Some things are best left unimproved, simply because they're so good the way they are. This tried-and-true recipe is dense, moist, and rich-tasting, with lots of dates and nuts in every bite. Makes 10 servings.
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Place the butter, baking soda, and dates in a medium-size bowl. Pour the boiling water over them and let the mixture stand for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. (Tip: An easy way to "chop" sticky dates is to cut them with kitchen shears.)
Line a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with waxed or parchment paper (or grease and flour it), then set it aside. Heat the oven to 350º.
In a large bowl, combine the egg, buttermilk, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Whisk to blend, then stir in the date mixture (after it has stood for the full 30 minutes).
In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and walnuts. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the date mixture. Stir the combined ingredients with a wooden spoon until evenly blended; do not beat.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spoon. Bake on the center oven rack until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and put it on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and place it on the rack to finish cooling. Makes 10 servings.