About one year ago, as I scoured the boards of Pinterest, I came across a recipe title that widened my mouth agape and my tongue lolling: Salted. Caramel. Date. Loaf. Faced with perhaps the most perfect ingredient pairing in all of baking-dom (caramel? And dates? In LOAF form?!?!), I of course clicked on the recipe…only to elicit disappointment. Featuring butter, eggs, heavy cream, white flour, and refined sugar, this particular iteration of Salted Caramel Date Loaf did not comprise something that I wanted to put into my body, largely due to the harm that it would inflict upon the non-consenting bodies of chickens and cows.
I moved on, X-ing out of the webpage and opting not to save the recipe on my extensive “Recipes to Try” Word document. But the recipe lingered. It lingered in the culinary-inspiration node of my brain as I prepared my breakfast that morning. It lingered as I attended my classes that day. It lingered as I started on a Geography essay that night. I wanted to find research articles on the commodification of human body parts in the global organ trade, I really did, but darn it all, that Date Loaf simply begged to be made.
So I made it. And I made it vegan. And I made it free of refined flours and sugars. And I’ve made it for the twenty members—some vegan, some not—of my on-campus living cooperative about three or four times now, eliciting all but the kissing of my feet and near-weekly requests to replicate the loaf. Once you create this loaf for yourself (and I would very highly recommend, if not insist, that you do), you’ll understand my housemates’ enthusiasm. Dense, moist, succulently yet naturally sweet, and boasting pockets of sticky caramel, this loaf will leave you marveling at the possibility that such utter perfection can result from less than ten ingredients and a stint in the oven.
This loaf utilizes unrefined coconut sugar for the caramel, though I’m sure that Sucanat would also do the trick. I’m not certain, however, that either maple sugar or date sugars would work, as I don’t know if their physical properties would allow them to melt in the necessary manner. I’ve not experimented with this recipe using a gluten-free flour blend, but I have no reason to doubt that one would work. If you find yourself without flaxseed meal, you can substitute equal amounts of psyllium husks—but double the amount of water that you mix with them (six tablespoons instead of three). Finally, as you’ll note from the title, this loaf tastes equally decadent with the substitution of dried figs for dates. I’ve made the fig variety of this loaf about twice now, yielding terrific results on both occasions. Okay, enough with the introductions—get thee to a kitchen stat because you need this loaf in your life.
Salted Caramel Date (or Fig) Loaf—Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat.
Makes one loaf.
1 cup coconut sugar
1 cup medjool dates (or dried figs), chopped
1 cup hot water
6 tbsp coconut oil, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tbsp water (mix before you start making the rest of the recipe)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a medium saucepan, place the coconut sugar over medium heat. Stir the sugar gently (and constantly so that it doesn’t burn!) until it melts and caramelizes completely. At first, it will seem like the sugar will never melt, but have patience, because it always does (yay for physics!). Turn off the heat and stir in the water, chopped dates, and coconut oil. The mixture will probably harden as you do this, but don’t fret—simply place the mixture back over medium heat so that it re-melts.
Once the mixture has re-melted, lower the heat all the way and keep the caramel warm while you prepare the rest of the loaf. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Pour in the caramel, flaxseed mixture, and vanilla extract, and mix well to combine completely.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 30-60 minutes before slicing and experiencing the most intense culinary epiphany of your life.
Until next time, Ali.