Chocolate Date Nut Bread for Thanksgiving Gatherings or Anytime

A long time ago, Christine Hessert of Bangor sent a recipe that she uses every Thanksgiving when her large family gathers for a meal. She brings the quick breads, as many as five or six and she shared one for a variation on an old favorite date nut quick bread.

She sounds like a busy person, speaking of holiday hustle and bustle. In case you think five or six breads at Thanksgiving is a lot, Christine is providing for thirty-five to fifty, “Eight siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren. Lots of good food and good cooks.” She wrote, “The kids think chocolate bread is a really different treat. This is an old recipe given to me between thirty to forty years ago by an elderly aunt.”

I gave the recipe a try. I had dates on hand for a change, and the recipe called for a cup of them, which proved to be about a dozen. If your dates still have pits in them you can merely flatten the date with the blade of a heavy knife, then pinch the pit out.

Dates are already pretty sweet, and since I was using bittersweet chocolate (instead of unsweetened) I decided to scant the one cup of sugar called for by about two or three tablespoons. Even if I planned to use sweeter chocolate, when I read one cup sugar my teeth starting aching right away anyhow, but if you like things sweet, then by all means, go for the whole cup. The recipe calls for shortening, and I chose butter.

You can leave the nuts out if there is an allergy in your house. I thought briefly about stirring in some chocolate chips, but stopped myself. You can decide for yourself whether or not to use chocolate chips and/or walnuts or pecans. I chose pecans.

Cautionary note: the recipe calls for two ounces of chocolate. Some of us will be accustomed to thinking of one square of chocolate as one ounce but those one-ounce squares have gone the way of telephone booths, and in rectangular packages that look like they ought to hold eight ounces, you will find flatter bars of chocolate marked off in what the manufacturers are calling “easy break”—four squares of which you need to get an ounce. Grumble. Half as much chocolate for about the same price. “Easy break”–honestly, what a lot of hooey.

I’m so glad Christine shared this recipe. What a treat!

Christine Hessert’s Choc-date Nut Bread
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup pitted, chopped dates
  • ¼ cup butter or shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ounces of chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup chopped nuts
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease and flour a nine-by-five-inch loaf pan.
  3. Pour the cup of boiling water over the dates, and let cool to lukewarm.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg and vanilla.
  5. Stir in the melted chocolate.
  6. Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the sugar and butter mixture alternately with the dates and soaking water, beating after each addition.
  8. Stir in the nuts and pour into the loaf pan.
  9. Bake for one hour, test to see if a tester inserted comes out clean.
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool for ten minutes, then remove from the pan, and finish cooling on a rack.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.