Sometimes, when I’m looking at cakes – you know, idly scrolling through the limitless, beautiful cakes that social media now throws at us – I feel a little like a magpie. Shiny! Sparkly! Colourful! Mine, mine, mine! There are unicorn cakes, geode cakes, mirror-finish glossy cakes. Cakes that look like burgers, shoes, owls, dolls, houses and, once, I’m fairly sure, a cake that looked like a sequin-covered walking stick. I bookmark these cakes, with no real expectation that I’ll make any of them unless the occasion arises (suddenly find yourself needing a life-sized edible owl? Give me a call!), but still mesmerised by their prettiness, by their multi-coloured icings, by how much they don’t look like cake.
It means that when I come to make cake at home, even if I’m not trying to construct some inanimate object out of sponge, I can feel a little cowed by the weight of my own expectation. How can this humble cake compare with the technicolor, jewel-encrusted offerings of social media? Maybe I should add icing! Or a chocolate drip! This incredible brown date and walnut cake is the antidote to that: a simple sponge, that requires no gilding or tarting up.
It’s probably no surprise that the basis of this recipe long predates both the fashion for bonkers cakes and social media itself. I have adapted it from a recipe from the be-ro cookery book. This is not the first time I’ve written about the be-ro cookery book; I used it to help me develop the recipe for sultana scones. When it come to old school recipes, there’s really no beating it, and this cake is old school: it’s a real tea-time cake. It’s not a looker, but it is sticky and nubbly, sweet and bitter, with an absolutely stellar sponge base.
Date and walnut cake
Makes: 1 8 inch cake (6-8 slices)
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour 15 minutes
225g dates, stoned and chopped
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
150ml boiling water
75g light muscovado sugar
75g margarine or butter
225g self raising flour
100g walnuts, chopped
1. Heat oven to 170’C and line the base of an 8 inch round cake tin with baking paper.
2. Place the dates and bicarb in a small heatproof dish, and cover with the boiling water.
3. Cream together the margarine or butter with the sugar until fluffy and noticeably lighter in colour than when you started.
4. Incorporate the egg, and then fold in the flour, the nuts and, finally, the dates and their soaking water.
5. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the sponge is risen and bronzed and, when pressed gently with a finger, springs back. Leave to cool in the tin for fifteen minutes before releasing and leaving to cool entirely.