Friday, November 26, 2010

Chocolate Date Nut Cake

This is one of those loaf cakes that seems to fit effortlessly into the holiday season. It’s a bit of a complex flavor profile that comes from a range of very compatible ingredients harmonizing beautifully with one another in each successive bite.

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.

Bench notes:
- 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.


Alicia said...

Oooh! I love the idea of putting coffee in this. It looks divine!

LimeCake said...

So many delicious flavours in this lovely loaf cake! This'd be great as gifts! Happy Thanksgiving!

Jun said...

Yummy! I hope i can make one that looks as good as yours!

Lauren said...

There are some seriously delicious flavors going on in this cake!

Kathleen said...


I was looking for something different to do with a loaf cake, and I do believe this is it!


retro sweets said...

oh wow! nuts, dates and coffee- nice combo. i only had preserved dates. havent tried it w/ anything else sadly.

Anonymous said...

I made this yesterday and took it to a Christmas Eve dinner. It had the right aura of richness without being fussy or requiring the preparation of three kinds of meringue, and turned out absolutely delicious. Thanks. (I found you via Tastespotting.)

pastry studio said...

bklynharuspex, welcome and thank you very much for your feedback. It makes me happy to hear stuff like this! Tastespotting usually rejects my photos so I'm glad I got the odd one in!

saturday mike said...

I've been wanting to make this cake since the recipe was posted, and finally found myself with a majority of the ingredients, and opportunity, this past weekend.
The cake itself was very simple to put together, and though I was a bit concerned because the batter was thinner than most cake batters, it turned out beautifully! The flavors are really interesting, complex and work well together.
And, as mentioned, the flavor is even better the second day, so I would recommend making it the day before you're going to serve it.
I also thought some whipped cream might be nice with it.

Julie said...

Can I feed this cake to make it last longer. I was wondering if we Can use this recipe as a make ahead cake for christmas and feed it for 3- 4 weeks. Also will there be any changes in the baking time if I bake them in smaller foil tins that I will be gifting them.

pastry studio said...

Hello, Julie. I've never put these cakes in the freezer so I can't say for certain that it will work. But I don't see why they wouldn't. The cake is rich and moist and shouldn't suffer too much in the freezer. Just be sure to wrap them properly in airtight plastic bags.

If you are baking smaller loaves, the baking time will be different. Depending on the size of your pan, you may want to start checking the cakes at about 30 minutes. You want to bake them until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.

Hope this helps.

retro sweets said...

I am looking forward to baking some of these after reading this blog again!

Anonymous said...

I've been making this yearly and this year's may have been the best yet. Thank you again for a delicious recipe.

pastry studio said...

bklynharuspex, AWESOME! I love the balance between dates, nut and chocolate in this loaf. Glad to hear you enjoy it, too.

Best of the New Year to you!