When I was eighteen I spent the summer between high school and college taking a college course called “Tropical Reforestation” in Northern Queensland, Australia. It was through the School for Field Studies, and it was one of those experiences that changes your perspective on things. We lived under semi-primitive conditions–no electricity in our cabins, only cold water in the showers–but we were in the middle of the rainforest after all. We did have a cook who prepared dinner for us Mondays through Fridays, and on the weekend we took turns with “kitchen patrol.” The cook was an Australian woman and most of the food she made for us wasn’t that memorable, but she did make this bread filled with dried fruit and nuts that I loved.
I ate that bread for breakfast almost every day that summer. It was the ideal breakfast, and not just because the only other choice was cold cereal that always seemed to be getting infested with ants. What made it perfect was that it was quick to eat, filled you up, and gave you stamina–all the things you need when you’re up with the sun to count birds. And it was great for afternoon snacks too. I liked to wrap slices of it up in a napkin and stow it in my backpack so that I never lacked for energy on all of our hikes.
At the end of my stay in Australia I knew a catbird from a riflebird, but alas I never thought to ask the cook for the fruit & nut bread recipe. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about that old breakfast favorite. I’m in the last trimester of my pregnancy now, and it seems like my regular bowl of cereal just doesn’t cut it anymore. I find myself with a case of the “hungries” by 10 am or so. I was craving something that could give me a little energy boost and fill me up for awhile, and this bread seemed like the perfect thing. I made it in this 4-count mini loaf pan so that the slices wouldn’t be too large. I fiddled with an America’s Test Kitchen recipe to try to recreate the bread from my memory, and it ended up being very tasty. It isn’t exactly like what I remember, but it still filled me up and gave me that mid-morning boost I needed. It also satisfied the “hungries” of the other members of my family, so it looks like this recipe is a keeper.
Australian Fruit & Nut Bread (adapted from the Date-Nut Bread recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)
- vegetable oil spray
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup chopped dates
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 6 ounces (3/4 cup) plain yogurt
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 4-count mini loaf pan with vegetable oil spray.
- In a small bowl combine the hot water, baking soda, & dates. Cover and set aside.
- In a large nonstick skillet toast the walnuts over medium heat until golden and fragrant (~5 minutes). Set aside.
- In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, & salt. Set aside.
- In a medium-large bowl whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, white sugar, yogurt, & egg. Stir in the dates & water. Gently fold this mixture into the dry ingredients. Fold in the toasted walnuts, raisins, & cherries.
- Divide the batter evenly among the 4 mini loaf containers. Bake for 35 minutes (top should be golden brown and a toothpick should come out with only a few crumbs attached). Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.