. Depending on the variety, they need not be refrigerated, but they can be and will last up to 6 months. Frozen dates will stay nice for up to a year. 

Where can I buy dates?

Fresh dates are available in the produce section of the grocery store. The type of dates in the grocery are typically Medjools.

coconut date balls on parchment paper
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5 from 2 votes

Coconut Date Balls

These special little sweets are simple to make, on the stove top with no baking, and the dates impart a luscious caramel flavor. And the bonus: they are deliciously gluten-free. We devour them at the holidays! Take care to cook the egg gently, over low heat, with the sugar and butter. Makes about three dozen one-inch bite-size balls.
Prep: 3 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Servings: 3 dozen

Ingredients 

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup pitted Medjool dates, chopped
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies or any crisp rice cereal
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup unsweetened (desiccated) coconut
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Instructions 

  • Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • In a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the butter with the sugar. Add the egg and combine, stirring until warmed through, about a minute. 
  • Add the dates and increase the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick, 5-7 minutes. 
  • Remove from heat and add the rice cereal and nuts, if using. Stir until the cereal is completely coated. 
  • When the mixture is cool enough to handle but still very warm, shape heaping teaspoons of the mixture into cohesive balls, about 1-inch in size, between the palms of your hands.
  • Place the coconut in a small bowl or dish. Roll the balls immediately in coconut.
  • Cool, then store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Notes

Here are some fun ways to change up my coconut date balls recipe:
  1. Make the coconut date balls nut-free by omitting the nut option.
  2. Give them more nutty flavor by adding a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter or almond butter when the egg is added.
  3. You can substitute the coconut with toasted sesame seeds or chia seeds.
  4. For extra flavor, add ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.
  5. For warm spice flavor, add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or cardamom.
  6. ​Substitute the butter with coconut oil in equal amounts.
  7. Make chocolate date balls by adding 1/4 cup cocoa powder when the egg is added to the recipe. Chocolate coconut date balls are a natural combo! Avoid adding chocolate chips to make chocolate coconut balls, because the texture will be too hard for the chewy texture of these.
  8. Use toasted coconut for deeper, toasty coconut flavor.
  9. Make coconut date rolls but shaping the date mixture in a log rather than the sweet balls, before rolling in coconut.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Maureen Abood
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 3 dozen
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21 Comments

  1. Georgie Worley says:

    Could you omit the sugar?

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Interesting idea. I’m not sure how the batter would perform without the sugar but I suspect the flavor would still be great!

  2. BJ Saloom says:

    Very fortunate to have learned several recipes from my Lebanese mother-in-law (aka Sito) and this one is a favorite. Her recipe did not call for an egg and she used pecans. This will be the perfect time of year to make a batch and try out your version! I always look forward to your posts. Merry Christmas!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      We just made a batch yesterday…oh my gosh these are such a treat. I bet delicious with pecans!

  3. Mary says:

    Strictly Southern girl here but this has long been a favorite Christmas cookie in my family and has always been one cookie that little hands were allowed to help make by rolling into balls. Our only difference was that Mamma’s recipe stirred the coconut into the date mixture with the Rice Krispies and then the balls were rolled in confectioner’s sugar.
    Love all your recipes. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Oh I love that Mary, thank you! I bet the coconut in the cookie is fabulous.

  4. Linda Cantrell says:

    Hi Maureen, Can these Date Crisp Balls be frozen? I am Lebanese and love your website!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Hmmm, I wonder if the crisp rice would survive the freeze. The rest, the dates and etc, would be fine but I worry about texture. Worth a test to see! Thank you for your kind words and for being here!

  5. shaheen says:

    maureen,
    your recipes are wonderful. it’s such a pleasure to watch you prepare them. and the photography is an inspiration in itself.
    as an a side, i’d love to see the rest of your home as your kitchen is perfect. (maybe a video tour?!)

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Well thank you so much! That’s an intriguing idea…..

  6. Donna Myers says:

    I found the Skillet Strawberry Cookie recipe in the Woman’s Day magazine in about 1962. It has been a most requested recipe when I serve a plate of cookies and the “strawberries” are on the plate.!

  7. Peter MacNeil says:

    Love your site. Learned to love Middle Eastern treats living in Toronto. Thank-you for having this great site; I can cook all my delights.

    Have you made any recipes using authentic Jasmine Hydrosol?

    Sumac will have a commercial breakthrough………………

  8. Karen says:

    I used to make these with my mom and sisters when I was young! She called them “Fancy Strawberries”. She had the little plastic stems, wherever she got them I don’t know, but we would store them in a baggie and use them over every Christmas. Since my sisters and I will be together this Christmas for the first time in years, I thought I would surprise them with these. My mom passed away years ago and I could not find her old recipe. On a whim I googled “chewy nut balls shaped like strawberries rolled in red sugar” and here it was. Thank you so much for posting this. I am thrilled to have found it! They are yummy!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      I’ve never met anyone else who knew about these as strawberry cookies! How delightful! Thank you for sharing, Karen, and Merry Christmas!

  9. Katie Nuck says:

    Please add my mom to your blog list! …….Martha shaker

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Done! Thank you! xxx

  10. Jerry Wakeen says:

    Yes, nice handwriting that, to me, shows confidence and style.
    I remember well our nuns teaching penmanship…..how to hold the writing instrument and how to move your whole arm when writing such that your wrist looks like a turtle’s neck going in and out of its shell (or shirt sleeve).

    I also observed that you females always did a lot better than us males. To this day that is true of my poor handwriting, so I often print. And to this day I always notice when someone holds the writing instrument in a way other than the way we were taught. Some times in addition to holding it differently I see them wrapping their arm around such that they are wort of writing upside down. I suppose that is OK too but I always notice the difference.

    Yes the date nut rolls do look like candy and we are getting a bit closer to fudge. 🙂

  11. Peggy Fox says:

    Not to eclipse the delicious recipe, this handwriting is known as the Palmer Method and was taught in most schools in the 20th century until the 70’s or so. It then became popular to teach or encourage a more free-form of penmanship.
    Can’t wait to try the recipe, thank you!

  12. Vicky Woeste says:

    Grandma’s handwriting and my mom’s really resemble each other!

  13. Sofia Perez says:

    Your mom has beautiful penmanship — a lost art these days.

    1. Adele Miller says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing — penmanship used to be a separate grade on everyone’s report card. It looks remarkably like my mother’s handwriting also, as if the recipe had been pulled from her beloved, beat-up metal recipe box.