The story of this date nut bread begins simply enough. I used to love date nut bread when I was a teenager. Heading into New York City from the suburbs on Saturdays for adventure often included a trip to Chock Full O’ Nuts for a date nut and cream cheese sandwich. And then came Mad Men.
The last season of Mad Men starts in just a little over a week. I’ve watched every single episode, which I guess qualifies me as a true fan. My son started me down this road, so I can either thank or chastise him for my addiction to the rollercoaster that is Mad Men.
In the beginning, I watched simply for the storylines and the characters. As the seasons progressed, I noticed the clothing styles, the attention to period detail, and the political references. Now, with the series drawing to a close, I find myself obsessed with The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook.
The book ties recipes into the series. The authors explain when each dish or drink appears and its context, both in the show and the period.
For a bloggers’ Mad Men finale party, I decided to make Date Nut Bread, which links to the Drapers twice. First, Betty makes it for Sally’s sixth birthday party in Season 1. Then, Don’s paramour, Sally’s teacher Suzanne Farrell, makes it for Don in Season 3.
For Peggy and Joan
But my date nut bread is for Peggy and Joan. The determined girl who wants to leave Brooklyn far behind and the office manager who has almost as many secrets as Don are the focus of my attention.
Yes, it’s ironic that I’m talking about food and recipes in connection with two of the women on the show who spent much more time strategizing how to get ahead in their careers than they did leafing through cookbooks.
And the irony is compounded by my own story. I resisted the stereotype that women belong in the kitchen just as Peggy, Joan, and even Megan did. Like them, I took my professional life seriously. However, I was a bit more “out front” than they were. As the only woman lawyer in a post-Mad Men law firm, I plastered an ERA sticker on my briefcase. By now I’ve relaxed quite a bit about stereotypes and how to challenge them. So I can live with the ironies, especially when food is involved. Hope you can too.
When they needed a quick bite to eat, Peggy and Joan might well have gone to Chock Full O’Nuts. It was the coffee shop that working “girls” in midtown New York flocked to for a good coffee and a cheap but delicious sandwich. The house specialty was date nut bread slathered with cream cheese.
In its heyday, the chain had 100 luncheonettes. There would have been one near Sterling Cooper, and its subsequent iterations, Sterling, Cooper, Draper, and Pryce, and Sterling, Cooper & Partners.
While Mad Men never showed Peggy and/or Joan eating a date nut bread and cream cheese sandwich at a lunch counter. Still, I know it would have happened. I can imagine it as clearly as I can see them rolling their eyes (only in the ladies’ room, of course) at the antics of the men with whom they have had to put up all these years.
Date nut bread was to the 1960s what cupcakes were to the last decade. Imagine a world without single origin chocolate. When artisan meant old (not fancy schmantzy) and instant coffee from a jar was perfectly acceptable. In that world, a slightly sweet dough that held together dried fruit and walnuts was a dinner dessert, a valued contribution to a bake sale, and sandwich bread.
Date Nut Bread
I adapted this version from the recipe in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. The authors of the book, in turn adapted their recipe from Pat Nixon’s recipe, printed in a 1961 Hints from Heloise column.
Retro Date Nut Bread
A throwback to the days of date nut bread and cream cheese at luncheonettes, this version is both delicious and pretty.
- 1 & 1/2 cups chopped dates 8 ounces
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/2 stick, 2 ounces, or 1/8 pound
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/4 cup sugar (white)
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 & 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a loaf pan and set aside.
Put the chopped dates and raisins in a bowl. Add the baking soda to 3/4 cup boiling water. Pour the water/baking soda mixture over the dried fruit and set the bowl aside.
Mix the butter and the sugars with the mixer for about 3 minutes on medium high speed until they are creamed together. Add the egg and vanilla.
Mix the flour into the batter until well combined. It starts to get stiff at this point. Then, add the dates, raisins. and nuts, as well as the liquid (water & baking soda) that the dried fruit was softening in. I added the solids first before pouring in the remaining water. You can do it all at once as long as you mix the batter until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan and smooth it out. Bake the bread for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. If the top appears to darken and look finished before the inside is fully baked, cover the top with foil so that it won’t burn.
Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack before unmolding it.
