Somewhere between a soda bread and scones, this is a wonderful rip-apart loaf. Buttermilk keeps it light and soft, though you can substitute yogurt, the dates add a subtle rich sweetness, while spelt and oats give nutty notes.
You can whip it up quickly if friends come over at the last minute, and serve with mugs of tea and the delicately spiced, honeyed butter. Jam is great with it, too. Here I’ve used apricot and amaretto jam from Newton & Pott, an inspirational small-batch hand-made preserves company in Hackney, London.
FOR THE BREAD
125g (4½oz/scant 1 cup) pitted dates, roughly chopped
100g (3½oz/generous ⅓ cup) hot black or rooibos tea or hot water
125g (4½oz/scant 1 cup) wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp sea salt flakes, plus a little
for the glaze
30g (1oz/2 tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 heaped tsp molasses, just under 10g (¼oz)
75g (2¾oz/⅓ cup) buttermilk or natural yogurt
1 tbsp milk (any kind)
2 tbsp rolled or jumbo oats
FOR THE BUTTER
125g (4½oz/½ cup/1⅛ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
pinch of sea salt flakes
finely grated zest of ½ orange, plus 1½ tbsp orange juice
1½ tsp ground cardamom
3 tsp honey
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Line a baking tray (sheet) with baking parchment. Soak the dates in the tea or water for about 10 minutes.
2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, allspice and salt. Using a freestanding mixer fitted with a paddle, or by hand with your fingertips, work in the butter until the mix looks like crumbs. Drain the dates, then add them to the mix (don’t worry if you add a little of their soaking juices), with the molasses and buttermilk, mixing lightly to form a soft, not too sticky dough.
3. Shape into a rough round on the prepared tray (sheet) and cut into 6 portions, stopping before reaching the tray (do not cut until the knife hits the tray). Beat the egg with a pinch of salt and the milk and brush on with a pastry brush. Sprinkle with the oats, patting them in lightly to stick.
4. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the tray (sheet) and reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Bake for 10–15 minutes more, until the top is dark golden brown and, when you tap the base, it sounds hollow.
5. Serve warm from the oven, breaking up as required. This keeps for about 4 days, though warm it up before eating. It freezes well for at least 1 month.
6. For the butter, place the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth and a light cream colour. Scoop out on to baking parchment and roll into a cylinder. Refrigerate until needed, or freeze for a bit if it’s very soft, then transfer to the fridge. Store leftovers in the fridge, or freeze for another time.
For blueberry scones, add 125g (4½oz / scant 1 cup) berries after the dates. Bake for 15 minutes at 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6, rotate the tray (sheet), reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and bake for 15 minutes.
I love this with figs instead of dates, though raisins, sultanas (golden raisins) or dried apricots – maybe with a combination of nuts or seeds – would be great, too.
For a dairy-free vegan loaf, replace the butter with virgin coconut oil and the buttermilk with plant-based milk combined with 1 tsp apple cider vinegar. For glazing, use your chosen milk. It will be flatter but taste great, with a light texture.
Recipe from The Natural Baker: A new way to bake using the best natural ingredients by Henrietta Inman.