Think of this recipe as a cross between a carrot cake and a sticky toffee date cake, but in the convenient package of a breakfast-ready quick bread. Gooey medjool dates are both chopped and pureed before being folded into the batter. The result is an incredibly moist bread with a rich toffee flavor and studded with fruit, nuts and shredded carrots. These giftable mini loaves are finished with a generous sprinkling of brown sugar, giving them a crackly caramelized crust when they come out of the oven. Wrap them up in parchment paper for the perfect little care package, or slice up and serve with your Easter brunch. While this tender bread maintains its freshness for several days after baking, it’s excellent toasted under the broiler and smeared with a little cream cheese.
Makes Four 5-by-3-inch loaves
- ¾ cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
- 8 ounces pitted Rancho Meladuco Medjool Dates (8 to 10 dates)
- ¾ cup boiling water
- ½ cup unsalted shelled pistachios
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ pound carrots, trimmed and shredded
- One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup plus 3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease four 5-by-3-inch mini loaf pans. Line the pans lengthwise with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. (This will help you lift the cakes up and out of the pan.) Set the loaf pans on a rimmed baking sheet.
In a heatproof bowl, cover the pitted dates with the boiling water. Let sit until the dates are very soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer 4 dates to a cutting board and let cool slightly; finely chop. Scrape the remaining 6 dates and the soaking liquid into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
Meanwhile, spread the pistachios on a pie plate and toast until fragrant and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool slightly; chop. Keep the oven on.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt. Add the carrots, pistachios and chopped dates and toss to coat.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the sides, until smooth and airy, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a hand mixer for this step. Add the date puree and ¼ cup of the brown sugar and beat until the sugar has dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, vanilla and orange zest. With the mixer running, gradually stream in the ¾ cup of vegetable oil until very smooth. Using a spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no streaks or floury bits remain.
Divide the batter between the four prepared mini loaf pans, leaving about ½-inch between the batter and the lip of the pan to account for oven rise. If you have extra batter, you can bake it off separately in a muffin tin. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon and sprinkle generously with the remaining 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Transfer the baking sheet with the mini loaf pans to the oven and bake at 350º for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then unmold the cakes and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Recipe and photo: Julia Heffelfinger