(If the water doesn't fizz and bubble, stop and replace your baking soda because it is no longer fresh!)
My loaf pan is a bit smaller than most - 7 & 1/2 inches long x 4 & 1/2 inches wide by 2 & 1/4 inches deep. The standard loaf pan is 9" x 5", or 8 1/2" x 4 1/2". Any of those sizes will work, keeping in mind that the smaller the loaf pan, the taller the bread.
You’ll find more great recipes and Mad Men trivia in the book. And don’t forget to check out the Virtual Mad Men Dinner Party Page.
The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook authors provided me and the giveaway winner each with a copy of the book. As always, all opinions expressed in the post are my own.
Liv @ Healthy Liv says
Woah, this date nut bread looks incredible! I’ve been on a major date kick recently and can’t stop eating them. SO good and I bed this bread is so yummy! I just pinned the recipe 🙂
Dates are so good. I’ve used them to boost the chocolate flavor of baked goods too!
Heather | girlichef says
Yes, date bread is so retro, but I didn’t realize it was actually eaten as a dessert…and I’ve never tried it with cream cheese. I will have to make a loaf soon, and give it a try! I love how you tied it in with Mad Men, and can just picture Peggy and Joan enjoying a slice. 🙂
Heather – Did you see the first episode this season? It was as if the screenwriters knew what I was going to post:)
Date nut bread looks strikingly healthier than modern bread that strive to be made light and fluffy. Your date nut bread sounds delicious and looks hearty and filling.
Michelle, I’m with you – bread should be hearty not light and fluffy:)!
Huge Mad Men fan over here 🙂 The bread sounds fabulous!
Michelle Wolff says
I don’t know, but I’m guess that date nut bread will be in my oven this week… so I vote for date nut bread. 🙂
Michelle – A woman after my own heart! I only wish I could have found metal coffee tins so I could have made a round version the way they used to do in the ’60s & ’70s.
Use soup cans instead
Good idea, though many soup cans are too small. You’ll have to find big soup cans to make this work.
Love date nut bread. It reminds me of the holidays. I guess that’s when we ate it, although I don’t know why we didn’t have it more often. Perhaps it was a gift that we received each year.
As far as Mad Men goes, I was just the opposite. The only thing I liked about it were the “things in the background” whether the kid with the plastic laundramat bag over his head, the pregnant mama having a cocktail while smoking or the kids sitting in the front seat without a seat belt, this is what made me laugh.
Although I appreciated the good acting all around, I couldn’t laugh or watch at the misogyny.
My grandmother used empty Campbell soup cans in the round to make her date nut bread.
Peggy, I need to get some Campbell’s soup then:)
The Date nut bread looks soo good! Love the Pineapple Upside Down cake!
Stephanie, Thanks. But where is the Pineapple Upside Down cake?
Natalie V says
I love date-nut bread! Thanks for sharing the recipe. I think Baked Alaska is from that era… You’re probably guessed that I have a sweet tooth 😉
Natalie, Baked Alaska is another one of those retro sweets I’ve always wanted to try. Your comment makes me think I should put it on my list for my next party. After all, can’t very well make it on a Tuesday night:)!
Shanna S says
This bread looks so good. I am a Mad Men fan as well but I don’t get a ton of time to watch TV so I have a few seasons to catch up on!! I can’t believe its the final season already. I was hooked from the beginning too, such a well done show and the clothes were the best part – especially the women’s so interesting to see the difference in styles for all the women. I think I might have to watch a couple episodes this week to try to catch up!
Shanna, Sounds like the 2 of us would have a lot to talk about. I loved the opening episode this season because it featured Peggy and Joan – as you could tell from my post, I love watching them in action, especially when the men in the show make them want to scream – or do serious bodily harm to those who underestimate them. It was fun to make the date nut bread and imagine them at Chock Full O’ Nuts.
Susan | LunaCafe says
LOL! I know nothing of Mad Men, because I’m hooked on Korean dramas instead. But it must have been one heck of an an engaging sitcom. And I’m almost as ignorant of dates. Sure I’ve played around with them sporadically over the years, but I’ve never been a real fan. I’ve never made date nut bead for instance. But that’s going to change, because the cream cheese is calling my name. Now I MUST try it. 🙂
Elan Gee says
What is the white stuff you have put between the slices?
