A recent viewing of the documentary, The Automat, launched me on a nostalgia tour through the New York City of my youth. I have ample memories of Horn and Hardart’s Automats in Manhattan, the excitement and pleasures of eating there, which I’ll talk about in a future post, but for now, I invite you to take a detour with me, as I can’t help dreaming of date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches.
My mother and I went on frequent outings when I was a child—to the theater, the ballet, opera, museums, and shopping. I don’t know how she managed it, as she worked full time, but it seemed we were always going somewhere together. And when we did, we had favorite places to lunch or simply recharge.
One of them was Chock Full O’Nuts.
These small restaurants seemed to be everywhere, and I can still recall the scent of their freshly brewed coffee as we headed into them out of the cold or heat, and climbed up onto our stools at the counter. We’d order drinks, and always date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches. Their combination of sweet and crunch and tangy cream gave us a nourishment and comfort.
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A few years ago, I set out to recreate my own version of this bread. It took a number of tries until I was satisfied with the results. I wanted not only another taste of my youth, but also the luxuriously sweet warmth that went with it.
Since I’m allergic to cow’s milk, I slathered chèvre over the finished product instead of cream cheese. But for those who don’t have that restriction, I say go for the original. There’s nothing like a good shmear to delight the senses, and invite pleasant memories….
1 & 1/2 cups chopped dates
1/2 cup boiling water
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of honey
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
3 tablespoons molasses
two large eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips
1 cup flour or 1-to-1 gluten free blend (plus more, as needed)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350º. Liberally grease an 8″ x 4″ bread pan with butter. Pour boiling water over chopped dates. sugar, and honey, and let stand for 15 minutes. Beat in eggs, molasses, oil, and vanilla, then add nuts. Sift dry ingredients over the liquid mix, and blend just until combined. The batter should be substantial, but not overly thick. If it’s too runny, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it’s right. If it’s too thick, add water or any type of milk or milk substitute until it loosens up.
Bake in prepared pan for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack, then slice, spread with cheese, and devour.
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