Saturday, June 20, 2009
Toffee-crusted fig and date cake
I have a yen for unusual cakes - sure, I enjoy eating your average pound cake or Victoria sponge just as much as anyone, but the cakes that catch my eye are those that are unique in some way. By "unique", I am not referring to novelty cakes; while I have the utmost respect for cake artists and the talent and time they put into novelty cakes, these are not my thing. I am referring to cakes which have an out of the norm colour, texture, ingredient or appearance, and which are 100% pleasantly edible.
When I saw the bundt cakes in the April/May 2009 edition of Donna Hay magazine, my unique cake button was pressed, big time. There are some amazingly beautiful and unusual cakes in this section, and if life takes me in that direction, I would be happy to make all of them some time. However, as a starting point, I chose to make Donna's toffee-crusted fig and date cake, which looked like a burnished-bronze beauty. I loved the idea of a crunchy outer shell of toffee on the cake, and of course, I am a sucker for dried figs and dates, so it was a no-brainer - I had to make this cake.
When my cake had baked for the allotted time, I was a little worried, because it was rather dark on the outside. However, if you make this cake, do not be afraid if this happens - I found that the cake was meant to have a chestnut brown colour on the outside, and be lighter in colour and softer in texture in the middle. I assume that the colour comes from caramelisation of the brown sugar during baking.
My only other mild panic set in when I started making the toffee for the outside of the cake and realised that I could not find my candy thermometer. After the allotted 7 or 8 minutes stated in the recipe, my sugar/water mixture was still clear in colour, and from some past experience with making caramel, I didn't think it was ready yet. Instead of remaining cool, calm and rational, trusting my experience, I hit the panic button - and called my Mum, who confirmed that I should leave well alone, and that she thought it should take much longer for the toffee to be ready than quoted in the recipe. After this reassurance, I held my nerve, and let the toffee continue to boil until I thought it looked about the right colour, even though it smelled to me like the mixture was beginning to burn. And lo, it all turned out just fine - the toffee was neither burned nor underdone, and set to a lovely golden colour. The toffee that slid off the cake set hard on the tray, so I kept it to use as cake decoration for other projects.
Overall, I was really pleased with this cake - it looked glossy, beautiful and impressive. It disappeared at work, so I can only assume that my colleagues shared my love of this cake.
If you are as intrigued as I was with Donna's toffee-crusted fig and date cake, and would like to try it, you will need:
1 cup pitted chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup sifted self-raising flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
150g melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups caster sugar
1 cup water
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease a 10 cup (2.5 litre) Bundt tin.
Put the dates, figs, bicarbonate of soda and water together in a bowl, stir and leave sit for 10 minutes, before transferiing to a food processor and pureeing the mixture. Reserve.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and sugar with a wooden spoon. Add the butter, vanilla, eggs and date puree, and mix until well combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until cooked through when tested with a skewer. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
For the toffee, put the sugar and water into a wide bottomed saucepan over low heat, without stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, then increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil and continue to boil it until it reaches 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit) on a candy thermometer (hard crack stage) - or if you don't have a thermometer, until the mixture turns a golden amber colour and when a drop of it is placed into a glass of cold water, it forms a ball. Spoon the toffee over the cake, and leave to cool and harden.
Slice with a sharp knife (to cut through the toffee) and enjoy!! Eat the cake the same day as you put the toffee on it, as the toffee starts to "melt" and go sticky after a few hours.