By now, you may have noticed that I’m a bit of a fan of the Great British Bake Off (and all the American spin-offs it has spawned). It seems my family has caught on too, because several of my birthday presents this year were GBBO-themed (thanks, guys!). In light of all this new baking loot, as well as a serendipitous appearance of dried Medjool dates on a recent trip to Aldi, it only made sense to bake something from one of my new cookbooks. This date and walnut “traybake” comes from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes.
For all intents and purposes, a traybake is a single-layer, iced cake (in this instance, at least- from what I gather from leafing through my new cookbooks, traybakes can also include bar cookies). I would be inclined to call it a sheet cake, but it’s not quite like the grocery store cake I picture when I think sheet cake. This cake turns out more like a flat loaf or bundt cake. It’s dense and full of flavor, and would probably still taste good without the icing. That said, I highly recommend including the icing because it’s a nice layer of lemony deliciousness. Who doesn’t want that on a dreary winter day?
I’ve taken the liberty of Americanizing the ingredients, as well as providing most dry measurements in cups rather than weights (though it is a good idea to measure your ingredients by weight if you can). The original recipe called for muscovado sugar, but I wasn’t able to find it in any of my usual grocery stores. The internet told me that you could substitute muscovado sugar with dark brown sugar and molasses, and that’s what I’ve done here. Granted, I didn’t try the recipe exactly as written (a pet peeve of mine), but as far as I could tell, it turned out fine with the substitution. I’ve noticed that quite a few recipes in these British cookbooks include muscovado sugar, so I may have to schlep on over to a specialty foods store, or suck it up and buy some online.
I should note that the original recipe said to bake this cake for over an hour, which was waaaay too long. My apartment started smelling like cake after about half an hour, and I got suspicious at 40 minutes. I checked it, and it was just about on the long side of done, so you should definitely start checking around 25 minutes. I’m not sure if there was an error in the original recipe, or if I fudged the oven temperature (the internet tells me that “gas mark 4” is the equivalent of 350°F), but if I had left the cake to bake for the full time, it definitely would have burned. Your mileage may vary, so just be sure to keep an eye on your cake while it’s in the oven.
You will need the following ingredients:
For the cake:
- 9 oz. pitted, chopped dates
- 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 12 oz. boiling water
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. molasses
- 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ Tbsp. baking powder
- ¾ tsp. salt
- 1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 5 oz. ground almonds
- 5 oz. chopped walnuts
For the icing and decoration:
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- hot water, as needed
- walnut halves
For baking ambiance:
- I’ve been listening to The Sweet a lot lately. I don’t know that Mary Berry would approve, but what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her!
Let’s get baking!
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″ x 12″ baking dish and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Using a sharp knife, slice your dates, remove the pits, and chop them into pieces.
In a medium bowl, combine the dates, butter, and hot water. Stir the mixture, then set it aside to cool.
Meanwhile, if you bought whole almonds, grind them in the food processor until their consistency is sandy. I will admit that I was planning on a finer consistency, but I got tired of grinding and stopped when they look liked this.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon until uniform. Whisk in the ground almonds and chopped walnuts until evenly-distributed.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, and molasses until smooth.
When the date mixture has cooled, stir it gently and then stir it into the egg/sugar mixture.
Stir in the dry ingredients until fully-moistened.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking dish, spreading it as needed to make sure the dish is evenly filled.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Leave it to cool for 10 minutes, then flip the cake out of the pan and remove the parchment paper from the bottom.
Flip the cake right side up onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Before icing, carefully transfer the cake to a serving dish.
When the cake is cool, stir together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest until smooth. If it is too thick to spread, add hot water as needed to thin it out (I didn’t need any).
Spread the icing evenly across the top of the cake with a spatula or knife.
Decorate the cake with walnut halves and/or pieces. I wanted each slice to have a walnut pieces, so I arranged them in a 4 by 6 grid.
Slice the cake into 24 pieces and serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container.
You can download the printable PDF recipe here: Mary Berry’s Date and Walnut Cake