Date and Walnut Cake

There’s that time when nothing will do except a piece of good cake. I try my best to refrain from sweets and snacks, but when I sit quietly with my afternoon cup of coffee, even the tiniest bit of cake will suffice. We’re limiting butter and sugar intake, so I look to dried fruit. There’s nothing closer to fudge than sticky dates and when paired with nuts, we have a satisfying confection. To bring the cake part into the picture, I bind dried fruit with just enough light batter to hold it together. Since there’ll be a bit of sugar involved, I choose an unrefined sugar with substantive flavor like Indian Jaggery or Mexican pilloncillo, raw sugars that taste like melted toffee and when rubbed between your fingers almost melt into fondant.  Piloncillo comes in small brown cones usually found in cellophane bags displayed along with chilis in the Mexican products section of a supermarket, and you’ll find Jaggery in large or small lumps in Indian markets. Both of these sugars must be grated using the small holes of a box grater before mixing. It’s a little extra effort, but the result brings a wealth of flavor and a great respect for the sugar.

This cake contains no butter or any fat beyond egg yolk and nuts. It has a small amount of flour and can easily take in the added benefit of ground flaxseed. It keeps well wrapped and stored in a tin and is a welcome find several days or weeks later when the flavors have blended and the cake remains soft.

Date and Walnut Cake

14 ½ oz. mixed dried fruit (2 ½ cups) such as 8 oz. seedless dates plus 6 ½ oz. combined pitted prunes and raisins or any dried fruits of choice (pineapple, cranberries, figs, apricots, etc.) all cut in large  pieces

5 oz. walnut halves and pieces (1 ½ cups)

3 ½ oz. (½ cup) packed brown sugar (recommend grated piloncillo or  jaggery)

2 large eggs beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

2 ½ oz. (½  cup) unbleached all purpose flour

scant ¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon ground flax seed (optional)

Line two small loaf pans (3 by 6 inches) with parchment or butter and flour the tins. Preheat oven to 300º.

Place the soft (grated) sugar in a large mixing bowl. Gradually work in the egg one teaspoon at a time until the sugar creams into a soft even mass. (If egg is added too fast, the grated sugar will clump; in that case dump the whole lot into a blender of food processor and whiz to dissolve the sugar lumps. Return to mixing bowl.)

Stir in vanilla and salt. Sift over the flour, soda, baking powder and fold in. Add flax seed if desired. Evenly mix in the dried fruit and nuts.

Spoon, scrape and press the cake mixture into the two prepared loaf pans, dividing equally. Bake in the preheated 300º oven for one hour or until golden and tests done.

Remove cakes from pans leaving parchment intact. Cool thoroughly and store in a tin or plastic box at least 24 hours before slicing, if you can stand to wait.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


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