Elan, The white stuff is cream cheese.
Hi! I would love to try this but how much baking soda should I use? Thank you!
Gabby, I am so sorry – you caught an error in that the 1 teaspoon baking soda should have been listed in the ingredients. I inadvertently left it out when the post was first published, but have now added it. Hope you enjoy the date nut bread – it’s delicious.
I plan to get some dates and make this bread soon. In the 1960s there was a restaurant in downtown Portland, Oregon called Robert’s Rod and Reel. They served a great date nut bread with Swiss cheese. I loved the combination and used to serve it at home. Thanks for the recipe.
So glad you’re going to try it Diane. I love this date nut bread with cream cheese, but I’ll bet it’s also wonderful with Swiss. Enjoy!
Kristen @ A Mind Full Mom says
Love date bread–thanks for reminding me of this fabulous recipe!
Lisa (Panning The Globe) says
This looks so delicious Laura – especially with cream cheese and coffee. I want some – I’m going to have to make this soon.
Lisa – A girl after my own heart:)
Beth (OMG! Yummy) says
I am still missing Mad Men and let’s embrace being a nasty woman and fabulous in the kitchen!
Yes!! I miss the show though not the period when women had to be twice as good as men and still didn’t get the jobs or promotions. So onward in the professional (and other) worlds, while still enjoying being in the kitchen:)
How can I print this? I nequire a hatd copy
Norma, When you visited the post, there was no “print” button. But I’ve now fixed that – you can print the recipe, using the print button just under the photo in the recipe.
How much baking soda??? I’m guessing 1 tsp?
My apologies. I made a transcription error (omitted baking soda in the list of ingredients) when I transferred this recipe to a new format. You’re absolutely right – it’s 1 teaspoon. I’ve fixed the omission now, and appreciate your eagle eyed reading of the recipe. Hope you enjoy the date nut bread. It’s yummy 🙂
Rita H. Tillery says
I can someone please tell me how much water is required in the Retro date nut bread recipe it’s not listed in the ingredients it’s a bit confusing in the instructions.
It’s 3/4 cup of (boiling) water.
In the oven NOW! Smells and looks incredible.
Holly, Fabulous. Enjoy and do stop by again.
Can chocolate chips be added? Or cinnamon?
Chocolate and cinnamon are not traditional, but I suppose you could add either or both. Wouldn’t be my taste, but if it floats your boat:)
SUSAN GROGAN says
Been looking for a recipe like this! Thank you. If I want to open the raisins, should I increase the dates and to how much?
Susan – Glad to help. Don’t know what you mean “open” the raisins, so I’m afraid that I don’t have advice on the amount of dates. Care to elaborate?
Darn Speech to Text! If I omit the raisins, how much should I increase the dates? Thank you in advance. Sorry for the confusion.
No problem Susan, if you omit the raisins, use an equal weight of dates. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, then do it by volume instead, but don’t push the dates down too hard in the measuring cup.
A family tradition – my mom made every year for thanksgiving and we would all scurry to be up early and get a slice with cream cheese for breakfast. Her recipe was from a 1950’s Fannie Farmer cookbook (wedding gift).
I wonder if this can be doubled? I’d love to give a loaf, and keep one for my family at home.
Lovely that your mom made date nut bread a thanksgiving tradition. I have never doubled the recipe myself, and my usual way to make 2 loaves is to do the recipe twice instead of trying to make one humongous batch and then divide it in half.
I wanted to make date nut bread that was like the one my aunt made fifty years ago (give or take). This recipe is probably as close as I’ll ever get. It is delicious! I can’t believe the flavor without any additional spices, other than vanilla. Just made it today and my husband and I have already devoured a third of the loaf! Yum!
Bonnie, So glad you enjoyed it. Guess the “retro” in the title is a good descriptor for the taste:)
Christine Morris says
I have been looking for a date nut bread recipe that would be similar to the pre-made loaves I used to buy ( Tbomas’ and Neuman’s). This has been the closest. I think I may have overbaked it because it came out dry (baked uncovered for 50 min.). Is there something I can do to get a moister bread? The flavor was spot on! I just love cream cheese and date nut bread!
