Delicious! Best made with friends or family in large batches to give to friends and family. And, no, it’s nothing like “fruitcake”s that I’ve tasted. It’s not a brick. It’s not super candy-sweet, though it is a sweet bread. It’s moist and the top is crunchy and super delicious. : )
2 tps soda
1 c dates, chopped
2 c water, boiling
2 tsp butter
2 c sugar
4 c flour
1 tsp salt
1 c pecan nuts, chopped
1 tsp vanilla
350 F oven, 6 cans or small loaf pans
Chop dates. (Slice it open lengthwise, take the pit out. Cut lengthwise about six long and skinny pieces, chop crosswise small, ~1/4″)
Boil 2 cups of water. Pour over chopped dates. Blend with a hand mixer. Set aside for a couple hours to get nice and stewed or refrigerate overnight (let it cool before putting in the refrigerator). Use good dates! Soaking in the water infuses it and makes it nice and delicious and date-y. Soaking overnight also is a nice way of breaking up the cooking into the chopping day and the mixing day, if you are so inclined. But if you’re in a rush you don’t need to let them sit.
Chop the pecans. We use a nice old chopping unit that looks like it walked out of the 70s. It gives a nice mix of tiny and just small nuts that are just a little bit mashed. It’s basically a glass jar with a grate on top attached to a funnel with a hand crank in the middle that spins some mashing-cutting windmill bits pulling the nuts from the funnel into the jar. Like this or this one. A food processor or lots and lots of chopping would work as well. Careful if you want to substitute a different nut. Walnuts have a whole different, tart-er flavor. Pecans are sweet. Mm, pecans. So delicious.
Grease the tins with crisco (you want something that doesn’t have a flavor and that won’t burn). Then put a handful of flour inside and roll the tin around till it’s evenly coated all around the bottom and sides and especially the corners. Another, perhaps safer, way is to line with parchment paper. Make a “muffin cup” at the bottom of the tin out of parchment paper, then make strips into a tube to line the inside wall. That will keep the sides smooth. You don’t have to use grease in this case, but it doesn’t hurt.
Measure the flour into a large bowl, large enough to contain the batter for the entire recipe. We use a big bread bowl for our triple recipes!
Mix the nuts into the flour by hand.
Measure the sugar into a bowl (a separate bowl, to avoid mistakes).
Measure the baking soda into a small bowl. Smash any lumps with a spoon till it’s all powder and no lumps. Otherwise you end up with a few bitter breads, and a few breads that are kind of dense because they didn’t rise enough.
Crack the eggs and whip in a small bowl with a hand mixer till there aren’t any yellow or white/clear pieces that separate when let sit: till mixed.
Add vanilla, salt, and melted butter to the eggs. Be careful to not have the butter too hot: you don’t want the egg to cook. If you have cooked some of your egg (whoops!) you can start the eggs over, or just remove the stringy cooked portions… if necessary adding an additional egg or part of an egg.
Pour the egg-mixture into the dates-and-water and mix with a hand mixer.
Pour the sugar in about a third at a time.
Mix the baking soda thoroughly into a little flour (1/2 to 1 cup), then dust into the wet mixture. Mix into date and sugar mixture until well blended. Note! Don’t let it rest for several hours while you go out shopping or play with younger relatives at this point… or the baking soda will lose its fizz. There are many stages at which you can be distracted by company, but this is not one!
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Pour the date mixture (wet ingredients) into the flour/nut mixture (dry ingredients) about a quarter at a time. Start with the hand mixer, but when it starts getting thick switch to mixing by hand so you don’t burn out your mixer.
Blend by hand till all the flour is absorbed. Use a rubber spatula or, these days, a silicon spatula if you have one so that you can get the part that sticks to the side.
Fill tins with batter only 1/2 to 3/4 full. DON’T OVERFILL! Wipe down outside of tin (with paper towels) to avoid spills and burnt drippings. Don’t worry about drips on the inside of tins as those will fall into the bread as it cooks. For a triple recipe, we fill 18 Libby pumpkin tins half full then go back and add a little more, evening out tins as we go.
Put in preheated oven standing up like freestanding muffin tins. Open oven and put them on a rack, not the lowest but mid to low because you don’t want them to hit the top when they puff up. Make sure two metal bars of the baking rack fit under each can to support it. If there is just one metal bar under them then they will fall over. We like a triple recipe because the 18 cans just fit comfortably on one rack in the oven with two wires under each tin and three rows of six.
Bake at 350 F 45-55 minutes until toothpick comes out clean like you would test a cake or till the tops are nicely browned.
A note about baking in cans: you have to be careful to use solid, good quality 16oz cans. They aren’t recommended for reuse. Be careful to wash them out and completely remove the label. Avoid ones that have been lined with plastic–these can release bad fumes that are not only poisonous, they are are also not tasty (just kidding, we’re concerned about your safety, really!). If you’re concerned, then someday before you’re going to use them you can heat them once in the oven on their own at 375F, filled with water, till the water is 350F, to get rid of additives that might release by that temperature. We like making pumpkin pies and breads with Libby’s pumpkin, so that’s what we keep and save for winter to make date nut bread. If you use different kinds of cans they’ll be finished baking at different times, so it’s best to use all the same kind. Baking in small loaf pans or muffin cups is also fine, but results in a much dryer bread in the end.