Regifting, Sort of.

Recently, someone on our floor at work went to a far off land and brought back a box of dates. (You’ll remember that the boxes of Turkish Delight are brought directly to my desk.) After watching them go untouched for a few days, I took it upon myself to bring them home for a baking project. The result was a date nut bread, which my boss told me it was “the best one she’d ever had”. The New York Times apparently agreed; the title of the recipe is “An Incredible Date Nut Bread”.

a package for marilyn

The recipe calls for pouring boiling water over baking soda, and then pouring the mixture onto the pile of chopped dates and raisins. When The Essential New York Times Cookbook editor Amanda Hesser found this recipe, she wrote food scientist Harold McGee to get his take. He replied: “My guess is that the baking soda step is a quick way of hydrating and softening the fruit, and probably turns the date bits into mush, which would help moisten the cake more than discrete pieces.” McGee also thought the baking soda would help make the cake brown, and indeed, as Hesser puts it, “the cake emerges from the oven dark and tawny.” And I can report that it smelled even better than it looked; at one point the scent of the loaf baking in the oven literally stopped me in my tracks.

steeping the dried fruit

Over Thanksgiving we had a visit with Sylvie and her wife Miriam at Mir’s parents place up in Maine. I had wanted to bring a loaf up as a thank you to our hosts but Syl is deathly allergic to walnuts. As it turns out, so are half of her in-laws, so I think I made the right move. But Mir’s mom said she loved date nut bread, so, using the rest of the purloined dates, I baked her a loaf and sent it to her for Chanukah. It was only after I took it out of the oven that I noticed the title of the December 1977 article from which the recipe came: “Food Gifts You Can Make at Home.”

Baking Notes: I’ve been experimenting with flours lately, and the loaf I sent to Mir’s parents was made with white whole wheat flour. I was a little nervous it would be too dry, but the feedback I’ve received has been very positive. The flour choice is entirely up to you.

An Incredible Date-Nut Bread

Ingredients

1 cup diced pitted dates

¾ cup raisins

¼ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup boiling water

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour

¾ cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with a rectangle of wax paper. Butter the rectangle and sprinkle with flour; shake out the excess flour.
  2. Put the dates and raisins in a medium bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and pour it over the date mixture.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Add the flour and mix well. Add the date mixture, including the liquid. Add the walnuts.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is dark brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 3 to 5 minutes, then unmold onto a rack, remove the paper, and let cool.
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It Rises to the Top

In September, right around the time that my friend Gayle wrote to tell me about a hand-me-down cookie contest in Edible Boston, Nana Parr had a mild stroke. She’s OK, really she is, but she had to move into an assisted living center, which meant giving up her oven, and, with that, her cookies.

cream scones

I’m really thankful I baked with her last fall, and I guess Edible Boston was too, because Nana’s cookie recipe was one of the winners of the contest. I haven’t been able to get my hands on a physical copy that I can bring up to Nana, but we were able to track it down online for you all to see.

As delicious as those sugar cookies are — and I promise you, they really are something — they are a bit involved. There’s the pastry cloth and all the rolling, but they’re totally worth it, a crowd favorite since my husband brought them to kindergarten nearly 30 years ago.

But when I’m squeezed for time and still want to bring a pastry somewhere, I’ve been turning to these scones. I’m embarrassed to admit how simple they are. Let me put it this way: By the time I clean up the food processor and wipe down my counter, they are ready to come out of the oven. It’s a 20 minute recipe, from start to finish. You can keep it proper and use currants, like I did in the photo. I’ve also used chopped candied ginger and some lemon zest, and baked one batch with chopped dried cherries.

making scones

They were a hit at a baby shower I went to a few weeks ago. (Hi Lucas Lee Gideon! Can’t wait to meet you!) You don’t need a pastry cloth to make these, although a food processor does make this recipe a cinch. (And no, I still haven’t found the missing piece.) It’s an ancient recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who found it in The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. It’s become a go-to recipe of mine, and now it’s time to share it with you.

A couple notes: Because the recipe calls for chilled butter, I always cube mine and toss it in the freezer as I assemble all my other ingredients and preheat the oven. Also, if I know I’m bringing these for a crowd, I cut each scone in half an additional time so that I end up with 16 cute mini-scones.

Cream Scones

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup currants
1 cup heavy cream

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425°F.

Place flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in large bowl or work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Whisk together or pulse six times.

If making by hand, use two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips and quickly cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few slightly larger butter lumps. Stir in currants. If using food processor, remove cover and distribute butter evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times, each pulse lasting 1 second. Add currants and pulse one more time. Transfer dough to large bowl.

Stir in heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Form scones by either a) pressing the dough into an 8-inch cake pan, then turning the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, cutting the dough into 8 wedges with either a knife or bench scraper (the book’s suggestion) or b) patting the dough onto a lightly floured work surface into a 3/4-inch thick circle, cutting pieces with a biscuit cutter, and pressing remaining scraps back into another piece, and cutting until dough has been used up.

Place rounds or wedges on ungreased baking sheet and bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.