In the mid-80s, the Heathcote Deli, on Palmer Avenue, had these roundish, plastic-wrapped loaves of date nut bread. We'd suffocate thick slices under blankets of cream cheese and down one after another. God, I loved that date nut bread. I loved it almost as much as I loved Camp Romaca, and Judy Blume.
Last month, with no warning whatsoever, psychedelic visions of date nut bread began tripping in my brain, and I became singularly obsessed with recreating this particular food of my youth. I bought multiple cartons of overpriced Medjool dates, pried out the pits, and stuffed the cavities with nubbins of cream cheese, little bites to calm my nerves as I searched for a worthy quick bread recipe.
You know those movies where a child has been kidnapped and the mom runs around all wild, hair flying, as she tries to locate her offspring? That has been me, seeking a recipe for my missing, long-lost breadchild.
"Have YOU seen a date nut bread recipe?" (eyes darting, shirt misbuttoned) "If you do, call this number."
I screamed on Twitter. "WHO HAS A DATE NUT BREAD RECIPE?" Silence.
Clearly, the task of recreating this recipe would fall on me. We all have a destiny, a calling, and it seems I'd found mine.
Two days later, I removed my destiny from the loaf pan, glopped it with cream cheese, and downed two nutty slices in succession.
Bite me, destiny.
Recipe for Date Nut Bread
My mother-in-law makes fantastically delicious date nut cakes every Christmas, and I'll never admit how many we go through in a single week. But this date nut bread recipe is different, and it harkens back to my pre-mother-in-law youth. If you do not smother it with cream cheese, don't talk to me.
8 ounces moist, sticky dates (either Medjool or deglet noor), pitted and chopped
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup nut meal of your choice (I used almond meal, but you can finely grind walnuts if you like)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each cardamom and ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup walnuts, rough-chopped or left big, toasted if desired
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9x5-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
Place dates in a small bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup and pour the boiling water on top. Push down the dates to submerge. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside to soften for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the dry ingredients (whole wheat pastry flour through salt) together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the eggs, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla.
When dates are ready, pour off the water into a small bowl and reserve the liquid. Transfer dates to a small food processor, add back 3 tablespoons of the date soaking water (discard the rest), and puree until thick, uniform, and sticky. You should have one cup of date paste. Transfer paste to the egg mixture and whisk well to combine.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir well with a rubber spatula, sweeping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that all flour particles are absorbed. Do not overmix. Fold in the walnuts.
Scrape batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the center of the oven for 55 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. When loaf has fully cooled, slice, and slather with cream cheese. (To store, wrap the cooled loaf tightly with foil. The flavor and texture actually improve with age.)