Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How I failed the world's best date cake

I love the Guardian's online site (oops, almost misspelled it in best Grauniad tradition). I have the tab open all day and I visit in-between tasks at work for a little welcome refreshment.

So unsurprisingly I came across this recipe on the site. It's by the Guardian baking contributor, Dan Leppard. His recipes all sound mind-blowingly delicious and read as if they're really simple to make. I especially liked the sound of this Tamarind Date Cake because it contains tamarind.

I bought a jar of tamarind concentrate to make Neil Perry's lentils. I now realise I have about 100 years worth of tamarind, since most recipes only ever call for a teaspoon. And this recipe would unload another teaspoon. Every bit counts. Tamarind and dates? Intriguing possibility . . .

I don't bake very often, but the cake proceeded smoothly. The tamarind bit was straightforward. It all smelled gorgeous in the oven. I was pleased with myself.

The bit that failed? The icing.

The failed icing

I bought some organic icing sugar because I hoped it would be slightly less refined than powdery 'normal' icing sugar which I vaguely remember from the last time I made icing. When I was 12.

The recipe called for my entire packet of ridiculously overpriced icing sugar and the juice of half a lemon. So, I emptied the contents of the packet into a bowl and poured the juice over it. The aim is to make a thick lemony paste. I was concerned that the lemon would be insufficient liquid and I'd have to add water which would dilute the flavour.

Much to my amazement, the icing sugar promptly dissolved leaving me with this runny sauce. Dan says to spread the icing on top and let it drizzle down the side. Mine poured in a torrent down the side. It wouldn't sit on top. It looked awful, not at all snowy and enticing like it did in Colin Campbell's picture on the website.

I put the cake in a shallow bowl, and spooned the 'icing' from where it collected around the bottom and tried pressing it in the top. That kind of worked, but not really.

Later when I told my mother my sorry tale, she chuckled. Oh no, you have to add the liquid slowly to icing sugar. Apparently this is a well-known fact.

Dan Lepard's world's best tamarind date cake 

200 g chopped dates (impossible to stop pilfering bits of date while chopping)
50 g tamarind paste (I used 1 tsp tamarind concentrate)
250 g unsalted butter
150 g dark brown sugar (I used feather palm sugar)
2 large eggs
275 g plain flour
2 tsp bicarb
175 g walnuts, roughly chopped (ditto with the dates)
150 g icing sugar
juice of half a lemon
seeds from 6-8 cardamom pods, ground in a mortar & pestle (skipped this bit)

Line the base and sides of an 18 cm cake tin with non-stick baking paper. Heat oven to 180 degrees.

Put the dates, tamarind paste and 300 ml water in a pan and bring to the boil. Boil for a minute, remove from the heat, add the butter and set aside for 10 mins to cool.

Add the brown sugar, stir, then beat in the eggs until smooth. Beat in the flour and bicarb, then stir in the walnuts.

Spoon the cake mixture into the tin and bake for about 1 hour, or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Remove and leave to cool.

When cold, make a thick, smooth icing with the icing sugar, cardamom (if you can be bothered), juice and a little water (which you probably won't need). Spoon over the cake so it dribbles down the sides. If you're lucky.

The verdict

You know that Italian expression Brutti ma Buoni? Ugly but good? That was my cake.

Dense, rich, buttery and not too sweet. The icing that I managed to squash in added a caramel syrup dimension that was delicious. I think I could have been bolder with the tamarind. And there was no hint of lemon, which also would have lent a balancing tang.

I'm sure if I tried again I'd be more successful. But the trouble with having cake around is the guilt - guilt about wasting food if I don't eat it and guilt about consuming more than I need if I do eat it. Might have to make a salad next time.

In the meantime, do check out Dan Lepard. His recipes are delectable. And he's running sourdough courses in Little Portland Street in Feb, if you're interested. Sounds like heaven to me.

And tell me your baking disasters. How good are you at making icing? Whip it up, never think twice - or floundering in foreign waters? I'd love to hear your stories.


  1. This is so amazing recipe. i like tis.

  2. Thanks, Teriyaki Chicken! If you're interested, I'm now blogging at The Well-Intentioned Cook (wellintentionedcook.com). Hope to see you there!