It really is a revelation when a superb local ingredient is used in a classic recipe. The difference can be startling. This date nut bread is an example. The dates in this quick bread were grown 77 miles from Las Vegas at the China Ranch date farm.
Because these dates haven’t been subjected to long-term storage like dates found in supermarkets, they are more plump, moist and super-sweet. The flavor and character of the dates really shines, even when baked in this moist bread. Preparing fresh dates for the recipe is quick work. The pits just slip out of the dates with just a little knife slit on one side and a gentle pinch between two fingers. They only need to be torn in half and they are recipe ready.
Supermarket dates may be the only ones available to most people and will work perfectly well in this recipe. They just require a little more prep work since they tend to be harder and stickier. Once pitted, it’s often easier to cut into smaller pieces using a pair of scissors that have been dipped in water. They tend to clump up into a sticky ball when chopped with a knife.
If supermarket dates are all that is available, don’t despair, they’ll still make fine date bread. If local dates aren’t available to you and you would like to see the difference, the wonderful China Ranch dates are available on their website.
If you are visiting Las Vegas and want to experience some of the stunning nature of the Mojave Desert, a drive to China Ranch and nearby Death Valley is an easy day trip.
Classic Date Nut Bread
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups pitted dates, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup buttermilk (or 2/3 cup milk with 1 tsp lemon juice added)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare one 9x5x2¾ inch loaf pan; lightly grease the pan with shortening and dust with flour.
Add the chopped dates to a medium bowl. Slice the butter into small pieces and add to the dates. Bring one cup of water to a boil and stir in the baking soda. Pour over the dates and butter, mix together and set aside to cool to lukewarm.
Whisk the egg and vanilla into the buttermilk (or soured milk) and set aside.
In another medium mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, brown sugar, salt and nuts. Make a well in the middle and add the date and milk mixtures. Using a rubber spatula, fold everything together until evenly blended. Do not over mix.
Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle come out clean. Remove from the oven, cool for 10 minutes and remove from the pan to cool on a wire rack.
When completely cool, wrap closely with plastic wrap. As with most quick breads, this can be sliced when cool but improves when allowed to sit overnight before serving. Date nut bread is particularly good thinly sliced and sandwiched together with cream cheese.
Makes one loaf.