This is a functional loaf. It’s friendly and flexible and somewhat therapeutic to bake. If this is what you need right now – a well intentioned, every day cake to add to the rotation, that’s perfect for lunch boxes and slicing at 10 am and spreading thickly with something, skip straight to the recipe at the bottom.
This loaf is a project for Sundays. It’s easy to get in a rut about Sundays. Day of rest and all of that. We muddied into a stagnant habit of bunkering down, lazily making pancakes, going for a local potter-about walk and then letting the day drift past in a smug fog of domesticity; lawn mowing, collective naps, afternoon baking, picking up a book and reading two pages and quiet evening Netflix binging (if you haven’t discovered the second season of Chef’s Table yet, run, don’t walk and start watching now. The first episode on Grant Achatz and Alinea is breathtaking and the rest are just as spellbinding). And then suddenly the week hurtles forth again.
Yet enough is enough. Sundays are one of the few days of the week when family and friends aren’t harnessed to sporting commitments, real estate hunting, children’s designated ‘Daddy’ll -do -it’ activity classes. It’s nigh time to open the doors and pull on our entertaining pants again. And the beauty of hosting Sunday lunch means everyone is still tucked up home by 5 pm, while gifting a few decent hours of sociability (preferably while the toddler naps).
Sunday was the first step back into the breach. We started local, with a birthday celebration for my Dad. It was a family feast for six, with him and my step mother, my stepsister, partner and toddler to round out the group. The weather was bitingly cold so we opted for a menu of coddling comfort. There were slow roasted beef cheeks in red wine, with a shallow moat of cauliflower puree, some frizzled leeks for brittle crunch and a zippy salad of carrot tops, celery leaves and quick pickled onions for contrast. I was pluckily chuffed with the thriftiness of the salad- the celery leaves and carrot tops were left over from the mirepoix that went into the base of the braise. My late, very English grandparents, who took pride in finding a purpose for every scrap would have approved. On the side we had steamed greens and confit carrots – and a stunningly good bottle of red that Dad plundered from his cellar. It was hearty and stilled filled the combined brief of satisfying the carnivorous males at the table, as well as those of us with slow carb preferences.
For his birthday cake this year Dad threw me for a loop. Here are some of the dishes I was half expecting him to request; sticky date pudding, carrot cake, berry and apple crumble, custard tart. I was not expecting fruit cake with brandy sauce – and yet, in the end, it was perfect. I fossicked through the archives and returned to the Paleo Christmas cake from a few years ago. I steeped a combination of dried figs, dried apricots, goji berries, raisins, dates and prunes in Earl Grey tea and bound them with ground almonds, coconut flour, a little honey and eggs. We ate it with a rich chocolate and brandy sauce and watched the toddlers chase each other around the lounge room, squealing with glee.
It made me remember that fruit cake is not just for Christmas and christenings. Fruit cake is an eminently useful everyday cake – even more so when it’s as easy to make as this one below. This date and apricot loaf is sticky with dried fruit, which get cooked down with orange juice into a jammy paste, which not only provides the only sweetness in the loaf, but some of the soldering properties to bind it together.
I’ve chosen dates here as my treat of choice, but you could just as easily substitute with pitted prunes for a slightly darker flavour. There are no nuts, so it’s lunch box friendly- though you could easily swap out one of the seeds for some slivered almonds or walnuts if you fancied. The flour is my default oat flour, but again, gluten free flour, quinoa flour, wholemeal plain flour, plain flour or spelt flour would all hold their own. Feel free to swap the butter for coconut oil and I’m fairly certain that this solid little loaf will also hold happily together with a chia or flax egg (1 tbsp chia or flax in 3 tbsp of water) in place of the egg if that’s what’s needed in your house.
This is a lovely meditative loaf to make with small people as they get to snip the dried fruit carefully with scissors (much easier than with a knife, less sticky-friction), help to stir the butter and watch it melt into the jam and measure out a simple collection of dried ingredients.
Will and I have been eating this in modest little fingers, tucked into his morning tea tupperwares. I have also been secretly scoffing slices spread thickly with butter and ricotta with a cup of tea, and sometimes as part of a morale-boosting tasting plate with some squares of dark chocolate. Just the thing to get us through the week, until it’s Sunday once again.
Date and Apricot Loaf
170 g chopped, pitted dates
120 g chopped dried apricots
250 ml orange juice/ apple juice/ pomegranate juice/ cranberry juice
115 g butter/coconut oil
1 egg/ 1 flax or chia egg
175 g oat flour/ gluten free flour/ plain flour/ quinoa flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp sesame seeds
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat the oven to 180C/350 F and grease and line a 20 cm x 12.5 cm loaf tin.
2) Simmer together orange juice and chopped dried fruit for 10 minutes, until the fruit has broken down into a jammy slurry.