The idea for the cake is based on a palette of flavors composed by a brilliant pastry chef I worked for a few years back. The cake has a deep cocoa richness and, along with the dates, toasted walnuts, coffee, spice and amontillado sherry, a very satisfying earthy quality. The back note of orange zest brightens the whole mixture and kind of ties it all together. I normally don’t combine so many flavors into one pastry because I think things get a little muddy when you have so much going on. But in this case, that memory of the taste of my chef’s date truffle dessert composition now transformed into a simple loaf cake still strikes a very warm chord for me.
Grace your holiday table with this little feast or deliver it as a gift to good friends. ‘Tis the season for exactly this kind of rich and soul soothing offering.
- I used 7 large plump medjool dates, which weighed 6 oz and measured a loose 1 cup when chopped. Cut them into pieces large enough to give a nice explosion of date goodness as you take a bite of the cake.
- I used Lustau Dry Amontillado "Los Arcos" sherry, which is in between a fino (darker) and an oloroso (lighter). It is often served with olives or cheese, nuts and dried fruit. It has a nutty aftertaste with a hint of orange and molasses. You can also try rum or brandy. Or omit the liquor completely.
- I think the cake is best the second and third day when all the flavors have a chance to relax and meld. After it has cooled completely, store in an airtight container.
Chocolate Date Nut Cake
Makes 1 loaf
1 C dates, chopped (about 6 oz whole)
1 C strong coffee
zest of 1 large orange
1 t baking soda
5 oz (10 T) butter
1/2 C sugar
3/4 C dark brown sugar
1 egg @ room temperature
1 1/4 C flour
1/4 C cocoa powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 T milk
2 T Amontillado sherry (optional)
1 t vanilla
3/4 C toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast the walnuts for just about 8 - 10 minutes.
Prepare an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2” loaf pan with oil and a piece of parchment paper large enough to form an overhang along the length of the pan.
Pit the dates and remove the stems. Chop into coarse pieces and place in a medium bowl. Cover the dates with 1 cup of strong coffee. Add the zest of 1 orange and the baking soda.
Melt butter and beat in the sugars. Add the egg and beat until the mixture is emulsified. Add the date mixture and combine thoroughly.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Combine milk, liquor (if using) and vanilla.
Alternate adding half the flour and all the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Once all the ingredients have been added, mix just a minute or so until everything is fully combined. Fold in the toasted walnuts.
Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Bake the cake for about 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
Cool the cake on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Remove it from the pan, carefully peel off the parchment paper and cool the cake completely.