Sunday, 15 January 2012

Idiot Proof Date Cake

In my wild days as a young, enthusiastic and accident prone baker, there were very few recipes that stood by my side and refused to let me down, despite my best efforts. One of them is this classic date cake recipe. And what a winner of a recipe it is. The cake relies on very few ingredients (except the dates of course) which you'd expect to find in any respectable kitchen cupboard and yields excellent, idiot proof (trust me, I have tried it) results every single time.

This recipe calls for oil rather than butter, thus cutting down on the calorie quotient, earning it even more brownie points with me. You'd never guess that the cake doesn't use butter though. It turns out with a a very rich and deep flavour. I'd place it broadly in the fruit cake category in terms of look and texture. The flavour of course is completely different. Interestingly, the cake doesn't really taste strongly of dates. In fact, had I been handed a slice and asked to guess the ingredients, I probably would have failed. It is something I should try with the next set of guests who get treated to a slice of warm date cake with vanilla ice-cream as dessert.

The quality of the dates you use for the cake will influence the outcome. Dark coloured dates will yield a richer, more attractive end product. However, if the dates you have on hand happen to be a shade plainer than you'd like, I wouldn't advise a visit to the supermarket down the road in your dressing gown. I'd suggest you rely on a little trick instead. Simply heat some sugar in a pan to make some caramel (note: this is not a trick to be relied on by the faint hearted) and prepare some caramel. I will not attempt to reinvent the wheel, which has already been elegantly manufactured by the talented Mr Lebovitz in his blog post which is accurately and confidently titled "How to Make the Perfect Caramel". For our purposes, the caramel that I am referring to is "dry caramel" as David refers to it in his post.

Once the caramel has cooled down slightly, add in just a few drops of water so that you get a consistency that will mix evenly into the cake batter (otherwise the hot caramel will just solidify into little solid chunks when you mix into the cooler cake batter). Then just swirl the caramel syrup into the batter to yield a more dark and handsome cake (no guarantee that it will be taller) than you otherwise would have ended up with. Be sparing in your use of the syrup though (use no more than a teaspoon or two) to avoid ending up with a batter that has too much liquid, which would just ruin the cake entirely - and I don't mean just the looks!

I cannot possibly end this post without saying a little bit about where I got the recipe from. It is from a very popular and successful Indian blog "Aayi's Recipes" written by Shilpa. The reason I sat up and took note of this recipe was because a humongous number of people had commented on her post saying that they had tried the recipe and loved it. When I checked the link again today, I see that there are a whopping 680 comments! Wow. That's a lot of date cake!

My two cents having tried the recipe many times: you can reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup instead of 3/4 cup and still end up with a sweet enough cake because dates tend to be quite sweet as it is. I also tend to add in one lightly beaten egg and 1/4 tsp salt. This helps the cake rise more than it otherwise would have and yields a softer crumb. Of course, if want to cut down on the cholesterol, feel free to use the original egg less version of the recipe.

For an ego boost like none other, serve this cake warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a large party of guests post-dinner. Prepare yourself. There will be compliments.

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