Quick Bread with Bacon, Medjool Dates & Nigella Seeds
I was reading this article in the New York Times on what the French call a cake salé, and it inspired me to create my own exotic version. A cake salé is close to what we call a quick bread or a quick loaf in America (think zucchini bread, cornbread, or even muffins).
The main ingredients of any quick bread are flour, baking powder (and/or soda), fat, eggs, and liquid; the flavor is really up to the imagination. It’s chemically leavened, so it’s much faster to make than traditional bread, which requires a whole process leavening with yeast. This loaf is incredibly easy to make and really versatile. I’ve been serving it warm for breakfast, but it would also make a delicious lunch paired with a simple salad.
I mentioned to a girlfriend the inclusion of dates in this bread, and I got a wrinkled nose reaction. She believed dates to be the shriveled up nonsense that’s in trail mix. At that point, she hadn’t tried Medjool dates, which are amazing – plump, sweet, and creamy with thick, soft flesh and a taste closer to caramel and honey than to fruit. (She’s now addicted). They are also incredibly nutrient dense, high in fiber and an excellent source of potassium. They are eaten throughout the Middle East, to break a fast or served with a thick, Arabic coffee at the beginning of a meal.
For this recipe, I couldn’t get the idea of bacon out of my mind. I’m such a fan of sweet and savoury – it’s a richness of flavor that can’t be matched – and bacon tastes fantastic with a hint of sweetness. With the caramelized leeks, the honey of the dates, and the slightly bitter, thyme-like bite of the nigella seeds, the flavor of the bread is really well-rounded – great as a stand alone but also wonderful as an accompaniment to a larger meal. Enjoy!
Yields 1 8½” x 4¼” x 2¾” loaf pan
4 slices bacon, chopped
3 tbsps butter
1 leek, white and light green only, thinly sliced
1 ½ tsps nigella seeds
3 dates, skinned and pitted*
¼ cup + 1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add bacon and cook until just starting to crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl to cool.
Heat another, clean skillet on low. Add butter. When foam subsides, add leeks and stir to coat completely with the fat. Add nigella seeds and a few pinches of salt to draw out the moisture. Cook on low, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes until the leeks are well caramelized. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to bowl with the bacon.
Combine dates, oil, eggs, and milk in a blender or food processor. Blend for 30 seconds on low or pulse until dates are finely chopped. This helps to distribute the dates in the batter. The goal isn’t to have them pureed, just chopped a bit more finely, so they don’t clump in one place in the batter. Add this liquid to bacon and leeks, and stir to combine.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper and whisk so that all of the ingredients are well combined. Fold in the liquid to the dry ingredients using a spatula. Do not overmix. You just want everything to come together. It should be a wet, sticky, clumpy dough – like muffin batter.
Pour batter into a greased 8 ½ “x 4 ½” loaf pan. Bake at 350° F for 40-45 minutes until golden brown.
* To remove the skin from the dates, simply heat water to a boil. Pour over dates and let sit for 1 minute. Carefully remove from the water, and peel off skin – it should slide off easily.