Date Nut Bread – A Forgotten Family Favorite

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For an updated version of this hearty, wholesome Date Nut Bread recipe – including a handy printable version – please Click Here or on the image below to view the recipe at my new website, The Wild Olive.

My Grandma Hayes' Date Nut Bread...with one or two tweaks of my own

After a very stressful week and a half of helping an older friend from my church radically downsize her life and move into a Seniors’ community, I needed a little refreshing for my soul.  And for me, that means heading into the kitchen.  Maybe it was spending all that time sorting through someone’s lifetime accumulation of things, but I was feeling nostalgic.  I reached for a recipe I haven’t made in ages and ages, a recipe I remember my mum and sisters making when I was little – Grandma Hayes’ Date Nut Bread.  My mum always made it as a large loaf, and I remember it being very chewy and sweet from the dates, and, well, pretty dense.

Scanning over the ingredients I noticed a similarity in “format” to many of the recipes I’ve been making lately from the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book.  I’m sure my grandma’s recipe came from the same time period as that cookbook – the rationing days of WWII.  Many of the baked goods in that cookbook have (compared to our diabetes-fueling modern recipes) much smaller amounts of fat and sugar – two items that were rationed during the war.  I realized why I remembered that bread as being a little dense:  the instructions called for using a mixer (a bit of a gluten-forming no-no in quick bread making) and not enough fat.  I gently mixed the batter by hand, using my trusty Danish dough whisk, increased the amount of fat by 50% (to a whopping 3 Tbsp!!!), and added a bit of salt (the recipe didn’t call for any – huh?).  I also decided to make mini loaves instead of a larger loaf (easier to serve and freeze a few portions).  Plus, I have this really cute pan and I don’t like having things in my home that I don’t use:

date nut dough

I recently bought a ton of new baking pans from USA Pans, and mmmmmm….I love them!  This is their mini loaf pan.  It uses the same amount of batter you would use to make 12 muffins, and turns out perfectly baked little loaves every time.  So, how did my tweaked mini loaves turn out?  No longer dense and chewy, my changes produced loaves that were soft and tender, and happily not even remotely as sweet and greasy as many modern quick breads.  Total yum.  Okay, on to the recipe!

  • 1 cup chopped dates (buy whole dates and chop them yourself – they will be fresher and more tender)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp butter or margarine, melted
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare (spritz w/ baking spray or line with muffin papers) the pan of your choice:  a 9 x 5 loaf pan -or- a regular muffin pan -or- an 8 well mini loaf pan.  To easily chop the dates, spray your knife first with cooking spray.  In a small bowl, sprinkle baking soda over chopped dates and pour boiling water over.  Stir and allow to cool.  In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.  In a mixing bowl combine melted butter and sugars (use a spatula or a Danish whisk to avoid overbeating the batter and developing gluten when you add the flour).  Add the egg and vanilla and mix till thoroughly combined.  Add half the date/water mixture and combine; add half the flour mixture and gently stir.  Repeat with remaining date/water and flour mixtures, adding the chopped walnuts with the last addition of flour.  Gently stir the batter till it is just combined – no lumps, but don’t beat it to death!  Spoon into your pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (or to a temp of 205): ~45 minutes for a loaf; 18-20 minutes for the mini loaves or 15-18 minutes for muffins.  Allow the loaf to cool 5-10 minutes in the pan before gently turning it out on a wire rack to cool – muffins and mini loaves can be gently removed from their pans immediately.  Enjoy with a cold glass of milk or a hot cup of coffee or tea!

date nut baked 1

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