Once upon a time I had a food blog but it disappeared. Then on Sunday I found myself stress baking, tweaking a recipe from my mother which is quite perfect on its own. It gave birth to this beautiful mini-loaf of cake and half a half a dozen cupcakes.
More butter, less sugar is what I did. It’s the dates. They vary in sweetness, so you may find yourself wanting more sugar than I did. The highest quantity is what’s listed on my mother’s version; the least is mine. Somewhere in between will work. And, yes, the smallest quantity of butter would, in fact, do. But why skimp.
You may call this a bread if you like. You may . . . indeed. However, it is not a bread. It has too good a crumb for it to be a bread. It is lovely and buttery and maybe you want to eat it with some cinnamon butter or a nice butterscotch sauce. But warm from the oven and dusted with confectioner’s is more than sufficient.
If you measure your flour by scooping a cup into a bunch of flour, you really shouldn’t be baking a cake from scratch. Get yourself some Betty Crocker, it’s the kind thing to do.
Yes, the butter and eggs need to be at room temperature before you begin.
150 g walnuts
200 g pitted dates
1 cup whole milk
1¾ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
a big pinch of salt
1 to 1¼ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 to 1½ cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
Preheat your oven to 325º F (160º C). Grease and flour several mini-loaf pans (mine are sized at 5.75″ x 3″), or a 9″ x 13″ sheet pan, or line several cupcake holes. I’m not quite sure how much this makes, though the sheet pan is a safe bet.
Place walnuts on a baking tray and toast in oven for about 10 minutes. You may skip this step, but bad decision. Untoasted nuts in cake batter tend to taste a bit boiled once the cake is done. Toasting gives them texture. Don’t burn them, that’s no good. Use a timer.
Cool them and chop them roughly.
Finely chop the dates.
Heat the milk until it just boils. Mix the dates in. Let sit until the mixture comes to room temperature. Again, this is vital. The warm milk softens the dates. More importantly, the milk becomes suffused with delicious date-iness such that one forever pooh-poohs cake with isolated bits of dried—seriously—fruit in it.
Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. This takes anywhere between 2 and 5 minutes.
Beat in one egg at a time, making sure to incorporate it fully into the batter and scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding the next one.
Now this is a rhythm if you know what you’re doing. If you’re a baking novice, sorry, bit complex here. Add the flour mixture and the date mixture to the batter alternately. Like so: add some flour, beat to incorporate, add some date stuff, beat to incorporate, etc. You must begin and end with flour and you must not over-mix the batter. Use a spatula if you’re terrified.
Stir in walnuts, which should’ve cooled by now.
Pour batter in appropriate tin(s) or cupcake liners. The mini-loaves take 20 to 30 minutes, the sheet cake takes 45 min to an hour, and the cupcakes take around 15 min. Check regularly and use a toothpick or tester to ensure the cake is cooked before taking everything out. The toothpick/tester should come out clean.