This is my last traybake recipe from the Baking Bible. I felt rather sad as I love Mary’s traybakes. For the most part they are simple all in one recipes which can be made in next to no time. I must confess to being put off by the mention of dates. They are something I associate with old age; my grandparents seemed to eat their way through an awful lot of them. Surely I have at least another thirty years before I feel the urge to start gorging on dates!
Before I made a start in the kitchen I thought I had better take Isaac to the park. For a change the sun was shining, which is a rare sight. I was in the middle of a hot flush, so I stuck to short sleeves and flip flops (I was wearing trousers too!). Isaac, however, insisted on wearing his raincoat. It turned out that my two year old has more sense than his mother. As soon as we'd arrived at the park the heavens opened. Within moments rain was bouncing off my eyelashes and dripping from my hair! We made a swift exit from the park and dashed for home. We arrived through the front door soaked to the skin; it was straight upstairs for a change of clothes. My plan to bake while Isaac napped was abandoned. Instead I lay on the sofa wrapped in a blanket and watched Anne of Green Gables for what must be the hundredth time. I lasted a full hour before I fell asleep!
When Neil arrived home I decided to crack on and make the traybake. It shouldn’t take long and I could make dinner at the same time. I needed to soak the chopped dates in a fair amount of boiling water before I could put them to use. Strangely, I also had to add a small quantity of melted butter to the bowl. Why it needed to be softened first was beyond me! With the kettle being put into action this seemed like the perfect opportunity to add extra water and brew up some tea. As I waited for the mixture to cool we settled back, while Isaac made himself dizzy by running round in a continuous circle - strange child!
With the date mixture now cool, I could carry on with the cake making process. I whisked several eggs and a hefty quantity of dark brown muscovado sugar together. I used my balloon whisk for this little job. There were quite a few stubborn lumps of sugar which required a great deal of elbow grease to break them up. Feeling rather hot and bothered, I moved on to the gentler task of tipping in the ground almonds; I was surprised to be using so much. Breaking up the walnuts was quite relaxing and I became lost in a daydream as I broke them with my fingers. I never bother chopping with a knife as I find most will inevitably flick onto the floor. I had to double check the quantity of self- raising flour as it seemed as though it could have been too much, especially when I considered the ground almonds that had already been added. Surely the cake would turn out too dry! Last of all I sprinkled in the ground cinnamon, and then brought the mixture together with the aid of my balloon whisk. As I had feared the mixture was very stiff, so much so that the metal part of the whisk bent with the effort! My worry increased when I read that I should pour the cake mixture into the awaiting tin. I had to spoon mine in, eeeek!!
As I put the tin into the oven I realised that the chilli I had bubbling on the hob for our supper was starting to stick to the pan. I really should not attempt to multi task as I'm not very good at it! Thankfully our meal was still edible, and it soon disappeared from our plates and into our greedy tummies. After cooking the evening meal my body and brain start the shut down process. I have completed my daily tasks, therefore my work is done. I am very grateful that this cake produces a glorious toffee smell as it cooks, otherwise I would have forgotten all about it. I even asked Neil what the lovely smell was!
I took the cake out of the oven ten minutes before its maximum cooking time as it was already a deep golden brown and felt firm when poked. The thought of getting in a mess with the icing sugar before bedtime put me off making the icing. It could wait until tomorrow.
First thing the following day I made the icing. This was partly to get it out of the way but also so that I could dig in and have a slice of cake. Isaac watched as I sifted the icing sugar into the awaiting bowl. A few lumps landed on the floor and he 'helpfully' broke them up and made pretty patterns with his hands and feet! I smiled through gritted teeth. Now for the lemon. I required both the zest and the juice. It was a very firm lemon, so I shoved it in the microwave for a few seconds which helped to get out a bit more juice. Mary says to add a little hot water to the lemony mixture to create a spreading consistency. I must have splashed in too much as mine became rather watery, whoops! As I spread the icing over the cake a fair amount danced merrily down the sides. I wasn't left with much on the surface and the lumps and bumps of the cake were clearly visible. I hoped the broken pieces of walnut used to decorate the top would help to hide my sins!
After leaving the icing to set, I eagerly cut a large slice. When inspecting the cut cake I did think that it looked dry in texture. Thankfully it didn't taste dry when I bit into it. The dates obviously provide the moisture and a delicious fudgy texture. The nuts were also much in evidence. The icing offered a welcome sweet sharpness against the rich cake. I wouldn’t say that I will now start to crave date cakes but I really was pleasantly surprised. They certainly aren't just for the elderly!