Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Date-Nut Extra

There is something so American about this cake. It has that down-home, sensible-shoe aesthetic that makes French people recoil in horror. It wants to be all that it can be: it's a banana bread! It's an applesauce cake! It's a date-nut bread! It's pretending to be healthy while sneaking in a stick of butter.

Of course, I was pondering the over-the-top Americanness of this cake as I was baking mini corn muffins for a party. The muffins included bacon, hot peppers, onions, corn, and cheese. Do I cook for attention? Oh yes, I do.  I guess I'm a proud American when it comes to my baked goods.

And you know what? I like banana bread, and applesauce cake, and date-nut bread. And as I've mentioned before with another recipe suspiciously like this one, I love making cakes with a ton of different ingredients. So I was very happy with this cake.

I brought a hunk of this cake to tea with some French friends (who did not, in fact, recoil in horror!) and sent some with my in-laws to fortify them on an anniversary trip to Tunisia. And the rest just kind of...melted away. Probably went to someone pretending to be healthy.

Here's the recipe.

Date-Nut Extra

2 c. (7 oz.) walnuts
1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 t. baking powder
3/4 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. cloves
1/4 t. mace (note on the spices: I just used about 2 t. of "quatre ├ępices", a mix of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. I love measuring out lots of spices, but the blend was there, so I used it.)
1/4 t. salt
1 c. (7 oz.) brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 c. (8 oz.) unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c. (6 oz.) mashed bananas (this was about 1-1/2 bananas for me)
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 c. (4.5 oz.) sifted whole-wheat flour
1 packed cup (8 oz.) pitted dates, cut into quarters (I weighed mine before pitting, and there was still plenty)

Heat the oven to 350. Get out a loaf pan or other pan that holds about 10 cups (if you're not sure, measure out 10 cups of water and see if it fits in the pan.). Butter the pan. Take about 1/2 cup (1.25 oz.) of the walnuts and chop them finely by hand or with a food processor. Use the walnuts to coat the pan, leaving any that don't stick to the sides on the bottom of the pan. Chop the remaining walnuts coarsely.
Cream the butter with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves, mace, and salt until fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat another 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, beat in the applesauce and the banana. Add the flour, also on low speed or by hand. Take the bowl off the mixer and stir in the dates and remaining walnuts by hand.
Pour into the prepared pan and use a spoon to make a 1-inch trough in the center of the batter. Bake for 1-1/4 hours or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, and then unmold onto a rack to cool. As Maida writes, the cake slices best when it's completely cooled, but it tastes really good when it's still warm, so we both recommend very carefully slicing off a bit while it's warm.

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