Indian spices update a classic date cake

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I love baking but until I was 16, our oven was just used as a place to keep big cutting boards and exiled frying pans.

My Indian parents were of a place and time where no one had ovens at home. All breads were flatbreads, like chapattis, which were hand-rolled and cooked on the stove and all cakes, if any, were either baked with the help of the village bakery or purchased.

Even now, ovens are rare across the whole of India because there's never been much of a culture around baking, so baked goods are precious treats and baker's skills are revered. Having not grown up with baking, the first cake, I made felt like real magic. Creating a goo out of eggs, butter, sugar and flour and watching it rise into something magnificent was very special to me and the total opposite to the way we cooked Indian food, by tasting, balancing and adjusting along the way.

Over time, classics became mingled with Indian spices and ingredients like cardamom, cinnamon and dates — as in this cake.

The dates add a lot of moisture, density and a caramel flavor to the sponge and the spices add sweetness and exoticism. Strictly speaking, the icing is unnecessary — a dusting of icing sugar would do — but the coffee butter icing gives it a special celebratory feel, which is, partly what baking is really all about.

Date and cardamom cake with coffee frosting

Soft dates are best for this cake as they'll add to the moisture.

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (30 minutes active time)

Serves: 10

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 stick butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

1 1/4 cups dates, pitted

¾ cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

A pinch of salt

For the frosting:

6 tablespoons butter, softened

1 1/4 cups powder sugar

1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

1 tablespoon boiling water

Directions:

Butter a loaf tin (approx. 9 x 5 inches) and line with parchment paper. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Chop the dates and place them in a saucepan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan and bring to the boil over a low heat, stirring occasionally. When the dates disintegrate into a soft, paste, take off the heat and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, add the butter and sugar, cream together, then add the eggs, mixing in one by one. Fold in the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and when folded, add the date mixture and mix well.

Pour the batter into the loaf tin and place in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave the cake in the tin to cool before removing.

To make the frosting, mix the coffee granules with a tablespoon of boiling water (no more or you'll have wet frosting until the granules dissolve. Add the butter and sugar and whisk until soft and creamy.

When the cake has cooled, remove from the tin and smooth the frosting over the top.

Nutrition information per serving: 404 calories; 152 calories from fat; 17 g fat (11 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 86 mg cholesterol; 155 mg sodium; 62 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 43 g sugar; 4 g protein.

Meera Sodha is an Indian foods expert and author of "Made in India: Recipes from an Indian family kitchen." She lives in London, blogs at www.meerasodha.com and tweets at @meerasodha


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