Sticky Date Cake with Toasted Pecan Toffee Sauce and Crème

If you like a dessert that’s really sweet, with incredible texture variation, this one is for you! I have to say that this is probably one of the most soothing cakes I’ve ever eaten and it stays moist for days…although it won’t last that long. Please make every effort to purchase best-quality, dried dates for this cake. You want supple Medjool dates, not the pre-chopped kind in a box from the supermarket.

Also, I’ve provided, at the end of this recipe, a delicious Orange-Scented, Cream Cheese Frosting, which is an excellent alternative to the toffee sauce and crème fraiche topping (it’s also great on chocolate cupcakes!!)

Ingredients for the cake

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened + Melted butter, as needed, for brushing the pan
  • 1 ½ cups (packed) sliced very supple dried Medjool dates (from a bit less than 1 ¼ pounds), halved, pitted and sliced
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • scant ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs (large or extra-large), made tepid from being submerged in hot tap water (in their shells) for 10 minutes
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the optional sauce and crème fraiche topping

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup crème fraiche, whisked with ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract and superfine sugar, to taste (or cold heavy cream, whipped stiff with sugar and vanilla can be substituted, for a topping with less tang)

Orange-Scented Cream-Cheese Frosting

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (1 1/2 eight-ounce blocks, not whipped cream cheese)
  • 1 1/2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/2 teaspoon orange flavor or extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange flavor or extract
  • 1 generous teaspoon finely minced orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (sift before measuring)
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream, only if needed to correct consistency

To prepare the frosting

  • Cream together cream cheese and softened butter until very smooth, using an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Add orange flavor and vanilla extract and zest and mix well until totally free of lumps. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar, in small increments, mixing until smooth, thick and silky looking. (Always start the machine on low, pulsing, until the sugar is just incorporated, then increase your mixing speed). The consistency should be light enough to spread, but thick enough to hold it’s shape when piped. If the frosting ever gets too stiff, just beat in the sour cream. Cover well and refrigerate. If very chilled, let sit out for a few minutes, then beat it again to lighten the texture.

To apply the frosting

  • Use a medium metal icing spatula to spread a thin, even layer of frosting to the top of the cooled cake. Then, add more frosting to the top and, using the tip of the spatula, make swirls, or swooping peaks. Alternatively, fill a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip ¾ full with the frosting and, once you cut the cake into squares, pipe a decorative swirl on top.

    Leftover frosting stays good for a week in the fridge. Allow to come to room temperature and beat again, with the paddle attachment, to return it to the correct consistency.

Any time I’ve suggested a tool, a piece of equipment, or a culinary term that’s unfamiliar to you, you can go to Learn to Cook for more information.

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Shopping List

Dairy & Eggs
1 1/2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/2 teaspoon orange flavor or extract
1 cup crème fraiche, whisked with ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract and superfine sugar, to taste (or cold heavy cream, whipped stiff with sugar and vanilla can be substituted, for a topping with less tang)
1 tablespoon sour cream, only if needed to correct consistency
1/3 cup heavy cream
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (1 1/2 eight-ounce blocks, not whipped cream cheese)
2 eggs (large or extra-large), made tepid from being submerged in hot tap water (in their shells) for 10 minutes
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened + Melted butter, as needed, for brushing the pan

Dry Goods
1 cup cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
2 to 2 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (sift before measuring)
¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda

Produce
1 generous teaspoon finely minced orange zest
1 ½ cups (packed) sliced very supple dried Medjool dates (from a bit less than 1 ¼ pounds), halved, pitted and sliced
¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans

Spices & Baking
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange flavor or extract
Pinch salt
scant ½ teaspoon table salt
¼ cup light corn syrup

To set up

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the interior of a 9-inch square baking pan (2 inches deep). Line the bottom of the pan with a square of parchment and grease the paper. (To make a square of parchment, turn the pan over and place the paper over the bottom of the pan. Cut out a square to match the bottom.) Place the eggs into a bowl of hot tap water and let them steep, so they loose their chill, for about 10 minutes.

To soak the dates

Place the sliced dates in a bowl. Whisk the baking soda into the boiling water and pour over the dates. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. (If the dates are not as supple, let them steep for 10 to 15 minutes.)

To make the cake batter

Place the cake flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and whisk well to lighten and fully combine. Pour the dates (with the water) into the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the steel blade, and process until smooth. Add the brown sugar and butter and process until homogeneous. Add the eggs and vanilla and process until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture and pulse until just combined.

To bake

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and place into the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. (I use a convection mode and my cake bakes perfectly in 35 minutes.) Let the cake cool on a wire rack and then cut into squares.

To toast the pecans for the toffee sauce, if using

Place a doubled paper towel on a plate near your work surface. Place 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 10-inch skillet, over medium-high heat and, when melted and bubbling, add the chopped nuts. Stir the nuts constantly, until they become lightly toasted and fragrant, in the melted butter. Pour the nuts onto the paper towels.

To make the toffee sauce

Place the remaining butter (4 tablespoons) into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the brown sugar, corn syrup and cream. Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn to low and simmer for 4 minutes, then remove from the stove and whisk in the vanilla and salt. Stir in the toasted pecans. Serve now or allow to cool (or chill) until needed. If well-chilled, rewarm fully in a doubled boiler or in the microwave until warmed and able to be ladled.

To serve

Cut the cake into squares and spoon a small amount of toffee sauce over the top. Top the sauce with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraiche that’s been whisked with some superfine sugar to taste and a bit of vanilla.

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