This Christmas, a very good friend of mine bought me Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. It was in many ways the ideal present, relevant to all my interests: books; things that will look impressive on my shelves; lovely words; food. I spent a lot of time with it in that lovely lazy time between Christmas and New Year, those few days that are really just one long Sunday, and it so perfectly encapsulates the way I want to cook, to eat, and to live. My housemate received another of his books, Eat, for Christmas as well, and the other day we were talking about how great it must be to always have cake in the house - a lifestyle which Slater seriously advocates. Wouldn't it just be so wonderful to always be able to offer people a slice of cake as well as a cup of tea when they come over? Or just to nibble by yourself if you fancy something sweet at the end of a meal. Now, unfortunately nobody in this house makes their livelihood from food so unfortunately the idea of always having a freshly baked cake in the vicinity is a little unrealistic, but I've decided that one of my New Years Resolutions is to make our kitchen look like it does in the above picture as often as possible. Because it's my ideal kitchen, the one I have here: a mish mash of cluttered cutlery & cups; teabags readily available; a well stocked fridge; freshly baked cake cooling on the counter, and the best people in the world in the very next room. I am such a lucky girl.
This isn't a Nigel Slater recipe, but it's very reminiscent of the way he - and I - likes to cook (though I imagine he wields far more impressive results). It's simple, it's inexpensive, and it's seasonally appropriate - because nothing says why won't this winter please go away like a cup of tea & a thick wedge of loaf cake. You'll probably only need to go and pick up some dates & walnuts, since the likelihood is that you'll already have everything else you need in your cupboards, and it serves as a great vessel for anything else you might want to throw in there too. Sultanas, diced apple & a teaspoon of mixed spice wouldn't go amiss in this cake at all & I think I'll be adding some of those in next time, but for now this deliciously simple recipe will suffice. And for those who haven't tried it - it is, after all, a little old fashioned - I urge you to do so. I'm not a huge fan of nuts in cake & I don't think I'd ever eaten a date before, but the moment I chowed down on a piece of date and walnut cake for the first time I've not looked back since. The dates are mixed together in a bowl with boiling water & butter first so that the rich, date-y flavour infuses into the butter and thus the entire cake, giving it a rich & vaguely spicy taste. Plus, the use of water and melted butter makes this a relatively low fat & healthy option (by my standards, at least), but still keeps the whole thing from getting too dry and dense. Brown sugar exacerbates the richness & the walnuts add a nice textural crunch. If you've not tried it before, give it a go & let me know what you think? After all, it's cake. What's not to like?!
To make one loaf cake, you will need:
- 150g chopped dates.
- 50g chopped walnuts.
- 55g unsalted butter or margarine.
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.
- 225ml boiling water.
- 170g light muscovado sugar.
- 1 egg.
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.
2. Measure out the butter and chopped dates & place them into a mixing bowl. Add 225ml boiling water to the bowl.
3. Gently stir with a wooden spoon until the butter has melted and the dates are plump. Set aside and leave to cool.
4. Into a separate mixing bowl, add your flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda & walnut pieces. No need to sift.
5. Mix it all together with a whisk to get rid of any lumps in the sugar & flour.
6. Add the melted butter/water/dates mixture into the dry mix, then mix it all together with a wooden spoon.
7. Crack the egg into a separate bowl/cup and beat it together with a fork. Add this to the cake mix and combine.
8. Line your loaf tin with baking paper, then pour the mixture in. It should be a pretty runny mix, which just makes for an extra moist cake.
9. Bake for between 60 and 75 minutes, depending on the oven. Since this isn't a "sponge" as such you don't have to worry about it all falling apart, but it's worth keeping an eye on the top in case it burns. Take it out after an hour and pierce it with a knife - if the knife comes out clean, it's done, and if not, cook for a little longer in 5 minute increments. If the cake's not done but the top seems to be burning (which happens all the time with my oven at home), just place a sheet of regular old tin foil over the cake which should prevent that from happening. But ultimately, you know your oven better than me!
Leave to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes or so before digging in, because there are a few things better in life than a slice of warm loaf cake (buttered or left plain) and a large cup of tea. And yes, the tea is mandatory. Keep in an airtight container for up to a week.