In retrospect, I should have known better than to try and turn that cake out right away–any recipe that advertises itself as sticky, gooey, and moist all at once is probably too delicate for the kind of manhandling I do in my kitchen. It was still gooey in the middle, and even as I upturned the pan to turn it out I could feel it sag ever-so-slightly into my palm. I should have just let it alone to cool in the pan, but I was hungry and jittery and I had a barbecue to get to. So I slid the cake out, and it came apart in my hands.
I dropped the two crumbling halves as gently as I could on the table, and felt myself deflate. I had drooled over this recipe for days, growing increasingly desperate to try a cake founded on chocolate and mortared with dates. I had followed the instructions meticulously, making only a couple substitutions I knew were foolproof. I sat for an hour, increasingly lightheaded and giddy from the deep syrupy-chocolate aroma wafting from the oven. My friends were going to be witness to my failure. I had been so close.
The cake sat, obstinately, unapologetically, growing limp on the table. Sam came up behind me. “Can I taste it, at least?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said dully.
He pinched off a piece from the edge of the jagged gap in the middle. “Wow. This is really good.”
“Really?” I reached out and took a piece. He was right–it was really good. Not quite a spice cake, not quite a chocolate cake, but something in between: dark and rich and almost creamy in the center, with a thrum of honey-sweetness from the dates. I took another bite, and then another. Maybe my friends would forgive me for the craggy, half-crumbled mess I was about to bring them.
They totally did. And demanded that I make this cake again. Next time, I’m putting on my kid gloves.
Spiced Chocolate Date Cake (makes one 9-inch loaf)
Adapted from Singapore Shiok!
7 oz (two 3.5 oz bars) dark chocolate, chopped, divided
1/2 lb (8 oz) dates, pitted and finely chopped
1 1/4 cups water
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal or finely ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground or grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks/8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325º F. Generously butter and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan, or line the pan with parchment. Melt 1 cup of the chocolate pieces via whatever method you like; set aside to cool slightly, reserving the remaining chocolate for later.
Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until the dates are soft and the liquid has thickened slightly. Stir in baking soda–the mixture will bubble up violently–then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
In another large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by vanilla extract and melted chocolate. Fold in half of the dry ingredients, followed by the date mixture, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients. Fold in the remaining chocolate pieces.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and tilt the pan to level the top. Gently tap the pan on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles. Bake for 1 hour, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
Remove from the oven and transfer the pan to a cooling rack. Let the cake cool completely before turning out of the pan and slicing–please. Learn from my mistakes.