Recipes for sticky date cake and date bread can be found on handwritten cards in heirloom recipe boxes throughout the South. Although there are many variations, the premise of soaking dates in a hot liquid to both sweeten and moisten the crumb is a given. This variation from my new book, Heirloom: Time-Honored Techniques, Nourishing Traditions, and Modern Recipes, is based on a recipe from the Vanderbunt family of Oxford, Georgia, who generously allowed me to peruse their treasured collection. I have adapted it to make it a whole-grain cake, using spelt and rich, almost chocolaty teff flour to deepen its character. Walnuts are the traditional nut of choice, but I prefer the sweetness of pecans paired with these flours. Hot tea is used to scald both the dates and the teff, but you may use hot coffee or water instead—whatever is left over at the end of a day’s kitchen work is usually what sneaks its way in!
From Heirloom by Sarah Owens © 2019 Sarah Owens. Photographs © 2019 by Ngoc Minh Ngo. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. —Sarah Owens
Test Kitchen Notes
In Heirloom, this cake is shown with a couple optional garnishes: toasted coconut flakes and maple-sweetened whipped cream. Try either or both, or put your own spin on it, and report back when you do. —The Editors
- Makes 1 (9-inch) cake
Unsalted butter for the pan
(1/2 cup) whole teff flour, plus more for the pan
(1 1/2 cups) chopped dried dates
fine sea salt
(1 cup) boiling hot black tea
1 1/2 teaspoons
(3/4 cup) coarsely chopped pecans
(1/4 cup) coconut oil, or unsalted butter, melted
(1 cup) coconut sugar or brown sugar
pure vanilla extract
(1 cup) whole spelt flour
(9 tablespoons) unsalted butter
(3/4 cup) coconut sugar or brown sugar
(1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons) heavy cream
(2 1/2 tablespoons) brandy or dark rum
pure vanilla extract
- Prepare the batter: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper, and butter it generously. Lightly flour the pan to coat the bottom and sides, tapping out any excess. Place the teff flour, dates, and salt in a medium bowl. Pour the hot tea over the bowl, sift in the baking soda, and stir well to combine. Stir in the pecans and set aside for the ingredients to soak while you prepare the rest of the cake. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the melted coconut oil and coconut sugar until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating the first before adding the second, then add the vanilla and mix until smooth. Beat in the date mixture, then add the spelt flour and mix until just combined. Pour the runny batter into the prepared cake pan.
- Bake the cake: Place the cake in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully tent the cake with aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake tests clean.
- Prepare the glaze and finish the cake: While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze: Combine the butter, coconut sugar, cream, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. After about 45 seconds, take off the heat and stir in the brandy and vanilla. When the cake is done, use a toothpick to generously poke holes all over the surface while still in the pan. Pour about half of the warm glaze over the cake and allow to soak for 15 minutes. Place a plate over the cake and flip the cake out so it’s bottom-side up. Poke additional holes into the surface and drizzle the rest of the glaze over the top of the cake in a few additions, allowing it to soak into the surface before drizzling more. Allow to cool completely. Garnish with the toasted coconut and salted maple whipped cream, if using.