On a recent trip to New York City, my wife fell hard for date nut bread. She was somewhere in SoHo, bone-tired from a day of shopping, and in need of food, drink, and two cubic feet of the kind of personal space that only a sidewalk café can offer.
She ordered green tea. Coffee is her accustomed drink, but this was Manhattan and green tea seemed, um, exotic. And, on a lark, she ordered a slab of date nut bread.
You know those moments when your need and the feed are perfectly complementary? For Blair, this was one.
The bread was dark, dense, almost unctuously sweet. The smear of cream cheese across the top was soothing; it tamped down some of the intensity.
Even though we ate amazingly well during that trip to Manhattan—sushi with true wasabi at Jewel Bako, sweet herring from Russ and Daughters, a platonic cheese plate at Eleven Madison park—Blair came home raving about that date nut bread. (For the record, the locus of her affection was the Cupping Room Cafe.)
I obliged her passion and found a source for dates. I ordered a box of jumbo medjools, raised out in the Arizona desert, somewhere between Yuma and Gila Bend.
Blair was nonplussed. She said the dates I ordered were so big and bronze-brown colored that they looked like cockroaches. (My son, age six, heard her and hasn’t eaten a date since.)
Eventually, Blair got over the look of the dates and started baking with them. Here’s the recipe she settled on after perusing many a cookbook, many a website. Cockroach comments to the contrary, I have to say, the damn bread is just about perfect.
Like They Serve in SoHo Date Nut Bread
3/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 350°F.
In a medium bowl, pour hot water over dates and butter. Stir and let the mix sit until lukewarm. In a food processor, puree 1/3 of the mix to make a paste. Stir it back into the bowl full of date mix. Add the brown sugar, molasses, vanilla, and eggs. Stir until combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the date mixture. Mix. Pour the batter into a butter-greased loaf pan.
Bake for 60 minutes or so; loaf is done when the top has risen. Remove the bread from the oven and cool it on a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.