I love the foods of the Middle East. I can’t claim to be an expert, but what I’ve tasted and tried has been utterly delicious–redolent with spices and herbs, full of tart citrus, rich roasted meats, and flavorful sauces. My only culinary sadness is that my suburban town has no Middle-eastern restaurant to frequent. That means most of the time, my hummus and kofta cravings must be satisfied at home.
Sometimes, though, you really want a sweet treat. This cuisine doesn’t slouch there either. The sweet, moist date is a native staple that is easily found in your local grocer, and it makes a truly delicious cake. I made this one from Rose Water and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood. It came out rich and balanced, with just a hint of orange blossom water in the caramel. I love orange blossom scents, but I was a little worried that it would give a soapy flavor. I had nothing to worry about. Just a drop or two of the orange blossom water complemented the rich, buttery sugar perfectly. Even my sister-in-law who balked at the mention of dates in Sunday evening dessert enjoyed it. I doubled it (big family!) and it turned out just fine. Definitely give this one a try.
Sticky Date Cake with Warm Orange Blossom-Caramel Sauce from Rose Water and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood
Makes 8 servings
For the cake:
¼ c unsalted butter at room temperature, plus 1 T to coat the pan
1 ¼ c water
1 ¾ c chopped pitted dates (about 20 Medjool dates
1 t baking soda
1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
¼ t kosher salt
½ c packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ t vanilla extract
For the caramel sauce:
6 T unsalted butter
⅛ t kosher salt
1 c heavy whipping cream
¾ c packed light brown sugar
few drops orange blossom water
For the whipped cream:
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 T granulated sugar
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat an 8-inch cake pan with about ½ T of the butter. Line the bottom with parchment, then lightly butter the top of the parchment with the remaining ½ T of butter.
Heat the water in a medium saucepan over high heat to boiling. Add the dates, bring the mixture back to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes to soften the dates, giving them a stir every so often. Remove the dates from the heat and stir in the baking soda (the mixture will foam up a little). Set this aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 1/4 c butter and the brown sugar on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl midway through beating. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and stopping to scrape the bowl as you go; the mixture may look slightly curdled, but it’s fine.
Add the dates and vanilla and continue to beat, scraping down the bowl. Slowly add the flour to the mixture on low speed, and thoroughly combine. the batter will be somewhat thin.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and springs back when touched in the center.
Whiile the cake bakes, make the caramel sauce. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the salt, cream, brown sugar, and orange blossom water and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, whisking constantly until the mixture is combined and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Reserve about ½ c of the caramel sauce for serving.
While the cake is still warm, poke it liberally all over with a toothpick or skewer, out to the edges. Spoon a few tablespoons of the caramel sauce evenly over the surface of the cake all the way out to the edges, one tablespoon at a time and using the back of the spoon to spread the caramel around while it is absorbed by the cake. Let the cake rest for 15 minutes.
Turn the cake out onto a platter with the bottom side facing up, and poke this side liberally with a toothpick or skewer, again all the way out to the edges, and slowly spoon several tablespoons of the caramel sauce over the cake in the same way you did on the other side, one tablespoon at a time to let the caramel absorb into the cake. Let some of the caramel drip decoratively down the sides of the cake. Allow the cake to rest for 15 minutes or up to several hours, uncovered, before serving.
Make the whipped cream by beating the cream with the sugar in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Chill the cream until you are ready to serve the cake.
Reheat the reserved sauce before serving if it has thickened too much to pour. Cut the cake into wedges and serve each piece with a spoonful of caramel sauce and whipped cream on top.