Date and walnut loaf is a traditional British favourite with a great flavour – it’s nutty and sweet, but definitely not too sugary – as well as a texture that’s light and moist, with the walnuts adding an interesting crunch.
I always enjoy eating this cake at home where it goes well with a mug of anything hot. But it’s also pretty resilient, which makes it easy to transport – and great for putting into lunchboxes. It keeps extremely well in an airtight container, and can last very well – apparently – for up to a week. But I most often make it to take on picnics, road-trips and hikes where it may have to withstand relatively long periods lying unceremoniously at the bottom of a backpack or jacket pocket – before providing critical, comforting nourishment prior to the journey home.
Most recently I made it to accompany us on a five day trip across California and into Nevada, the focus of which was a visit to the stunning Death Valley, where it not only sustained us on long walks, but also – on one occasion – made an excellent breakfast.
Approaching the park from the south-west, our first stop was to hike the 8.4 mile round-trip Wildrose Peak trail. It’s a 2200ft elevation gain and there were times when it felt pretty relentless, but finishing at the top of the second highest peak in the area puts you at 9064ft above sea level, and offers spectacular views down to the valley floor (much of which actually lies below sea level). It’s an exhilarating experience – well worth the effort – and a truly amazing way to see Death Valley for the first time.
The next couple of days were spent exploring Death Valley itself, which is the largest national park in the continental USA, as well as the hottest, lowest and driest location in the entire country. It’s an incredibly varied landscape – something that I really hadn’t appreciated before visiting – and includes sand dunes, marble canyons, limestone narrows, volcanic craters, water and rivers as well as the mountains and valleys.
Views from the valley floor:
Anyway, this is a straight-forward recipe for date and walnut loaf that’s quick and easy to prepare. As with other classic recipes, many variations exist and alternatives commonly include the addition of spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. But I prefer this simple version which asserts its own individuality with the inclusion of apple, adding a light and natural sweetness as well as moisture.
Whichever recipe you use, this is a cake that’s always at its best cut into relatively thick slices and served with plenty of butter – whatever the time of day. Enjoy!
Recipe: Date and Walnut Loaf
4oz / 110g butter (at room temperature)
6oz / 175g soft brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4oz / 110g wholewheat flour
4oz / 110g plain flour
A pinch of salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
4oz / 110g walnuts, roughly chopped
3oz / 75g pitted dates, roughly chopped
3 or 4 tbsp milk
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4.
Butter a loaf tin with base measurements of 3 ½ x 7 ½ inches.
Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flours, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl (sifting the flours), then use an electric whisk to combine them thoroughly.
Add the apple, followed by the walnuts and dates.
Finally add the milk, and mix it together well before transferring the mixture to the prepared tin. Spread it out evenly, then bake for an hour or until the loaf feels springy in the centre and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for a couple of minutes in the tin, before turning it out on a wire cooling rack. When completely cold, store in an airtight container.