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Date-Walnut Loaf

Date-Walnut Loaf
Since ancient times, dates have been a staple of the Middle Eastern pantry. At least three dozen distinct varieties of date palm are cultivated. Because of their naturally tacky consistency and high sugar content, many people believe dates are a dried fruit. Although you can purchase dried dates, nearly all dates are sold in their fresh, soft or semidry state. Among the most popular types found in American and European markets are the moderately sweet Deglet Noor, a good choice for this recipe, and the rich, meaty Medjool. Buy dates pitted to eliminate a preparation step.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
  • 3 Tbs. brandy or Grand Marnier
  • 1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely
     chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1⁄4 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
     to room temperature
  • 3⁄4 cup warm water
  • 3⁄4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Generously butter an 8 1⁄2-by-4 1⁄2-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl, soak the dates in 1 Tbs. of the brandy for about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, stir together the dates, walnuts, baking soda, salt, melted butter and water until combined. Mix in the sugar and eggs, then the flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is puffed and browned, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool completely.

Run a table knife around the edge of the pan and turn the cake out onto a serving plate. Turn it right side up. Spoon the remaining 2 Tbs. brandy, a little at a time, over the cake so that the cake absorbs all of it. Serves 8 to 10.

Note: This sturdy cake is ideal for shipping as a gift. The brandy not only adds flavor but also helps preserve the cake.

Serving Tip: Serve with afternoon coffee or tea or as a simple dessert.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Cake, by Fran Gage (Simon & Schuster, 2003).