In case you’ve missed the glaringly obvious title of this post and are anticipating some amusing or exciting anecdotes about my personal life - for which you’d be forgiven in light of my aptitude to ramble on about things totally unrelated to baking – I’d better stop you right there. I hate to disappoint you but no, in this instance I’m talking dates of the edible, fruity kind.
Dates and I, we have a chequered history. I didn’t use to like them. Every time I tried to eat one, I'd chew...and chew...and chew - like a camel chewing on cud - but I’d find it sticking stubbornly in my throat. The problem was that I couldn’t understand why, given my passion for all things sweet, I couldn’t form an amicable relationship with something that looked like it should taste of deliciously soft toffee. Despite my aversion, I so very much wanted to like dates.
So I persisted and then one day, as if by magic, my persistence paid off: I fell in love.
Now that I’ve acquired the taste, I can’t seem to get enough. I’ll eat all varieties, even at a push the far too syrupy, not enough flesh, under-ripe sort, but preferably plump, juicy, Medjool dates or, better yet, fresh Ajwa dates that frustratingly only seem to be available in the UK during Ramadan (if any food buyers are reading this, please pretty please with a cherry on top could you make them available more frequently, just for me?)
The best thing is that dates are good for you and that, amigos, means that this cake is good for you too! In fact, as it contains not only dates but oranges too, I do believe we might just have ourselves two of our five a day all wrapped up neatly in one delicious cake!
Okay, so I’m pushing things slightly with that claim but honestly, this cake tasted so scrummy, I find it hard to believe the happiness derived from eating it didn’t do me some good! It was soft, sticky, damp and yummy in my tummy!
Adapted from Hugh F-W's Date and Orange cake
Yields 10-12 slices
Serve either warm as a dessert with hot toffee sauce poured over (see below for recipe), or cold as an afternoon treat with some double cream drizzled on top.
For the cake:
- 300g butter, softened, plus a little extra for greasing the tin
- 250g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 150g self-raising flour, sifted (preferably three times)
- 150g blanched almonds, whizzed in a food processor until very fine
- 200g dates, stoned and chopped (I used Ajwa. Medjool will also work but if you can't get either of these, soak standard dates in hot water for 20-30 minutes before stoning and chopping for the cake)
- Zest of 3 oranges
For the drizzle:
- 85g golden granulated sugar
- Juice of 2 fresh oranges
For the toffee sauce (optional):
- 150g butter, melted
- 220g soft light brown sugar
- 200ml double cream
To make the cake
Preheat the oven to 170C (160C for a fan oven) and grease a deep, 8" round cake tin before lining the base with baking paper.
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (use a paddle attachment if using a freestanding mixer). Don't try to save time here - beat for a good few minutes to get a soft mixture and to incorporate lots of air as the air is what will give you a light cake.
Break the eggs one at a time into the butter and sugar, beating very, very slowly after adding each egg to incorporate it without the mixture curdling. If it looks as though it's curdling, add a spoon of flour with each egg and continue to beat.
Add the almonds and the rest of the flour and beat until you have a glossy batter.
Finally add the chopped dates and the orange zest and stir together gently until combined before spooning the mixture evenly into the prepared tin.
Bake for 10 minutes at 170C (160C fan) before reducing the oven temperature to 150C (140C fan) and baking for another 60-65 minutes or until a knife or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If you're worried about the top of the cake burning, cover it loosely with foil after about 45 minutes of baking in total to prevent this from happening.
To make the drizzle
While the cake is baking, make the drizzle by combining the sugar and orange juice together and stirring to combine.
As soon as the cake is out of the oven, leaving it in the tin, prick it all over with a knife or skewer.
Spoon the drizzle evenly all over the cake and then leave it to seep in. It may look like too much drizzle but it will soak slowly into the cake, ensuring a moist sponge throughout.
Once the drizzle has all soaked into the cake and the cake has cooled a little, you can remove it from the tin.
For the toffee sauce
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low to medium heat. Once it's melted, add the brown sugar and cream, and stir to combine. Simmer for five minutes until you have a thick pouring sauce.
The toffee sauce keeps in the fridge for a few days and can be reheated either over a gentle heat on the hob or in short bursts in the microwave.
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