17 December 2011
It's a date...
Mother made several candies every year for Christmas. Date Nut Loaf was the first and the favorite of my sister and me. Daddy's favorite, too. Other favorites are Boston Cream Candy, Peanut Brittle, Peanut Pattie, Fudge, and some awful peanut butter cocoa thing that Mother always tries to trick me into tasting. I don't like peanut butter; I've never liked peanut butter; I may even be allergic to peanut butter. If Reese's Cups were the only candy in the world, I'd never eat another bite.
This year Mother decided she wasn't up to making candy and delegated the Christmas chore. My brother makes Boston Cream. He also makes Grandma's teacakes. Two years ago Mother supervised my making date nut loaf in her kitchen during an early December visit when she wasn't feeling very well. (I've noticed that our visits are improved when I let her teach me things.) Two batches of perfect candy! I tried a couple of batches in my own kitchen last year which didn't come out well--one was sticky and the other was grainy and obviously overcooked--so I'm a bit nervous because this year I'm on my own. I'm even more nervous because I've been unable to find the recipe with all my notes. It was either lost in the computer disaster of last January or is buried in one of my file folders of recipes which never quite manage to be organized into a cookbook.
So here follow 2 recipes: first, the old-fashioned stove top version like Mother and Gran and Grandma made and second, the microwave version which I made this afternoon.
Classic Texas Date Nut Loaf (Candy)
2 cups sugar 1 cup milk
8oz dates (chopped) 1 cup chopped pecans
1 Tablespoon butter 1 teaspoon vanilla.
In a heavy saucepan (Mother always uses a heavy aluminum pot which has been missing a handle for decades--I think that pot is part of her magic. I'm always in danger of scorching the milk.) combine sugar and milk. Stir over low heat, not letting it boil, until sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Add the chopped dates and continue to boil until it comes to the soft ball stage. (Mother can tell by looking but uses the drop a bit into a cup of cold water test.) Remove from heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla, and pecans. Cool a bit. Divide into 2 batches and dump each out onto a cold, wet dishtowel. Shape and roll into a loaf. Cool completely. Unroll from the towel, transfer to a cutting board and slice. Layer into a tin, separating layers with wax paper. "Keeps a couple of weeks if you can keep from eating it." May be frozen either before or after slicing.
I read dozens of recipes. Some use evaporated milk which causes me to suspect that cream might have been used in the days of home dairies. I suspect that the increased fat in the cream would make a smoother, richer candy. And since I'm pretty frustrated by my attempts at stove-top candy making, I thought I'd try a microwave version.
K's Date Nut Loaf (Candy) Microwave
2 cups sugar 1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. dates (chopped) 1 cup chopped pecans
1Tablespoon butter 1 teaspoon vanilla
In a 4-quart microwave-safe glass bowl, mix together sugar and cream.
Microwave, on high and uncovered, for 4 minutes. Watch to be sure it doesn't boil over. Stir and scrape the sides of the bowl to dissolve sugar. Check the temperature with a candy thermometer--they make them for use in a microwave but I don't have one. I just stuck in my instant thermometer when I wanted to check.
Return to the microwave for another 4 - 6 minutes--stirring to prevent boil over--until the mixture reaches 235 degrees F. which is that soft ball stage. (It took only an additional 5 minutes for my batch.) check out the candy temperature chart
Stir in the dates. Return to the microwave for another 2 - 2 1/2 minutes, stirring at least once. (It took just under 2 minutes. My candy thermometer read 240 degrees.) The dates had softened and begun to dissolve into the candy mixture.
Remove from the microwave and add the butter, vanilla, and pecans. Mix well.
Let stand to cool until lukewarm. Then beat, beat, beat by hand for about 5 minutes. (Hard work for us electric mixer cooks.) . The candy will thicken (kind of fudgey) and change color a bit.
Pour half the mixture onto wax paper (I used that clean, cold, wet tea towel for half and didn't think it worked as well) and shape and roll into a loaf.
Repeat with the other half of the mixture. Yields 2 rolls, each about 9 inches long.
Allow candy to cool and harden for 4-6 hours. May refrigerate to speed the process.
Unroll towel or wax paper and slice.
Perfect date nut loaf candy. Yummy! And since I've posted the recipe on-line, I can't lose it.