Sticky Date Pudding

            Me dates ‘ave gone soft.  If that isn’t a constant concern for cooks.  We buy dates by the hank here.  They’re still on the stem and bundled together, almost like a skein of yarn, and they taste like caramels.

But they are dusty when you bring them home and need a rinsing.  Usually they dry right out and have an ongoing shelf life, but this particular batch isn’t drying so well and they have gotten a bit sticky.  So naturally, I thought of making another (also see Whole Orange Cake) Australian housewives’ staple dessert:  sticky date pudding.  You do know that a pudding is nothing more than a cake in British/Australian speak, so don’t let it intimidate you.

I first fell in love with this cake at a little Australian café in KATHMANDU, of all places.  The restaurant was opened by an Australian couple who were trying to adopt a Nepali child.  This turned out to be one complete genre of expat we frequently met in Nepal.  Others were Buddhist students, missionaries, ancient hippies, mountaineers, and entrepreneurs, along with diplomats and aid workers.   As the adoption process lingered on, this family decided to save the wear and tear on their family and just move to Kathmandu and open a restaurant, what they knew how to do.  The name of the restaurant was The Red Dingo.  I remembered this by association as it was right around the corner from another expat favorite, a Mex-Nepali restaurant called Lazy Gringo.  What made that restaurant Mex-Nepali you ask?  I guess it was mostly because all of the cheese they used was yak cheese, but there were other indicators, too.   The Red Dingo, however,  was quite un-Nepali which made it fun to visit now and then.  Inside the ceiling to floor glass windows were black and white tiles, a blackboard with the daily menu, and lipstick red leather sofas and chairs where you could sit with several friends and pretend that you were being very urban and First World.
 They always had sticky date pudding on the dessert menu.  I know myself well enough by this time in life to understand how completely I am lured in by caramel sauce.  Is anyone else defenseless against a sauce of butter, sugar, and cream?  I thought so.  The caramel sauce poured all over the date-studded cake causes the whole thing to just melt together.
Sticky Date Pudding
Serves 8
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Ingredients 

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Sticky date pudding
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1 1/2 c.  pitted dates, chopped 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 1/2 cups boiling water 
1/2 c.  butter, softened 
1 cup brown sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 eggs 
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt


Caramel sauce 
1 cup brown sugar 
3/4 c.  thickened cream  or creme fraiche
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/4 c. butter
Method 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line the base of an 8-inch springform cake pan. 
Place dates and baking soda into a bowl. Pour over boiling water. Allow to stand for 20 minutes. 
Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well
after each addition. Using a large metal spoon, fold through date mixture and flour until well combined. 
Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center 
comes out clean. When cool enough to handle, place plate under cake. Open springform pan side and remove it
. 
Make sauce:
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until sauce comes to 
the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 2 minutes. 
Pierce pudding all over with a skewer or large-tined fork. Pour 1/2 cup of warm sauce over warm pudding. Let 
stand for at least 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.
Serve with remaining warm sauce.

Finished cake swimming in caramel sauce.  I love the air hole indicating the sauce is soaking way inside.

Next time your dates go soft (not an idiom) you know just what you can do with them.

Whole Orange Cake

Thanksgiving is coming up this week, but we won’t be at home for Thanksgiving Day.  Having Thursday and the connecting Friday off from work creates an irresistible draw to do some regional traveling.  I’ll tell you later in the week where we will be.  Never-the-less, I feel like doing some festive cooking.
We are just on the cusp of orange season.  I won’t add them to the What’s in Season list yet because they’re still a tinge green and a tiny bit sour, comparatively, but the scent of oranges does conjure the holidays, in my mind.
I’ve been waiting a few weeks to try this whole orange cake.  It seems to be an Australian country wives’ recipe, but I had to do so much converting that this recipe is mine now.  If you want to check the original or if you prefer metric measurements, here is the link.  Otherwise, you should just trust me.  I am very much in the mood for a cake with the marmalade-like brightness this cake implies.  Ground almonds will temper that mood enough.  Then, it will be soaked in an orange rind and dessert wine syrup.
We stock our wine cellar at a winery not far from Hammamet called Domaine Atlas.  Pictured below is the actual Bredy wheelbarrow of wine cases we bought the last time we were there.  Mind you, we entertain a lot.  Each time we are there, we stick in a few bottles of their dessert wine which comes in clear,  unlabeled bottles. The Australian recipe calls for botrytis-style dessert wine.  Botrytisis really a controlled decomposition process which is why it is fondly referred to as “noble rot”.  I don’t know how noble our local product is, but it is suitable for sipping and cooking.

When I took this photograph, I had in mind one of those magazine set ups like oranges + almonds + dessert wine using actual plus signs, but I don’t know how to do all that so the key ingredients are  just all there mingling in a group.

Whole Orange & Almond Cake with Dessert Wine Syrup


Ingredients (serves 8)
3 large oranges 
Melted butter (to grease  pan)
5 eggs 
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2 cups almond meal 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder 
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups dessert wine
1 tsp. thyme, lavender buds, or Herbes de Provence (optional)
Double cream, to serve
Method
1. Place 2 oranges in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Drain. Return oranges to the pan and repeat process (this will reduce the bitterness of the peel). Return oranges to the pan once again and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, adding more water when necessary to keep oranges covered, for 1 hour or until oranges are very tender. Drain. Set aside for 2 hours or until cooled to room temperature.
2. Preheat oven to 325′ F. Brush a round 8 inch cake pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base with parchment paper. Cut oranges into quarters. Remove the white cores and any seeds. Place in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
3. Use an electric beater to whisk the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale. Stir in the orange puree. Add the almond meal, flour and baking powder, and stir until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan and use the back of a spoon to smooth the surface. Bake in preheated oven for 1 1/4 hours or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
4. Meanwhile, use a zester to remove the rind from the remaining orange.  Juice the orange and place in a medium saucepan along with the rind, wine, remaining sugar and herbs. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until syrup thickens slightly. Remove from heat.
5. Turn cake onto a wire rack over a baking tray. Spoon the hot syrup over the warm cake. Set aside for 30 minutes to cool. Cut cake into wedges and place on serving plates. Drizzle with any remaining syrup and serve with double cream, if desired.