Christine, Glad you liked the taste. I’m not sure why yours came out dry. Perhaps soak your dates in hot fruit juice or water to make sure they are quite moist when you put them in the batter?
Teresa Lavender says
The Bon Marche stores had restaurants in them and they had a Chicken Salad Sandwich on Nut Bread. I’m going to try this. I really miss their sandwiches!
Teresa, I remember Bon Marche stores but not their restaurants. What a trip down memory lane. Hope you enjoy the date nut bread.
Paula Murzin says
My husband is a huge fan of date bread from the 60’s when his mother made it for him. When he grabbed a bag of chopped dates in the store the other day, I knew I had to come up with the ultimate recipe. This one certainly fits the bill! The dates and raisins softened in the baking soda water made it what it is. Gloriously moist and mouthwatering. We both loved it! Since I didn’t have dark brown sugar, I added 1/8t. of cinnamon and nutmeg. Since no pan size was stated, I used a 9” and decreased the baking time until the top of the loaf cracked and the toothpick was moist, but not wet. Will definitely use this recipe every time I make date bread!
Paula, So glad you enjoyed the date nut bread. Please tell your husband that while my mother didn’t make it for me, my memories go back as far as his, at least when it comes to this bread.
CHERYL M HAYS says
What size loaf pan?
My loaf pan is a bit smaller than most – 7 & 1/2 inches long x 4 & 1/2 inches wide by 2 & 1/4 inches deep. The standard loaf pan is 9″ x 5″, or 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″. Any of those sizes will work, keeping in mind that the smaller the loaf pan, the taller the bread.
My Mother never made date-nut bread from scratch. She used the Dromedary date-nut bread in the cans, making little sandwiches with a cream cheese filling. I don’t think she served it so much as a dessert after dinner but as an accompaniment with afternoon tea or on a buffet. I was sorry when they stopped making it. I only have the canned product as a point of reference and have never had home made. I am curious to know how this compares? It looks as if it might be a lot more moist and flavorful? Thank you for sharing the recipe and I am eager to try it.
Jimmy, I may have had the Dromedary in cans, but if so I don’t remember it. So unfortunately I can’t compare this version to that one. I can say that this one is moist and quite good:)
Thank you for responding to my posting.
I bought some chopped dates yesterday so will be making it and let you know.
JimmyB, I look forward to hearing what you think of the results. Best, Laura
Steve P says
I have not made this yet. Living in the New York area, I grew up eat Thomas’ date nut bread. The same company that makes the English Muffins. Your picture looks just like it. The only thing that I want to make sure of is that the recipe includes no spices? Every other recipe I have seen has Cinnamon, clove and sometimes ginger. I don’t see any spices at all in this. Is there a reason why?
This recipe is adapted from a book which, in turn, adapted it from Pat Nixon’s recipe that was printed in a 1960’s Hints from Heloise. Neither of them had spices. Here’s the original recipe – https://www.deseret.com/2010/8/24/20136496/hints-from-heloise-a-date-nut-bread-recipe-from-the-original-heloise
Susan Z says
Reading your post, I was immediate,y thrust back on time to one of my favorite memories. My Dad had a retail store on Tremont Ave. in the Bronx. starting at age 13, he would drop me off at the “El” (elevated subway for non-locals) with $2.50, and say, Be back by 4.” Then I’d be off on my big Saturday adventure. There were trips to the Brooklyn children’s Museum, adventures in various Manhattan neighborhoods people watching and window shopping, catching a show at City Center in the third tier balcony ( nosebleed section), or my absolute favorite: Rafio City Music Hall. If you got there before noon, you could get a movie and the indescribable stage show for $1.25. I’d get there for the first showtime 11:00 am. How can I convey the magical feeling of entering through those magnificent brass double doors, entering the opulent foyer, running up and down the grand staircases that flanked that space, pretending to be royalty, or entering the 5,000 seat auditorium and being transfixed with the beauty and grandeur of the Art Deco decor and golden silk curtain with embroidered cherry blossom trees, a gift from the government of Japan. Perhaps my favorite part of this entertainment extravaganza was the stage itself. The orchestra could rise from its anterior position, below the stage and glide back across the stage and rise up at the back to allow us to witness a full symphony orchestra, as it accompanied the performers. Then it would magically descend below the stage and return to its original position by the end of the show. The stage actually had three such rectangular risers: front, mid, and rear, AND a giant round, revolving piece center stage, which allowed all manner of configuring the myriad of presentations. but after four hours amazing entertainment, came the cherry on top, a stop at a Chock Full o Nuts for YES a cream cheese on date nut bread sandwich for 45 cents. You see there was 30 cents for the subway, $1.25 for Radio City, 25 cents for popcorn at the show, and that left me 70 cents for that most delicious treat and a small coke, and I returned to my Dad’s store by 4 pm with a cool dime in my pocket!
