Here's something that a lot of people don't get about me: I don't like dates. I don't know what it is about the dates that I don't like or what experiences have led me to avoid them, but we just don't get along. In Ramadan I try to get away with breaking my fast on anything but dates, but when faced with someone offering me a date, I usually just take one and eat it, especially if I really don't want to explain to the person that I don't like dates and don't feel like listening to a lecture on the benefit of dates. It's not like I find them repulsive to the point where I will spit them out and wash my mouth out with soap, but they just don't appeal to me. And their appeal didn't get any better when one of my friends resembled a squashed cockroach to a date. Charming, I know.
So when a neighbour gifted us with 10 packets of fresh dates from their town and a massive container of date syrup, I needed to find a way to like dates. I was able to give away most of these packets to my parents and in-laws as gifts, seeing as they love dates, but still had a couple of packets to use. I grew up with my mum making plenty of date cakes which I refused to try, and don't want to try them just yet either. So I set out looking for a recipe to bake them in.
I found this recipe which manages to sneak in dates with everything else I love in a cake: bananas, walnuts, cinnamon, butter. And I bet you know where this is going - yep, it was surprisingly delicious. It was everything I wanted in a cake - soft and moist because of the bananas, slightly spiced by the cinnamon, little crunches of texture from the walnuts, and not overly sweet thanks to the dates. I made a couple of changes to the recipe, toasting the walnuts for more flavour, swapping the honey for date syrup, using plain flour instead of self raising because that's what I had on hand, and changing the method to something I was more comfortable with, but still leaving it as the easy, low maintenance cake it is.
This might be one of the most complimented every day cakes I've made, and who can blame it? It's perfect for a midday snack with a cup of tea or coffee. It's so good that the next day when my husband took the leftovers to work, there wasn't a single crumb left by 9:44 am. That says enough.
Banana, Walnut and Date CakeAdapted from BBC goodfood
(It's meant to serve 8, but I like to cut it into 16 squares to serve more)
For the cake
50 grams walnuts,
175 grams butter, softened
100 grams light or dark brown muscovado sugar
3 tablespoons date syrup
2 large eggs
200 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 overripe bananas
100 grams pitted dates, chopped
For the glaze
25 grams butter
3 tablespoons date syrup
16 whole walnut halves
Preheat the oven to 160C (320F). Butter and line the base of an 8x8 inch square pan. Put the walnuts (both the ones for the cake and for the topping) on a baking tray, and toast in the oven for around 7-10 minutes, until toasted and golden brown, flipping the walnuts half way through. Leave aside to cool. Once cool, chop the walnuts (for the cake, not the topping).
Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar and date syrup in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon. Add in the flour mixture and mix until just combined. It's okay if there are a few streaks of flour. In the bowl that was used for the flour (recycling bowls to limit washing up!), mash the bananas, then mix in the chopped walnuts and dates. Add the banana mixture to the cake batter, and mix in gently using a spatula, until well combined. Spread the batter into the prepared tin, and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the tin on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto rack to cool completely.
Whilst the cake is cooling, start preparing the glaze. Put the butter and date syrup in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let it boil for one minute, until slightly thickened, then take the saucepan off the heat and mix in the toasted walnuts, until fully coated. Leave to cool and thicken for a few minutes, then using a spoon, pick out the walnuts one at a time and put on a plate, making sure to drip any excess syrup in the saucepan. Whilst the syrup is still a little warm, pour the syrup over the cake and use an offset spatula or a knife to spread a thin layer over the top of the cake. I like to use the syrup while it is still slightly warm and runny, as I find it easier to spread rather than when it has fully cooled. Decorate the cake with the syrup coated walnuts. Cut into cute small squares and serve with a freshly brewed cup of coffee.