The fall and winter months always draw me toward cakes that are hearty and rustic. These are generally pastries that aren’t overly fussy and can be mixed in a bowl using easy to locate basic ingredients and that satisfy just about everyone.
Dates and walnuts are a well-tested and enduring pairing in the pastry world. There’s something about the richness and soft chewy sweetness of dates that gets tempered by the slight bitter quality and crisp texture of walnuts. This cake highlights their union and adds a few extra ingredients to their wonderful chemistry. There’s oatmeal for another level of earthy chewiness, coffee to balance the sweetness, orange zest to brighten the whole mix. Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and vanilla deliver a big blast of rich flavor for a taste and aroma that take this cake out of the realm of the ordinary.
This pastry can easily be a luscious brunch or afternoon snack cake or dressed up with a dollop of whipped cream for a very soothing dessert. Date lovers will no doubt be very pleased with every bite of this delicious little treasure.
- Lightly toast the walnuts at 350 degrees F for about 8 - 10 minutes or until they just start to turn golden and give off a light toasty aroma. Watch them closely so they don’t burn and become very bitter.
- If you’re not enamored of walnuts, try substituting chopped pecans or sliced almonds.
- The oats and coffee should only be combined for about 5 minutes. You want them to be moistened but not mushy so there’s still some chew to them.
- I highly recommend using Medjool dates because they are gorgeously plump and have a sort of natural toffee flavor.
- If you notice a white powdery film on the surface of your dates, this is due to their natural sugar and is not cause for alarm. It's just sugar crystal formation. Once the dates are warm, the crystals dissolve.
- If you love dates, you’ll enjoy Roasted Dates with Sherry and Spices. I like to serve them with a cheese course. And there's Date Walnut Chocolate Slices and Oatmeal Chocolate Date Bars in The Global Pastry Table.
Oatmeal Date Walnut Cake
3/4 cup (2 1/2 oz) toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (2 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest of 1 orange
1 oz (2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
4 oz (about 9) Medjool dates
1 cup (3 oz) old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup (8 oz) strong coffee
1 1/4 (6 1/4 oz) cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup (4 oz) canola oil
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk @ room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9” square cake pan and line with parchment, leaving a short overhang on two sides.
Prepare the topping by combining walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and orange zest in a bowl. Cut the cold butter into 1/4” pieces and add. Toss until the butter pieces are coated with the dry ingredients. Using your fingers or a fork, press the butter pieces until the mixture is moist and clumps together with large and small chunks. Chill until ready to use.
Pit the dates and remove the stems. Coarsely chop them and place in a medium bowl. Place the oats on top. Pour 1 cup of strong coffee over the top and set aside for about 5 minutes.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk the oil, both sugars and eggs until thoroughly blended. Add in the vanilla and date and oat mixture. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, mix in the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with half the milk. Mix just until there are no dry streaks of flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out in an even layer. Sprinkle the walnut topping evenly over the top of the batter.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 - 32 minutes [Please note: My readers are reporting that the baking time for this cake is closer to 50 - 60 minutes. Ovens do vary greatly so please take that into consideration as you check for doneness]. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Run a thin-bladed knife around the edges of the cake. Gently lift it out of the pan using the parchment overhang to assist. Using a platter, flip the cake over and peel off the parchment. Use another plate or platter to flip the cake right side up.