I can’t wait to try this recipe and stimulate those tasty memories over and over ! Many thanks.
Susan, Sorry for my late response – I loved your memories, have read them more than once. My mom lived in the Bronx and probably went on some of those same adventures. I am old enough to remember Chock Full O Nuts and Radio City Music Hall too:) Hope the date nut bread adds to your wonderful memories.
The Christmas eve tradition in my house was trimming the tree with date-nut bread & cream cheese & martinelli’s sparkling cider. I’ve been living in Italy since I was 24 and haven’t had it since. We’re in lockdown this year and it’s just me and my daughter for Christmas so I decided to revisit this tradition and made your recipe. It came out perfect! I made a couple of tweaks (halved the recipe, added more dates) because it’s just the 2 of us but it took me right back to my childhood. Thanks so much!!
Erika, So glad you enjoyed this date nut bread. No matter where you are, it’s a classic:)
Judy Brown says
How much vanilla please?
Judy, It’s 1 teaspoon of vanilla (noted in recipe.) Hope you like it.
Hi intend to make but don’t like raisins. Would you use anything else? Say walnuts or pecans instead? Loving dates at the moment, even son does which is surprising.
Julie, Sure, feel free to sub either of those nuts for the raisins.
Baking soda doesn’t bubble or fizz to indicate freshness. Baking POWDER does.
Did you mean baking powder instead of baking soda?
I hate to differ, but I’ve tried both and researched the tests for freshness of both baking soda and baking powder. While the bubbles in baking soda are smaller and the bubbling less vigorous than in baking powder, both do bubble and fizz if they are still good. See https://motherwouldknow.com/are-your-baking-soda-baking-powder-fresh/. Hope you have great holidays.
Julie Vee says
Made it, it’s delicious. I didn’t make any changes to the recipe. Highly recommended!
Julie, Many thanks.
My aunt made a date nut bread when I was a kid that was so dark in color and so soft and gooey as well as delicious. I would smear cream cheese all over it. Such a wonderful childhood memory. She has since passed and I had the recipe years ago but my damn dog chewed it. 🤦🏻♀️ I can’t find the same recipe anywhere. Is this date nut bread similar? Hers didn’t have raisins. Just dates and nuts.
While I can’t say for sure how this compares to the date nut bread your aunt made, this one is dark and soft. I tried to find large cans in which I could bake it so it would come out in small rounds the way I remember it, but sadly I couldn’t find any at the time. But a loaf pan worked just fine. Hope you enjoy it.
lisa klein says
have you tried to make this gluten free ?
Lisa, I’ve never tried a gluten-free version. I would imagine that it works fine with a “cup-for-cup” type gluten free flour. Have you tried it?
Holly Pierson says
I wanted to make this because I received a large amount of dates. My mother used to make date nut bread with cream cheese icing. I didn’t get her receipe before she passed. Im excited to see how this turns out. Thank you for sharing.
Holly, I hope you make and enjoy this version, thinking fondly of your mom and her version. I;’ve never had it with cream cheese as an icing (rather than simply spread between two slices of the bread), but it sounds delicious.
Dawn Tobin says
This is the best date nut bread I have ever made, thank you for this recipe.
Dawn, Many thanks. You’ll probably have seen that this recipe is adapted from one in the Mad Men cookbook :). But I’ll take the compliment. Hope you have great holidays filled with date nut bread and other goodies.
I make this with a mixture of whipped cream and Cream Cheese spread on layers of Date Nut bread with sliced strawberries and watercress cut in little wedges. Delicious!
So glad you enjoy it.