By this blog’s namesake, you might think that my kitchen only turns out soup this and soup that, but I assure you we are not floating away. I probably bake enough to change the title to Glass Jar Baking Company. I say that I bake primarily for others, but when honesty prevails I engage in it because it equally rewards me….I feel good about my making others feel special with a homemade treat that was made expressly for them. Sometimes baking can even elicit memories and powerful emotions. Take my late Oma’s rhubarb streusel….. in my mind it’s sweet sour aroma floats through the air like a seductive siren while she stands guard insisting it must cool before we dive in…Oh, would my heart overflow with joy and gratitude if someone surprised me with this confection one day. Hint, hint! Anyone listening?
Christmas Eve I gave someone, a special friend of ours, that very gift. The saying goes “home is where the heart is”, but until you move and are forced to make new connections, I don’t think you can really appreciate the saying. M’s friendship has helped Texas feel like home and it doesn’t hurt that he is a food enthusiast, a dedicated home cook, a superb dining companion and a considerate, attentive friend that is always up for a culinary adventure. He recently shared with me a recipe from his “sito” (Lebanese grandmother) for an orange date cake that was by all recollections akin to the attention my Oma’s rhubarb streusel garnered in our family. He offered it with the generous invitation to “play around and make it your own”. Let the games begin! I knew that I wanted to perfect my version and take M by surprise, so I never mentioned the recipe again. In fact, I’m quite certain he disappointedly thought it was lost on my desk. But the truth was that I was figuring out how to stay true to sito with a few slight enhancements.
First, Grand Marnier was introduced to the dates and then added to the glaze…yes, I know what you are thinking…Game Over. But I wanted to incorporate warm spices, both for the season and because M is a big fan, so in went cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of cloves. Again, I could have stopped there…but I wanted to ensure the cake would be moist and have a super tender crumb so I swapped a portion of the buttermilk for crème fraiche.
We shared Christmas Eve dinner with M and his daughter at our favorite Dallas restaurant where the staff kindly “surprised” us with sito’s Spiced Orange Date Cake for dessert. I must brag that we’d snuck it in with the prowess of 007!! I’m pretty sure M teared up a bit and even more perfect was the fact that he could share the cake with his father and uncle on Christmas day…..as sito was their dear mother.
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 lb dates
- ¼ c Grand Marnier
- 1 ½ cups white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 T vanilla extract
- 2 T orange zest (from two large oranges)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup crème fraiche
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 T Grand Marnier (you could use ½ T as the alcohol will be strong if you enjoy right away, however, it dissipates a bit on the second day)
- 3 T freshly squeezed orange juice
- Preheat oven to 325 and grease a 15-cup Bundt pan.
- Chop the dates in a food processor until right before they clump into a ball. They will be a paste with chunks of dates scattered throughout. Put them in a bowl and pour the Grand Marnier over them, breaking up the clumps. Set aside and stir occasionally.
- In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy- about 4 minutes.
- On low, add the eggs, vanilla and orange zest and mix until just combined.
- Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and spices then add to the sugar mixture alternately with buttermilk and crème fraiche.
- On low, pour the walnuts and dates in the mixer and mix until combined.
- Pour into Bundt pan and bake for 85 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.
- Remove to a wire rack and poke holes into the cake with a long wooden skewer. Spoon half the glaze over the warm cake.
- Remove the cake from the pan after 15 minutes and poke more holes into the top of the cake and spook the remaining glaze over the cake.
- In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk until smooth.