Sometimes even mistakes turn out to be big wins. Take for example, this Date and Nut Tea Loaf. I've been searching high and low for the "perfect" date-nut bread (more on the why of that later), you know, the kind that you serve with cream cheese on it, a la Chock Full O Nuts? This is not that--not by a long shot but what it is, is truly fabulous. More like a cake than a quick bread. Something that goes perfectly with a cup of tea as an afternoon pick me up or as an indulgent breakfast. So no Famous Fridays this week, because it's been a busy one and I haven't had as much time to experiment with something new, but I wanted to share this lovely loaf in case you have a not-too-hectic weekend and want to bake up something homey, easy and totally delicious on purpose!
So...if you've been with the site for a while, you might remember that my oldest got engaged last year and the wedding is coming up in just a couple of months. We all couldn't be more excited and everyone is busy with preparations, especially my daughter-in-law to be, who is making her own cake for the wedding!! Yup, she's a baker too, you should see and taste the gorgeous cakes she's made--how did I get so lucky?!! Fingers crossed that the huge cake pan fits in my oven--it's definitely going to be an adventure! Meanwhile, I am throwing her a tea party wedding shower, complete with scones (baked three different kinds last weekend and want to try two others before I commit) and finger sandwiches, which is where I got the idea to make a date-nut bread, because, me being me, there's got to be at least one sweet sandwich on the menu! Sadly, this version is too cakey to be a sandwich base but happily I've now got a terrific date-nut cake to add to my repertoire. You're going to love it!
Moist, dense, buttery and loaded with crunchy walnuts and sweet chewy dates, I'm having trouble resisting it. It's the kind of cake you don't need an excuse to eat. And that's a problem. With T-63 days left, these little slips from the Wedding Diet are going to cost me! My dress is very form-fitting! And I've still got to find and of course taste the perfect date-nut party bread (please send if you have a recipe you adore.) Meanwhile, have a great weekend and I'll be back next week as we mind bogglingly head into May!! Yikes!!
Date and Nut Tea Loaf
Makes one 9x5-inch loaf
Prep Time: 20 minutes; Bake Time: About 1 1/2- 1 3/4 hours
1 cup whole pitted dried dates (don't buy the cut up kind)
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
3 ounces full-fat cream cheese, room temperature (use the brick kind)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Make sure oven rack is centered and preheat to 325ºF. Butter a 9x 5-inch loaf pan, dust with flour and tap out the excess. Set aside.
2. If dates are moist, simply cut each one up into 8 pieces. If they seem dried out, you can soak them in boiling water for about 10 minutes, then drain, dry them well and cut them up. Once dates are ready, place them in a small bowl along with the nuts. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Take 1 tablespoon out and place it in the bowl with the dates and nuts. Toss well to coat the mixture--this will help to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
4. If you have a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, use that. Otherwise a handheld one is fine. Mix the butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl on medium-high speed until very smooth and well blended, for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the brown sugar, beating until light and fluffy, for another 3 minutes or so. Scrape down the bowl again and during the process to make sure everything is coming together evenly. One at a time, add the eggs, beating for about 1 minute between each addition and scraping down the bowl as well. Beat in the vanilla. The mixture will look curdled--that's ok. On low speed, add the flour mixture, mixing only until no more traces of flour can be seen. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large spoon or rubber spatula to fold in the dates and nuts.
5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 90 minutes, until the top is deeply golden brown, cracks down the middle and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. If the top of the cake gets too dark during the baking process, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. I had to bake this closer to 1 and 3/4 hours--all ovens are different.
6. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for about 15 minutes and then turn out onto the rack and let cool completely right side up. This can definitely be made ahead and is almost better after it's had a chance to sit around. When it's completely cool, wrap it well in plastic wrap. When ready to serve cut into slices. It's also very good toasted. Cake should keep well wrapped at a cool room temperature for about 1 week.
Note: Recipe adapted from Sweet Times by Dorie Greenspan. I tinkered a bit with some of the techniques and baking times.