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!!)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.