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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.
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.
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)
Photos by Alpha Smoot