This is not a “quick” bread.
It takes most of a day to make; although, to be fair, the majority of that time is spent waiting …
… for liquid to cool …
… for yeast to proof …
… for gluten to develop and rise once, twice, then once again.
It’s a simple bread. The most taxing part is cutting the pitted dates to size and zesting thin, graceful strips of orange peel.
But something about the waiting makes it seem effortful. Special. A gift from the kitchen that lives up to the idea of an edible present.
We’ll eat this bread for our Thanksgiving breakfast. It’s fresh with citrus. Kissed with honey. Chewy with mouthfuls of jammy dates.
And definitely worth the wait.
Honey, Orange & Date Bread
The original recipe, culled from the cookbook “Bon Appetit Weekend Entertaining,” makes a low, dense loaf. I lighten it a bit by adding more liquid and harnessing the dough hook on my electric mixer. Using a machine to knead means I’m not adding copious amounts of flour, which makes a tougher dough. It also lets me do other things around the kitchen while I wait for the kneading to end.
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Zest of two oranges
- 1/4 cup honey
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 4 teaspoons yeast
- 7 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pitted dates
- Milk for glaze
Combine orange juice, water, butter, orange zest, honey and salt in a heavy sauce pan. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and cool until the mixture registers 105- to 115-degrees on an instant read thermometer:
Once the mixture is cooled (and please, do cool it — otherwise you will kill your yeast), put it in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Stir the yeast into the mixture and let it sit until foamy (a good 10-15 minutes):
Using the paddle attachment, beat the flour in 1/2 cup at a time until the dough begins to stiffen. Switch to a dough hook, and continue adding the flour, until you’ve added 7 cups. Beat the dough on low speed for 12 minutes, adding additional flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough seems liquid. (You most likely will add 1/3 cup, depending on the weather outside and the humidity of your kitchen.) Note that your dough will remain sticky and very loose. That’s fine:
Grease a large bowl with the vegetable oil, allowing it to settle at the bowl’s bottom. Turn the dough into the bowl and shape it into a ball, making sure it’s well-oiled everywhere. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free area for 1 1/2 hours.
Punch the dough down. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3 minutes:
Return it to its large bowl, cover again with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise once more for 1 hour.
Butter two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans and set aside.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Working with one half at a time, flatten the dough into a rectangle and scatter the dates on top of it:
Shape into a ball and knead the dough until the dates are well distributed. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
Shape both pieces of date-filled dough into loaves and place in the greased loaf pans:
Cover with kitchen towels and let rise for 40 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove the towels from the loaf pans and brush the tops of the bread with milk. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake another 25 minutes, until the tops are golden and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.
Remove loaves from the oven and turn out from the pans. Allow to cool before slicing. And know that the flavors will be even better the next day. (Yes … more waiting.)