It is Thanksgiving. I won’t exhaust you with all the details of for what I am thankful, but I am indeed thankful for a lot of things this year. Including my husband, for whom I am most thankful, in part for his excellent photography (he painstakingly took and edited almost all these pictures for me).
Another thing I am thankful for is quick breads. I know it may be cheating in the spectrum of bread baking, as most quick breads require nothing more than a mixture to be placed in a tin and baked. It is just that — quick. And though part of me misses the process of letting dough rise, kneading it, letting it rise again, shaping it, letting it rise again… sigh… sometimes it’s just nicer to not have to do all that work.
I’m also thankful that we randomly had a plethora of dates in our house, inspiring me to bake a bread featuring dates as the star player. It didn’t sound too appetizing at first, what with bran and mushy dates and nutmeats (?) — and to be honest, never looked too much better while preparing the bread — but once it emerged from the oven, the kitchen was enveloped with an aroma of warm, hearty, sweet date-y goodness. And the taste was even better.
And so I was thankful for the fact that I used the random dates well, that the bread was simple to make and required few ingredients (though some odd, including dates and bran and… once again, nutmeats?) and that I was able to share it with my family, of which I am also thankful. And I am thankful that I also get to share this recipe with you, and though you may initially shy away from it and its apparent unattractiveness, I dare you to pick up some dates and give it a try.
But, like I said, I won’t bore you with everything for which I am thankful. But thanks for reading this.
Debrief: Not much to change. This was one of the simplest breads I’ve ever made. Just mix the ingredients, stick in the oven, and voila. Yum.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare:
2 cups chopped dates Pour over them:
2 cups boiling water In a separate bowl, beat until light:
2 eggs Add slowly, beating constantly:
3/4 cup brown sugar or 1/2 cup molasses (I used brown sugar) When these ingredients are creamy, add:
1 cup whole-grain flour (I used whole wheat… is there much of a difference?)
2 tsp double-acting baking powder
1 tsp baking soda Add half the date mixture and:
1 cup whole-grain flour (or whole wheat)
2 cups bran
1 tsp vanilla Add the remaining date mixture and:
1 cup or less chopped nutmeats (I used chopped pecans and came to find this was close enough) Place the dough in lightly greased loaf pans. Bake for about 1 hour.
Though I truly, deeply love to bake bread and delight in all its complexities, idiosyncrasies, successes and catastrophes, I must admit it is not my first love. You see, I have an indelible sweet tooth. This is no ordinary sweet tooth — oh, no. I am perplexed when I pick up a Glamour or Self Magazine and read their articles titled, “Eat What You Want And STILL Lose Weight!”, only to find that their suggestions span only as far as, “When vexed with a desire for chocolate, have one Dark Chocolate Hershey’s Kiss to diminish the craving.” This advice, however, does not subdue my monstrous sweet tooth. Once I ingest the drop of chocolate, my sweet tooth rears its ugly head and, in full force, demands several more larger portions in order to be satisfied. So when I decided to take on bread baking — a venue that often avoids recipes with heaps of sugar — it was an attempt to find a hobby that perhaps would force my sweet tooth into submission forevermore.
Then I found this recipe. With loaves like these, I will never have the courage to beat down my sweet tooth monster.
I needed to make this recipe for two reasons: one, I’ve been dying to make a dessert bread and, two, I had one of those won’t-take-no-for-an-answer kind of chocolate cravings the other day. And so, with the help of my lovely new book, The Bread Bible, I created chocolate chocolate chip bread. Yes, that’s chocolate times deux.
This loaf is not really a “bread” in the sense of kneading, etc. but it is still a quickbread, and thank God, because this bread is far too delicious to have any sort of patience to eat it. Extremely moist and fluffy, with a Kahlua syrup soaking in from all sides, adds to the density and makes the bread more “grown up.” It was very, very easy to make (I randomly decided while baking the first loaf to bake a second loaf, and by the time the first one finished the second was ready for the oven), and very rich. If you don’t like chocolate, you won’t like this bread, though the bread itself is less fudge-y than you’d expect. Using a stand mixer was useful in this project, especially because the addition of ingredients and the rounds of mixing were important to aerate and “fluffify” the dough. I’m making up words.
Debrief: Next time, I may leave out the addition of the Kahlua syrup in at least one of the loaves (though the Kahlua addition is divine), just to see if the chocolate flavor, unadulterated, becomes enhanced.
3 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa (Dutch-processed)
3 tbsp boiling water
1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract (do NOT use imitation vanilla extract, or a pox on both your houses!)
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (lazy as I am, I used all-purpose flour and did not sift, and survived to live another day)
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar, preferably turbinado (a.k.a. raw sugar — I used regular sugar)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
13 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp chocolate mini chips or bittersweet chocolate chopped medium-fine (optional) (I used chocolate mini chips)
a heavy-duty stand mixer with paddle attachment or a hand-held mixer;
an 8-by-4-inch (4-cup) loaf pan, or, if using the chocolate chips, an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (5-cup) loaf pan, bottom greased and line with parchment, then sprayed with Baker’s Joy or greased and floured (if using a nonstick pan and Baker’s Joy, there’s no need to line the pan) (I greased the bottom of a nonstick pan and did nothing else and was fine)
1. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the middle level. 2. Make the soft cocoa paste. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Allow it to cool to room temperature, then gently whisk in the vanilla and eggs. It will be fluid. 3. Mix the batter. In a mixer bowl or other large bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid, with the paddle attachment) for 30 seconds to blend. Add half the chocolate paste and the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium if using a stand mixer (#4 KitchenAid), or high if using a hand-held mixer, and beat for 1 minute to aerate and develop the structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the remaining chocolate paste in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the bowl. With a rubber spatula, fold in the optional chocolate mini chips or bittersweet chocolate. 4. Fill the pan. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. (The batter will be almost 1/2 inch from the top of the 4-cup pan.) 5. Bake the bread. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 200 degrees F. Tent loosely with buttered foil after 25 minutes to prevent overbrowning. (The bread shouldn’t start to shrink from the sides of the pan until after removal from the oven.) 6. Cool the bread. Set the bread on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides of the bread with a small metal spatula and invert it onto an oiled wire rack. Reinvert so that it is top side up and cool completely. Variation: For an extra-moist cake and a subtle background coffee accent, brush the bread with coffee syrup. To make the syrup, in a small pan, stir together 1/4 cup water and 2 tbsp sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cover and remove from the heat. When the syrup is cool, add 1 tbsp Kahlua. As soon as the bread is removed from the oven, brush half the syrup onto the top. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a lightly oiled rack and brush the bottom and sides with the remaining syrup. Reinvert it to finish cooling top side up.
Extra punches (from The Bread Bible): To get an attractive split down the middle of the crust, wait until the natural split is about to develop, about 20 minutes into the baking, and, with a lightly oiled sharp knife, make a shallow slash 6 inches long down the middle of the bread. This must be done quickly so that the oven door does not remain open very long, or the bread could fall. When the top crust splits, it will open along this slash.