The difference between the quality of these pictures and my first post’s is like night and day. Literally. As in, when I baked the “Black and White Cookies,” the light wasn’t exactly “streaming” into the kitchen. With this new recipe, I actually baked during the day in natural light!! I think I might have to try this more often. Of course, my aunt calls me a “night owl” for a reason and my inability or reluctance to get up on weekends and holidays before at least 10 AM often changes my plans. It’s starting to catch up with me though; I’ve had a salad and a spicy chicken sandwich for breakfast one Saturday and Mexican food the following Sunday. Regardless of my motivation to bake before sunset, I love how these pictures turned out this time, especially since I shot them free-hand without the tripod (the one I was too lazy to find).
I’ve looked through David Lebovitz’s cookbook Ready for Dessert for a while now picking and choosing recipes based on availability of ingredients and whatever is in the pantry. I just happened to find a box of dates my grandma brought back from China after flipping through the cookbook and finding the “Date-Nut Torte” recipe. It seemed like the absolute perfect recipe for my family: no butter, very little sugar, and chock full of nuts and fruit! Too bad my mind held on to this “no butter, no sugar” concept a little too tightly… because unfortunately, it skipped over the directions to “add cups of sugar.” And the results? Well, you’ll see:
The recipe started out simple enough. Chop up a cup of toasted walnuts… well, pecans in my case since I couldn’t find the walnuts in our seemingly bottomless pantry. Literally, at times you can’t see the bottom.
The size difference between the two types of dates amused me. The ones on the left are the ones my grandma brought home, but I have no idea what kind they are. The ones on the right are organic Medjool dates from Central Market. If you don’t care about whether they are organic or not, Sam’s Club has them fairly cheap at the moment for the large box they come in. I think pitting the dates had to be the most fun I had for this recipe (I can have a strange sense of fun :) ).
Cutting them in quarters sometimes made the pieces seem too large, especially with the Medjool dates so I just eyeballed them by what seemed to be bite size.
This has to be my favorite picture of the bunch. I love the clarity and the brightness of the mix of flour covered dates and nuts. It just makes me crave dates again!
Ahhh. Here is the moment all the careful preparation and exact measurements seemed to come to waste. That one careless skimming over the words “add sugar.” I should have been suspicious when the batter didn’t seem to set right. It was (as the lower picture will show) too doughy and not fluid at all. I later learned this from David Lebovitz himself when I tweeted him about my problem:
-David Lebovitz: @keeping_my_twitter_private Sugar doesn’t just add sweetness, but moisture & texture. Would be fun to try date sugar in that date cake!
He was right on both parts. Not only did the sugar take away some of the sweetness, but it also, as you can see, took away the moistness of the cake later on. The resulting texture for whatever batter was between the abundant nuts and dates was more… chewy and a little crumbly. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
Again, instead of like regular cake batter where there is little to no need to spread, I had to smooth the giant lump of batter out to the round cake pan I had (since we don’t have the small square pan).
When it baked, I noticed there was a cacophony of hissing, squeaking, and bubbling, hence the title “Hissing Date-Nut Torte.” I was tempted to name it “Hissing Torte, Are You the Destroyer?” after the song title of one of my favorite bands, Of Montreal, but I figured it isn’t that well-known. I did keep the “hissing” though. :) The cake, without the sugar, turned out a little on the lumpy side, but the thick sprinkling of powdered sugar fixed that and it looked just as pretty as it would have smooth! The cake itself was delightfully flavorful even without the sugar. If you don’t like anything very sweet, this cake held just enough sweetness from the dates and the scant amount of orange juice. It paired very well with tea and coffee or, if you’re like me, a large glass of milk. To my surprise, this cake was gone in just a day or two! Though I’ll be sure to include the sugar addition the next time, this “happy accident” really did turn out to be happy after all.
Though David described this as an easy, tasty snack cake, this could easily shine as the slightly sweet centerpiece for Easter dinner. The dates when cut look like a pretty Tiffany stained glass and the powdered sugar brings a delicate simple touch to the Middle Eastern dessert. Paired with some pretty flowers, this cake will sure to be a hit at any Easter dinner!
HAPPY EASTER AND PASSOVER EVERYONE!
These hanging purple flowers are all gone now, but the weekend I baked this, they were in full bloom and absolutely gorgeous! But anyways, on with the recipe!
adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz
(Makes one 8-inch square cake: 8 to 10 servings)
- 2 cups (12 oz./340 g) pitted dates, quartered
- 1 cup (100 g) walnuts (or pecans), toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon aniseed (I didn’t have this, but I think it would have imparted a unique flavor to the cake)
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar (DO NOT FORGET THIS!!)
- 3 tbsp (45 mL) orange juice (freshly squeezed or store-bought)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Powdered sugar, for dusting the cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch (20-cm) square (or round) cake pan, dust it with flour, and tap out any excess.
In a small bowl, use your fingers to toss together the dates, walnuts, and 1 tablespoon of the flour, breaking up the sticky date pieces.
In another small bowl, whisk together the remaining flour, the baking powder, and salt. Crush the aniseed in a mortar and pestle or seal them inside a sturdy plastic bag and crush with a rolling-pin. Add the crushed seeds to the flour mixture and stir to combine.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, orange juice, and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture, then the date-nut mixture just until combined.
Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until the top is light golden brown and the cake feels just barely firm in the center, about 40 minutes. Heavily dust the warm or room-temperature cake with powdered sugar. Cut into squares right in the cake pan.
Storage: The cake will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.
(I couldn’t resist adding this picture just because of its clarity!!)