Dates, apples and honey – autumnal flavours don’t get better than that. And in Nigella Lawson’s cake recipe all three are in perfect, sweet harmony.
Seasons for cake
Nobody dare tell me cakes aren’t seasonal! They are too, very much so unless you only ever eat brownies.
Summer is all about berries for instance: swathed in pillows of whipped cream or baked in buttery batter.
In winter all we want is Christmas bakes: mince pies, ginger cake and those opulent Italian confections like panpepato.
Spring means we’re on the weight loss regime so less is more: a biscuit or very light sponge every now and again.
Autumn is the best cake time. Berries and stone fruit are out of the way, apples and pears are in. Apple pies! Sticky pear cakes! Strudels and dried fruit studded cakes, fragranced with comforting cinnamon, exotic cardamom and cool heat of ginger.
The classic of all, sticky toffee cake is in fact a date cake, except often renamed ‘pudding’ and drowned in toffee sauce.
Dates are a fabulous caking material because, with a little help of bicarbonate of soda, they dissolve into sweet, sticky pulp.
You need not splash on them either: Medjool dates are fantastic and well worth paying for when you purchase them for snacking or breakfasting. But ordinary no-name dates, pitted or not, are perfectly fine for cakes.
You chop them up and briefly boil anyway so even if really hard and shrivelled, they’ll swell up and serve the cake well.
There are two main types: cakes with apple filling and with chunks of apple folded into the batter.
The classic example of the former is apple pie, beloved of Americans on par with pumpkin, I think. Norwegians also like their apples to feature abundantly and distinctly atop a sponge called epplekake.
The other type is, for instance, the old fashioned apple cake or the easiest autumn cake with apples, brown cake. And apples in the latter two bakes can easily be swapped for pears or firm plums.
What apple variety for cake?
Traditionally, so called cooking apples (Bramleys) are advised to be used in baking. I personally suspect it’s only because they are not so very nice to eat, rather than having some magical properties that awaken only in cake batter.
Nigella in the original recipe recommends Braeburn but frankly, whatever you get cheaply or off your own tree, if applicable. They will be cooked to a mash anyway.
How to make the honey, apple and date cake
No mixer! It’s all done by hand which is always a bonus. The batter is mixed in a saucepan – make sure you grab one large enough for this.
Cored, peeled and diced apples are cooked on the hob with a little olive oil and orange juice until tender. Dates cut into small pieces join in and cook to soften, for everything to be eventually mashed into lovely, fragrant pulp.
While that puree cools, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients: all the liquid ones (oil, honey, eggs and the orange blossom water) stirred together with dark brown sugar in a jug or bowl, until it looks precisely like treacle.
The dry ones, flour, ground almonds, cocoa, salt and bicarbonate of soda should be stirred in a separate bowl.
And then it’s short work: adding the liquid ingredients to the apples and dates in the pan, then folding in the dry ones until everything is combined and smooth. A generous addition of walnut chunks ends the job.
The cake bakes in just under an hour and when out, you can happily leave it unadorned. But you won’t be sorry if you do make a small effort to cook down a little honey and orange juice for a glossy glaze.
The cake is divine
I cut the amount of sugar from Nigella’s original 100g down to 80g because I always try to reduce sugar content. It is still plenty sweet, dense and wet thanks to the olive oil (it makes cakes moister than butter would) but not stodgy.
The walnut crunch, the deep brown colour and the apple aroma all make it the perfect autumn dessert.
With a scoop of crème fraiche, it’s irresistible.
More apple recipes
Apple cider bread with chunks of apples in the dough. This delicious recipe makes easy apple bread using sparkling apple cider in the dough.
Apple and cheese scones are really tasty, made with Cheddar cheese and Bramley cooking apples. A quick, rewarding, minimum effort recipe for apple cheese scones.
Apple marmalade, thick and gorgeous spiced apple preserve with natural pectin. If it’s never jam today, perhaps we can have some marmalade, eh?
More date recipes
Sticky toffee cake topped with nuts and drizzled with toffee sauce. Dates and dark brown sugar are key to a sticky toffee deliciousness.
Tamarind paste added to a date cake gives it a wonderful tang. This tamarind date cake with cardamom icing comes from Dan Lepard.
Dates are not just for Christmas: featured here in a wonderful dessert that must be cut into small squares or bars - it is divinely rich.