Date Nut Spice Cake

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Most of the time, we cook for sustenance. At its most basic level, food = fuel and cooking is one of the ways we can convert inputs into energy.

But for many of us, cooking is so much more than that. It’s a method of relaxation, a way to discover cultures both familiar and foreign, a chance to travel, to catch up with friends, and even sometimes an opportunity to make new ones. It can also be a way to show that you care about someone — whether a friend, significant other, or in this case, my mom.

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After pulling this Irish Porter cake out of the oven a few weeks ago, my first thought was “my mom would love this.” She is a fiend for sturdy everyday cakes, especially ones that are redolent with citrus and rife with nuts. While I didn’t exactly feel bad eating the whole cake by myself sharing with people who were not my mom, I knew that when I next went home, somebody would be expecting cake.

This Ina Garten recipe for date nut spice cake, with its five stars and glowing reviews, seemed to fit the bill — its base of sticky-sweet dates is balanced with plenty of bright orange zest, juice, and if you’re following the original recipe, liqueur. (Though I didn’t use any alcohol and it tasted just fine.) A medley of chopped nuts and a touch of warm spices creates a fragrant, barely sweet cake that begs for a cup of coffee, a sun-drenched window, a comfy chair and a good book. Or in this case, a mom to swap stories with.

Date Nut Spice Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten

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I made a double batch of batter and used a 2-quart baking dish for the cake. If you’re making the recipe in the proportions below, you can use either an 8- or 9-inch round baking pan, or the 8-x-4-inch loaf pan that Ina uses.

– 2 cups (10 ounces) pitted dates, coarsely chopped

– 1/3 cup water (Ina used orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Cointreau)

– 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature (I use salted — either is fine)

– 3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

– 1 large egg

– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

– 1 tablespoon grated orange zest

– 2 cups all-purpose flour

– 2 teaspoons baking powder

– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

– 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

– 1 teaspoon kosher salt

– 3/4 cup orange juice (if using freshly squeezed, you’ll need 3 oranges)

– 3/4 (3 ounces) cup coarsely chopped pecans (I used a mix of pecans and walnuts)

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1) Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a baking dish (see above) and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the dates and water (or orange liqueur) and set aside for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and orange zest and mix on low.

3) In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. With the mixer still on low, add the flour mixture alternately with the orange juice to the butter mixture, beating only until just combined.

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4) Fold in the dates and their liquid, as well as the nuts, with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter (it will be thick) into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

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5) Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (depending on what kind of pan you use, you may bake for shorter or longer — begin checking the cake at 30 minutes onward). Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before serving.

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