Yassi’s As-Moist-As-a-Pudding Date Cake
Yassi sits on her stool in the kitchen kneading the glossy détrempe for la pâte feuilletée; puff pastry. There is no beurre sec, but Lurpak will do. Her silver and black hair is in short waves and immaculate as always; her pastel kurta is starched. Yassi’s slender, milky fingers are bare as they push the dough back and forth, like a potter with her clay. Her mother’s vintage ring bearing three overlapping leaves in rose, yellow and white gold removed and placed in the porcelain Wedgewood jewelry jar given to her by her daughter-in-law. She looks at the granite counter, “It would be lovely to have a cup of champagne resting there for small sips while the dough rests,” she thinks. But she is no longer in her Paris kitchen, she is in Karachi.
Champagne is now reserved only for special occasions.
To her daughter-in-law who visits once a year, everyday is a special day in Yassi’s home. For lunch, sheets of la pâte feuilletée are sliced into rectangles; delicately sautéed chicken and julienned carrots are folded in; the pastry sealed, brushed with egg white and baked till ballooned and brought to table. Served with a tomato chutney. For tea, Yassi’s fruit cake, a small, thick slice, filled with currants and orange peel soaked in brandy. One slice. Two, ah, maybe another one for her daughter-in-law. For supper a gratin de courgettes with grated parmiggiano, with a dense, spicy lentil and goat curry for the chili-heads in the family. Some caramel custard for pudding; lacquered on top; tender and creamy from inside.
Or maybe a quiche- her son’s favourite. During their courtship, Yassi’s daughter-in-law would get jealous when her son would talk about his mother’s “most fabulous quiche“. “Hmph. And what about my crêpes?” she would ask him under her breath. But a part of the family now, enamoured by Yassi and her effortless elegance and perfection, her daughter-in-law knew she could only wish to be like her. Knead the détrempe like her. Yassi the only person who can say the phrase, “oh how lovely” five times in a conversation and not sound the least bit affected.
Yassi serves her daughter-in-law a date cake, between meals. “Oh, you’re on holiday, you must enjoy it,” she tells her, while dropping thick, heavy spoonfuls of double cream on a slice of the cake in her daughter-in-law’s plate. A recipe passed down to Yassi by her own mother. A recipe older than her marriage; even older than her son. A dense, dark, earthy cake moistened with the gooeyness of dates, almost like a steamed pudding.
As I said, everyday is a special day in Yassi’s home. You can have that cake, and eat it, too.
NB For a gluten-free version, you can use a combination of gluten-free ‘flours’, for the recipe, please refer to the Gluten-Free Goddess’ website here.
You will need a 10-in (25 cm) Springform pan and some parchment paper. (If you use a pan with a smaller diameter, the cake may remain raw from the middle and cooked from the sides, so please do use a 10 in pan.)
*250 g plump dates with seed. (If using stoned dates, you’ll have to adjust/decrease the amount)
*250 ml boiling water
*1 tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
*100 g butter, unsalted, brought to room temperature
*180 g granulated sugar
*150 g flour
*2 tsp baking powder
*Preheat your oven to 175C / 350F.
*Place parchment paper on top of the springform pan base and trace a circle. Line pan with parchment circle and butter and flour the sides.
Step 1: Prepare the date mixture:
*Deseed your dates by gently tearing them open from top to bottom.
*Chop dates fine.
*Bring 250 ml of water to a boil (I boil it in my kettle and then measure out 250 ml to be exact).
*Pour into saucepan, when water starts to boil, add baking soda, (it will froth).
*Add chopped dates and stir the mixture for 2-3 minutes.
*The date mixture should be on the thick side, not watery.
*Take off the stove and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.
Step 2: Prepare the batter:
*Whip butter with sugar till light and fluffy.
*Add eggs slowly; they may curdle at first but keep whipping, the mixture will come together and become smooth.
*Slowly fold in flour and baking powder and keep whipping/mixing.
*Add in date mixture, with a spoon/spatula and gently stir.
*Batter will seem slightly thin, but since we’re using a pan with a wide base, don’t worry, the cake will cook through. Remember, this is a moist, pudding-like cake.
*Pour into Springform.
*Bake for 35 minutes, test to see if the toothpick comes out clean after 30 mins; I like this cake moist and goeey, please don’t overbake it.
Allow cake to rest half an hour before taking out of Springform pan, or serve by the spoonfuls immediately, like a soft pudding, with double, triple or clotted cream on top.