Oh, how I have laboured (and eaten) to bring you this recipe for date loaf! My goal: a dense, rich loaf cake crammed with dates and walnuts, redolent of cinnamon and ginger, and economical to make.
This post may read a bit like a home economics textbook, but I thought you might be interested in a glimpse into the recipe development process and some of the factors I take into consideration to come up with the final version of a recipe. One of those is cost. While sometimes it’s fun to go all out with extravagant ingredients, I also enjoy the challenge of developing a recipe that delivers extravagant results on a budget. One of the things I learned in this case is that letting the richness of dates take centre stage means some other ingredients (in this case, sour cream) simply aren’t needed.
My first effort, pictured above (and the handsomest in outward appearance) had several flaws, not the least of which was that it cost a small ransom to make since I spent close to $9 on the dried Medjool dates, butter and sour cream alone. I fussed around simmering the dried dates and they ended up so soft they mostly disappeared into the cake batter. That was a big investment for a cake that just didn’t deliver enough dates. The walnuts were too predominant as I used too many and left them too large.
For the second version (not pictured), I used more economical Sayer dates, at a cost of around $3. They’re less luscious than the Medjool, but equally delicious and a better choice for baking. This time I simply chopped them. The recipe included an extra egg in addition to the sour cream, and fewer walnuts chopped more finely. The verdict? It was overly date-laden and so heavy that, while delicious, it didn’t fully rise and the top collapsed. It was delicious but far too moist: still not right.
The third time was the charm — my Goldilocks moment you could call it. I cut back the amount of dates by a half cup (using just a single carton of Sayer dates for $2.69), but chopping them into bigger pieces gave them more impact. The dates were definitely the star. I scaled back to one egg and used soured milk in place of the pricey sour cream. This loaf still didn’t rise terrifically high, and dipped a bit in the centre, but was properly baked through. I didn’t miss the richness (or the cost) of the sour cream at all. It may not have been the prettiest loaf to come out of my oven, but it scored high on all other counts: richness, denseness, spiciness and … um, dateness?
This date loaf experimentation spanned several weeks, meaning those in my date loaf pipeline had a steady supply for almost a month. The bad news for them is that the date loaf train won’t be leaving the Urban Cottage station again in the foreseeable future. The good news? They can use the recipe below to make their own!
© Urban Cottage Life.com
Pre-heat the oven to 350℉. Butter and flour a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, then insert a piece of parchment paper along the length of the pan, leaving the ends uncovered. The paper should be long enough that the ends can be used as handles to lift the baked loaf from the pan.
- 1-3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 cup sour milk (1 tbsp apple cider vinegar + milk to make 1 cup)
- 2-1/2 cups Sayer dates, cut into thirds
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Mix the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices in a bowl and set aside.
Cream the butter and two sugars until light. Add the egg and beat until well incorporated.
Add half the flour and milk alternately, blending well. Repeat. Then stir in the dates and walnuts.
Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan, and bake for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean.
Let the loaf stand in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes or so, then remove from the pan and continue to cool.