They say a good friend listens, lends a shoulder to sop up tears, is trustworthy and dependable. Yeah, yeah those are great but this week I’ve seen that a good friend will also schlep a caramel cake from San Francisco to Seattle in her carry-on for the sole purpose of sharing it with you. Now that is a good friend.
I bit into that cake and reveled in its deep caramel flavor. Not one for baked goods that are cloyingly sweet I fell in love with its bitterness and mourned the last bite.
By the next morning I still couldn’t shake the taste. Not knowing yet what to bake but just that I needed to, I turned on the oven. I flipped through a few cookbooks but when the flavor I craved couldn’t be found I hung my head and nearly turned off the now hot oven while trying to rid myself of longing for more caramel cake. In desperation I picked a simple baking book that I admittedly didn’t reserve much hope for. As I scanned the pages the words, “Date Bread” jumped out at me and just like that I was dreaming of dates and caramel together in one tender loaf.
In a pan I swirled flakes of white sugar until it puddled and melted, bubbled and spurted before becoming a pool of a molten deep copper liquid. Smoke rose from the pan and lifted with it a scent of a nearly burnt sugar – my favorite place to bring caramel. Hot water was added and then chopped dates. I held my breath as the cake no longer held any association with the original recipe except that there were dates involved.
The batter was the most unusual and brilliant rust color – the same that stops me as I walk past Fall leaves that have just turned.
I sat by the oven with the light illuminating the cake hoping for lift, for edges that gently pull from the sides and for the bitter caramel to permeate the entire loaf.
“Success!” I declared as I pulled the cake from the oven. While warm I poured more caramel on top which then proceeded to harden and crackle – which was not exactly the plan. We didn’t let the first cake go to waste but the next day more cream was added and butter melted in until a deep glaze filled out the cake beautifully.
Ivy and I eagerly ate a still-warm piece and she too declared it a success by licking her plate and saying, “Dis is yummy, mama!”
We shared with the boys before I wrapped up a little piece for my friend. While I didn’t have to travel to San Francisco and back to share this cake with her I think she still appreciated it all the same.
Salted Caramel Date Loaf
adapted to the point of being unrecognizable from Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book: Recipes from an American Childhood
1 cup sugar
1 cup (about 6 ounces) chopped and pitted dates
1 cup hot water
6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the glaze:
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon (or so) good sea salt, for finishing
Grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2 ” loaf pan and pre-heat your oven to 350*F.
In a medium sauce pan melt the sugar until deeply caramelized and just starting to smoke. The caramel should be deep amber in color and smell sweet with a bit of bitterness. Stir the sugar around gently until it all is melted and caramelized. Turn off the heat and carefully add the water, chopped dates and butter. Stir everything together until well combined. If the caramel hardens just return the pan to low heat until it all melts. Let this mixture sit for 15 minutes.
Add the caramel mixture to a large bowl. To that add the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir until just combined before adding the egg and vanilla extract. Mix well.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
While the cake is still warm and in the pan make the glaze by melting the butter and the brown sugar together in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once the sugar and butter have melted add the cream and stir until combined.
Using a skewer or a toothpick poke holes all over the top of the still-warm loaf. Pour the hot caramel glaze over the top.
Let the glaze settle into the cake for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan and letting it cool on a wire rack.
Top the glazed cake with a sprinkle of sea salt – any nice crunchy salt will do.
As with most cakes this one is best the day after baking.