Vail High Country Baking column: Date nut bread
January 8, 2013
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
What’s my all-time favorite quick bread? I’ve been making them for years and enjoy every one, but I have to give the title to this date nut bread. The sea-level version is my mother’s recipe and she made it often, so each bite fills me with nostalgia and takes me to my childhood home. But, there are more objective reasons to declare it my overall winner: Moist and dense, with the thick, sticky sweetness of dates and the mealy, crunchiness of walnuts, it’s a pleasing combination of complex tastes and contrasting textures. And, with only three tablespoons of butter and lots of nuts and fruit, it’s healthy enough to nibble without guilt any time of day. I serve it for breakfast, with soup for lunch, snack on it, and pair it with cheeses, slices of pears and apples, and coffee for a simple dessert.
Like the name for this type of bread implies, this little gem comes together quickly. After softening the dates and butter in hot water and baking soda for 20 minutes, it takes less than 10 minutes of active time to prepare the bread for the oven. When my mother made it, she baked it in a six-cup loaf pan. At our altitude, I get better results using a six-cup Bundt pan which provides heat through both the pan’s tube and its sides and, therefore, cooks the batter more rapidly and uniformly.
Because it’s moist and dense, it has a longer shelf-life than many other breads. Store it, wrapped air-tight, in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.
Date nut bread
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in a 6-cup Bundt pan
1 cup of chopped dates
3/4 teaspoon of baking soda
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup of boiling water
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of flour
3/4 cup plus 2 (two) tablespoons of granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1 cup of chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Generously grease the six-cup Bundt pan (yes, even if it’s non-stick). Put the chopped dates and baking soda in a medium bowl and toss to mix. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them, with the boiling water, to the bowl. Stir gently to submerge everything in the hot water and set the bowl aside for 20 minutes.
Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl to blend well. Add the lightly-beaten eggs and vanilla and, using a fork, stir to combine until all the ingredients are uniformly moistened. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in the date mixture and the chopped walnuts until combined.
Pour the batter into the greased pan, leveling it as you go, and filling the pan only to about an inch and a half from the top (even if you have some batter left over). Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This takes from 45-50 minutes in my oven. Don’t overbake or the bread will lose its lovely moist texture. Cool the bread in the pan for about fifteen minutes, and then turn it out onto a rack and let it cool completely. Store the bread, well-covered, in the refrigerator for up to seven days or freeze it for a month.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.