I'm pretty new to dates. As a child I got it into my head that they were gross. They looked sticky, wrinkly, and unappetizing. I heard people dismiss them as overly-sweet and tasteless, so I avoided them.
Somehow, without much effort, i've grown to love dates (prunes too). Rather than remake Banana Date Muffins or Date Cake with Toffee Sauce, I decided to try a simple recipe for date and nut bread from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, & More. It's simple, hearty, and satisfying. I put some in the freezer for the coming week.I've posted the recipe as it appears in the book. I rarely follow recipes to the letter- I halved the ingredients and made one loaf that only took 50 minutes to bake. I skipped the buttered parchment and just lined the loaf pan with foil. Keep an eye on your oven, and don't assume the loaf is done just because it looks very brown on top.
Grandma Jennie's Date and Nut Bread
adapted from Carole Walter's Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, & More
1 pound pitted dates, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp baking soda
3 cups sifted all purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 tsp grated navel orange zest
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (lightly packed) very fresh dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups walnuts, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1. Position the rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven to 350F. Generously butter four 19oz tin cans using a pastry brush, line the bottoms with parchment circles, then butter the parchment. Or generously butter two 8.5x4.5x2.75 inch loaf pans, line the bottoms with parchment, then butter the parchment.
2. Place the dates in a 2 quart bowl. Stir in the boiling water and the baking soda. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, salt, and allspice. Set aside.
4. Cut the butter into 1 inch pieces and place in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the orange zest and mix on medium speed until lightened in color, 1.5-2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, taking about 2 minutes, then add the brown sugar, taking another two minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, and mix for 1 minute longer.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for 1 minute after each addition, then blend in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
6. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture alternately with the date mixture, dividing the flour into four parts and the dates into three parts, beginning and ending with the flour. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and using an oversized spatula, fold in the walnuts.
7. If baking in tin cans, fill each can with 1.5 cups of batter. Tap the cans firmly on the counter to level the batter. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Alternatively, divide the batter between the prepared loaf pans and bake for 60-65 minutes. The bread is done when it is firm to the touch, the sides begin to release, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Remove from the oven and let cool on racks for about 20 minutes. Invert each bread onto a rack and gently lift off the cans or pans and the parchment. When the breads are cool enough to handle, carefully turn them right side up. Store at room temperature, tightly covered with plastic wrap, for up to 5 days, or refrigerate for up to 10 days. These breads may be frozen.