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Apple & Date Bread

Adapted from The Great War Cookbook (1918) by May Byron

I made this bread as part of a food demonstration I gave at Arundel Museum for their Food Then and Now project which explored how the town coped with food shortages during the First World War. I’ve combined two of May’s recipes for ‘wholesome’ fruit breads (one for apple bread and one for date bread). Despite being a product of wartime privations it’s a really lovely loaf.


225g eating apples (2 medium)

7g fresh yeast

1tsp granulated sugar

75ml lukewarm water plus a little extra if required

225g white bread flour, plus extra for dusting

225g brown bread flour

1tsp mixed spice

1tsp fine sea salt

110g chopped dates

Oil or butter for greasing

1tsp caster sugar dissolved in 1tsp milk for glazing

  1. Peel and core the apples then roughly chop or slice them. Cook them with 1-2tbsp water until soft enough to puree using a stick blender (alternatively push the soft apples through a sieve). Allow to cool until lukewarm.

  2. Cream the yeast with the sugar then mix in 75ml water. Sieve both flours, the mixed spice and the salt in a bowl (tipping in any bran left over) and make a well in the centre (without exposing the bottom of the bowl). Pour the yeast mixture into the well and leave for 15 minutes or so in a warm place until the yeast begins to bubble and rise up.

  3. Add the warm apple pulp and mix until you have a firm dough. If the mixture seems too dry add some more water. If it is too sticky add a little more white flour. Knead for 10 minutes if using a food mixer with a dough hook attached or 15-20 minutes by hand until the dough feels springy. Place in a bowl and cover with a tea towel. Allow to prove for 1½ – 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

  4. Meanwhile, grease a 20cm springform tin and dust with a little white flour. When the dough has risen sufficiently knead in the chopped dates. Divide the fruit dough into 8 pieces. Place one piece in the centre of the prepared tin with the other pieces around it. There won’t be much space between them but this is fine. Cover the tin with a tea towel and allow to prove in a warm place for 30- 40 minutes. After this time there should be no gaps between the dough balls which will have expanded to fill any space (if they haven’t leave for a little while longer). Whilst the dough is proving for the second time, preheat the oven to 200℃.

  5. Put the loaf in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 180℃. Bake for 30 minutes then carefully unclip the top part of the tin then return the loaf to the oven for a further 10 minutes (if you can also prize off the base of the tin so much the better but this is rather tricky!). This will help the loaf develop a good crust.

  6. During this last 10 minutes briefly warm the milk and sugar (10 seconds in a microwave on a high setting should be ample) to dissolve the sugar. As soon as you take the loaf out of the oven (and you are sure it is thoroughly cooked – tap the bottom to see if it sounds hollow) brush the milk and sugar glaze over the loaf to give it a nice shine. Ideally you should wait for this loaf to be completely cold before eating it but it is devilishly hard!

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