After sitting glumly on my butcher block for the past three weeks, my dryish Israeli dates - cast aside in favor of their juicy, more voluptuous sisters - were finally used this weekend and, like an 80's movie wallflower in a pink dress at a long-awaited prom, they bloomed and shone.
You all offered up some great suggestions for my dates, but Heather's comment stood out:
"Luisa - I have an amazing date cake recipe from my Granny that is perfect for dates that are a little mangled or tough. The dates soak in hot coffee or chicory so they kind of fall slightly apart, giving the cake this awesome texture. It's got a little bit of chocolate in it for good measure. Let me know if you want the recipe!"
Key words: mangled, tough, a little bit of chocolate.
Um, yes, please?
Heather's grandmother, Geraldine, sure knows her way around a dried date. Her chocolate-chip dappled cake combines coffee-soaked, pureed dates with an easy cocoa batter to velvety-soft effect. This is the kind of unassuming cake that you make once or twice and then commit to memory, enshrining yourself in family lore as the originator of a truly great snacking cake. You can't really taste the dates and coffee, but there are revelatory grace notes of fruit that give the cake an unexpected complexity. The elusive flavor of coffee deepens the chocolate flavor.
I made this cake for dessert on Saturday night and my friend Pat said, between mouthfuls as he ate, that it was the best cake he'd ever eaten. I know this just happened with the squash pie, but I swear to you that I do not put my friends up to this kind of hyperbole. I swear it! They come up with it all on their own.
I loved the fact that the cake required no fussy frosting or gilding-the-lily icing. Sliced into thick wedges, we topped them with a melting scoop of vanilla ice cream. But you don't even really need to do that. It can be nibbled on at the counter in the kitchen or refrigerated and cut into squares for a plain afternoon office snack. I baked it in a 10-inch pan, but you could do a 9 x 13-inch rectangular pan or even a 9-inch round pan for a thicker cake (just adjust the baking time somewhat). The cake is delicate, yet sturdy and has a crumb so soft and moist that it almost melts in your mouth.
I made this cake to get rid of the dates sitting on my counter making me feel guilty, but we've both fallen so hard for it that I've now been instructed to keep our pantry stocked with dry-ish, sub-par dates. It turns out we need this cake on a regular basis. Sigh. Oh, okay. Twist my arm, why don't you.
Thank you, Heather and Geraldine!
Makes one 10-inch cake
2 cups of pitted dates, halved
1 1/4 cups hot coffee
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup good-quality chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper as well. Set aside. Loosely fill a 2-cup measure with the pitted, halved dates and cover with the hot coffee. Let sit for 5 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. Cream together the butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda into the butter-egg mixture. Mix gently to combine.
3. Pour the dates and coffee into a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the mixture completely. Add the pureed dates to the batter and blend to combine.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top evenly with the chocolate chips.Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the edges begin to pull away from the side of the pan. Cool the pan on a rack until cool enough to handle, then gently turn the cake out onto a cake plate. Serve at room temperature.