Everyday Cooking

Diana Henry's Date, Apricot, and Walnut Loaf Cake

October  9, 2014

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: We're bringing quick breads back.

Shop the Story

What the world needs now is not love. Burt Bacharach and Hal David lied to us.
What the world needs now is better quick bread recipes. 

Quick breads live in a retro-themed, Betty Crocker-ish corner of the food section. Only the teenagers, when they’re learning to bake, used to hang out there, and these days even the teenagers are too cool for it. (These days teenagers sous-vide their quick breads.) The rest of us? We mostly make the banana bread we grew up with. There is very little innovation in the quick bread space. The innovation is all in the slow bread space. 

More: The dependable, versatile whole-wheat molasses quick bread for the holidays.

This is a shame, because quick breads, however neglected, are the perfect food for a very specific occasion: the after-school snack. There are few food memories better than a thick slice of banana bread, thickly buttered, in the mid-afternoon on a suddenly frigid autumn day. It is almost worth going back to elementary school for.  

But with a slight variation this time: Instead of quick breads, what if we all just have cake for after-school snack instead? Would everyone be fine with that? 

I recently ran across a date, apricot, and walnut loaf cake in Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite and I thought, Loaf cake, what a perfectly English locution, and then I looked at the ingredients and saw twelve tablespoons of butter and thought, Right: loaf cake, got it. And then I made the thing and realized that it is the new non-banana banana bread I have been waiting for. 

Is it cake? It is not not cake. And it is extremely clever: dates and dried apricots simmered in apple cider, folded into a batter with whole-wheat flour and a generous helping of nuts and seeds. And butter. It is soft and rich after cooling and thick and more complex a few days later. I have not personally verified its after-school snack fitness, but I have a person in my household who has, in some quantity. I’d quote him on it, but his mouth was too full.

A note: I confess to feeling vaguely guilty having this recipe represent Henry’s A Change of Appetite. It’s a superb book of intensely flavorful, health-conscious food that is actually light on butter and cakes, a few recipes excepted. But like this bread, it is almost always more clever than it needs to be.

Date, Apricot, and Walnut Loaf Cake 

Serves 10 

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dates, chopped and pitted
2/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup apple juice or cider
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
Zest of 1 orange
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour (or white whole-wheat)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch ground allspice
1 generous grating of nutmeg
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), plus extra for the top
2  tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by Alpha Smoot 

Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • carol
  • Manhattan Tart
    Manhattan Tart
  • EmilyC
  • Fairmount_market
  • Nicholas Day
    Nicholas Day
I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


carol June 26, 2017
I've had this recipe in my Favorites for a while now and finally made it. It's a keeper! I'm always looking for low sugar desserts. The flavors are so complex. I did a few things differently --I subbed coconut oil for the butter (for convenience) and cooked them in mini pans --one recipe gave me 4 minis. The next day, I sliced them very thin, almost like a bar cookie and served them with coffee to a group of women-who all wanted the recipe!
Manhattan T. February 6, 2015
Made this yesterday with my daughter and we love it! Because we're inextricably drawn to recipe modification we gave it a go here, and with lovely results. We heavy'd up on the (spiced) cider, using no water and about 2/3 C. total, used 1 C. A/P & 3/4 C. WW, skipped the additional seeds and used about 3/4 C. walnuts and subbed out vanilla for the orange zest. Because I've found that butter lends flavor and oil brings moisture, we used all vegetable oil instead of butter -- there were plenty of other flavors at work here, the butter wasn't missed. It baked, in a silicone pan, in about 60 minutes. It was delicious warm and would be fabulous toasted and served with a bit of Cambazola on an appetizer platter. We'll happily make this again (and again, and again) as it is, in fact, exactly what the After School (or before school, or after dinner, or midday peckish) world needs.
EmilyC October 14, 2014
Made this and it's lovely. Such a unique quick bread (or cake, or whatever it should be called!). I noticed there's no salt in the recipe. Do you think that's a mistake in the original recipe? I added 1 tsp of kosher salt and found it just right. Thanks for sharing; I want the cookbook now!
Nicholas D. October 17, 2014
Emily, thank you, as always -- I'd also added salt to the original recipe when I made it (also a tsp of kosher) and meant to modify the recipe and then totally forgot. (Because why remember when forgetting is so much easier?) Doing now! Happy to hear that you made & liked.
Fairmount_market October 10, 2014
Thanks for the recommendation. I've tried several recipes from A Change of Appetite, which have all been delicious, but I hadn't thought to try this one yet.