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Date and walnut loaf

May 21, 2018

wooden board with date and walnut cake in slices

In this age of hyperbole, describing something as plain might be perceived as a negative. It pales into the background in an arena of ‘best ever’, ‘decadent’, indulgent’ and ‘sinful’ cakes, but that’s exactly what Tamasin Day-Lewis says about this loaf in her introduction. Her recipes are a staple in my kitchen (I have five of her cook books) so I had every confidence that this loaf would deliver – in spades. You see I also think that plain is a good thing, especially in tea loaf. Plain means you need a cup of tea (or coffee) to perfectly partner your slice to get you through the morning or afternoon. Plain, after all, encompasses such classics as rich tea biscuits and digestives. And plain has another advantage. It practically begs for you to smear it with a thick layer of butter.

“A plain but good sweet and nutty cake that you may also eat with butter and which you can stir up in a trice. Child’s play” is a preface that has me rooting out a loaf tin and preheating the oven immediately.

On that very topic, while I love Tamasin’s writing and her recipes usually guide you by the hand as though your Mum was whispering the instructions in you ear, this one was uncharacteristically sketchy. It didn’t even mention the oven temperature, but that’s what recipe testing is all about.

Originally I renamed this recipe a ‘tea loaf’ as I thought that a tea loaf was part of afternoon tea. However, I think a tea loaf refers to a cake that is made by soaking dried fruit in tea overnight first, such as Welsh Bara Brith, Irish Barmbrack or a Yorkshire tea loaf. A tea loaf is very moist and fruity, this loaf is much drier but that’s why…. butter.

Which variety of date to use for this? Mine were Khalas, soft, sticky and slightly chewy. I haven’t used rutab stage of ripeness which would give a very different texture.

This loaf is a firm, close textured, warming and comforting that’s not sticky despite the dates. It is excellent with good butter, but also with goat’s curd or labneh. A thin slice of hard cheese wouldn’t go amiss either. Just don’t forget to put the kettle on.

Date and walnut loaf

  • Servings: 8-10 slices, makes a 900g loaf
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A loaf packed with the goodness of dates and nuts, and a warmth of spices, that begs to be spread with butter and eaten with a cup of tea.

[Simple to make by hand, but even easier with a stand-mixer (instructions for KitchenAid included). Adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis]


  • 225g (8oz) (approx 240g before destoning) pitted dates, chopped
  • 110g (4oz) light brown or muscovado sugar
  • 140g (5oz) unsalted butter
  • 2 level teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 120ml (4floz) boiling water
  • 1 large egg (free range), beaten
  • 400g (14oz) plain or wholemeal flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 55g (2oz) walnuts, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not essence)
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice


  1. Cut the butter into small pieces. Put the chopped dates, sugar, butter and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl (or the bowl of your mixer). Pour over the boiling water and stir thoroughly (or mix briefly and slowly using the paddle attachment). Leave to soak overnight if possible, or for a least an hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170 C or 160 C (fan). If you have a fast oven go for the lower temperature as this is a long bake and high temperatures will cause the dates to burn.
  3. Grease and line a loaf tin (22 x 14 cm or thereabouts) with baking paper/parchment.
  4. Add the egg, sift in the flour (I found it easy to take the bowl off the mixer, place a sieve on top and sift in the weighed flour). Add the salt, chopped walnuts, vanilla extract and mixed spice and beat the mixture well with the paddle attachment on a mixer or a wooden spoon. The batter should look silky and become quite stiff.
  5. Scrape the mixture into the loaf tin and level the top with a spatula. You could push some whole walnuts in a line down the top at this stage if you wanted.
  6. Bake for an hour or until a skewer, when inserted, comes out clean. Do not over bake.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out, remove the baking paper and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight tin.

*Mixed spice is a traditional British mixture of spices used for making cakes. It is typically made up of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.

wooden board with date and walnut cake in slices

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So are you with me on the virtues of plain?

  1. May 21, 2018 10:08 pm

    Looks so good!

    • May 23, 2018 7:26 pm

      I just had a slice layered with butter to go with a cup of tea

  2. May 22, 2018 12:38 am

    I’m totally making it! This sounds delicious!

    • May 23, 2018 7:27 pm

      It’s quite a dry loaf which is why it needs the butter – but not too sweet which I like. Gets better in the tin. Off for another slice.

  3. May 22, 2018 1:02 pm

    “Plain means you need a cup of tea…” Oh, how much I agree with you, Sally!

    I usually make date and walnut loafs after Ramadan (lots of leftover dates) and they’re always a hit. The recipe is quite similar to the one you posted here, but yours look much better!

    • May 23, 2018 7:28 pm

      You are very kind. I think I would add even more dates next time. The top of the loaf cracked and split so I thought it wasn’t very photogenic – tastes great though.

  4. May 22, 2018 11:06 pm

    Anything with dates in it is something I’d like to try.

    • May 23, 2018 7:29 pm

      This series will appeal then Lulu – a lot more to come in my Ramadan date challenge!

  5. May 23, 2018 2:16 am

    My Mum used to make plain loaves like this which she sliced and slathered with butter. Delicious with a cup of tea. Definitely need to make this just for old times sake

    • May 23, 2018 7:30 pm

      It reminds me of my Mum’s home cooking too. We always had a cake in the house.

  6. kstienemeier permalink
    May 23, 2018 11:28 am

    This looks delicious and is considered a typical American bread just like banana bread.
    Date nut loaf or bread reminds me of autumn in the US. Thanks for this recipe Sally.

    • May 23, 2018 7:31 pm

      Interesting that dates are an autumn thing in the US – I guess they are dried after the summer by then

  7. May 24, 2018 8:00 am

    Couldn’t agree more about plain sometimes being perfect Sally – too often we are looking for something fancy when a simple recipe is right under our nose!

  8. May 24, 2018 12:50 pm

    I will make this to take on holiday with us on Sunday. We arrive at some ungodly hour and no shops nearby for breakfast bits the next morning. This will be breakfast! 🙂

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