A tea loaf is a true classic and my fool-proof version, packed with dates and walnuts, is sublime sliced thickly and spread with salted butter.
Updated: Feb 2020 (new photos)
While I tinker with many of my recipes – especially those I work on for publishing in magazines and when cooking at food festivals or on television – there is no messing about needed with a tea loaf: you simply soak the fruits overnight in good quality strong tea, give all the ingredients a quick mix the next morning and then pop into the oven where it bakes slowly.
I think salted butter spread over slices of this loaf really makes it come alive, but just a slice eaten with a cup of tea is wonderful.
You can use any tea that you love to drink. I usually use tea from Teapigs and flavour-wise I vary between Earl Grey, Breakfast tea or Darjeeling, each bringing slightly different subtleties to the finished cake.
A classic, handed-down recipe
This is one of those recipes I have had for almost four decades, initially scribbled down for me by my late gran.
I have modified the recipe slightly but I rarely play around with this recipe. On the few occasions I have done, though, I have replaced some of the raisins with sultanas or currants, perhaps with a few dried cherries….but it doesn’t need much tinkering around.
Loaf liners or greaseproof?
I absolutely adore the liners you can buy for all manner of tins (as in the photo above), but I do love the more rustic look you get when you use greaseproof:
Making it gluten-free
I have made a gluten-free version of this tea loaf on many occasions for coeliac friends by simply replacing the flour with a good gluten-free flour: it is one of the things that coeliac friends request the most.
The cake is moist enough to hold its shape without any need for extra additives at all!
Recipe: date and walnut tea loaf – makes two 2lb loaves
- 150g chopped dried dates
- 200g raisins
- 80g walnuts, roughly chopped into smallish pieces
- 300ml strong hot tea
- 270g self-raising flour
- 230g brown sugar (light, dark, muscovado or a mixture)
- 2 medium eggs, beaten well
(1) Put the raisins and dates in a bowl and pour over the tea. Give it all a stir and leave overnight for the fruit to absorb the liquid. The next day, the fruit should have plumped up nicely. Don’t worry if there is some tea that has not been absorbed into the fruit.
(2) Preheat the oven to 130C (fan). Line two 2lb loaf tins with non-stick baking paper or pop a loaf liners into each.
(3) Add the walnuts, flour, sugar and eggs to the bowl of soaked fruit (along with any of the tea that hasnt been absorbed into the fruit). Mix well for a few moments until you can see no bits of flour.
NB: it might seem to be a very stiff mixture at first, but it will quickly start to mix well.
(4) Spoon the mixture into the tin and flatten out the top. Put in the oven for about 1¾ hours, or until the cakes have risen and are just firm to the touch – give it a check it after 1½ hours and place some foil on top if it seems they are getting too dark:
(5) Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning it out and leaving it to cool on a wire rack, still in their paper.