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Friday, April 24, 2015

Date Cake

Eva L. Baughman for The New York Times
"Quick bread" most probably originated in the United States of America at the end of the eighteenth century. Before the creation of quick bread, baked goods were leavened with either yeast or by mixing dough with eggs.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the demand for food was high, and labor for conventional bread making was scarce. Thus, bread was rapidly made and leavened with baking soda, instead of yeast. Hence the name "quick bread". The "discovery", or "rediscovery", of chemical leavening agents and their widespread military, commercial and home utilization in the United States dates back to 1846 with the introduction of commercial baking soda (one component), in New York—Messrs. Church and Dwight of Arm & Hammer fame—and to 1856 with the introduction of commercial baking powder (two components), in Massachusetts, although perhaps the best known form of baking powder is Calumet, first introduced in West Hammond, IL/Hammond IN (later called Calumet City, IL) in 1889. Both forms of food-grade chemical leaveners are still being produced under their original names, although not within the same corporate structure.

The unavailability of these chemical leaveners in the American South, during the Civil War, contributed to a food crisis therein. Indeed, even an essential food flavoring and food preservation agent, salt, was in short supply, and often had to be reclaimed and reused.


 Butter, for greasing pan
3 ¼ cup/454 grams flour, sifted, plus additional for dusting pan
2 cups/340 grams pitted dates, each date cut into three pieces
1 tablespoon shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped pecans or other nuts


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 6-cup (8-by-4-inch) loaf pans; set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the dates, shortening and 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Set aside to cool, stirring frequently. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and egg; whisk to combine. Add to the date mixture and stir well until combined.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves and nutmeg. Add the date and sugar mixture and stir just until combined. Stir in the nuts.
Divide batter between the pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, being careful not to overbake; 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and finish cooling on a rack.

Adapted from the 1922 Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club Cookbook, Wichita, Kan.

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