Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Date and orange spice loaf

There's something incredibly comforting about a loaf cake you slice and slather with butter. Perhaps because they remind me of my childhood. Of picnics with my grandparents. Of thermoses of tea and dinted metal cake tins. Of long socks and Lion's Parks on road trips. This weekend, with the weather rainy and cold, I wanted one. 

This is an incredibly economical recipe, using just one egg, and a relatively modest amount of butter and sugar. All the flavour comes from the dates, their deep caramel sweetness cut with the freshness of orange zest and crunch of pecans. The spices mellow everything out, as does the wholemeal flour, which I threw in in place of half the amount of plain, which seemed right, and it was. This cake keeps amazingly well, and days later, tasted just as good as when it was fresh out of the oven. I could have kept eating and eating it but, showing remarkable restraint, stashed half in the freezer for another rainy day.

Date and orange spice loaf
Adapted from a recipe by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, who in turn credits Ina Garten

The original recipe calls for orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Triple Sec. I didn't have any, so used whisky, which worked well but if you want to omit the alcohol entirely, soak the dates in a little extra orange juice, or even just some hot water. If you don't have any pecans, walnuts would be a good replacement.

2 cups coarsely chopped dates (10oz or 285g pitted)
1/3 cup whisky
4 tablespoons (2oz or 55g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (145g) light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (approx 2 oranges)
1 cup (125g) flour

1 cup (125g) wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarb (baking) soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (or half the amount regular)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (approx 3 oranges)
3/4 cup (3oz or 85g) coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8 1/2 X 4 1/2 X 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with baking paper, and flour the pan.

Combine the dates and orange liqueur in a small bowl and set aside for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed for one minute. Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. With the mixer still on low, add the flour mixture alternately with the orange juice to the creamed mixture, beating only until combined. By hand, stir in the dates with their liquid, and the pecans.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Serve slathered in butter.

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