School auctions were really popular when I was a kid. They used to get parents to donate foods, games, services, whatever and then auction them off to the highest bidder. My mom would always donate the same things which went over pretty well in almost every circumstance – A homemade South African dinner for six.
I have no idea if schools would allow this now but it was always a big hit. She would make chutney chicken with bananas, sambals (side dishes) including a yogurt sauce, an herb sauce that I cannot really remember, and it would include some kind of rice dish that I never really liked. Or maybe I’m making that up, all I can really remember is the chicken and the dessert.
Oh the dessert. Tipsy tart.
A tispy tart the way my mom made it was neither a tart nor likely to get anyone tipsy. It’s a rich date cake that is baked until slightly dry and then promptly soaked through with a buttery brandy sauce. In the original recipe the sauce is boiled to remove the alcohol. I don’t do that anymore.
I used to make this cake as my “Let-me-impress-you” cake. I made it for Jeff’s parents at some point early in our relationship. Then I forgot about it until I needed something to make for a biweekly potluck and realized this would be perfect.
I changed the recipe a bit to make it actually tipsy and give the cake more lift. The recipe called for dates and baking soda to take a hot water bath, presumably to soften the dates. But that also means activating the baking soda which means potentially less rise in the cake. So I kept the baking soda with the dry ingredients for a fluffier cake.
The sweet batter and rich syrup give the final cake a kind of butterscotch-y flavor and while the dates are an important part of the dish, it doesn’t take like dates. Which is good. I don’t particularly like dates when it comes down to it.
This cake demands two pieces. And then maybe a third the next morning for breakfast.
Lightly adapted from The Myrna Rosen Cookbook
For the cake:
1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is even better)
½ tsp ground clove
½ tsp ground ginger
1 stick (8 tbs) butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup (250ml) sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
For the soaking syrup:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 tbs butter
3/4 cup Brandy*
1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine the dates and hot water and let sit for at least 20 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 10 inch cake pan. A spring-form pan (that is really liquid tight) is a good idea here. This cake gets sticky.
In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir to combine.
Put the butter and sugar in the work bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs one at a time, combining between each addition.
Turn the speed to low and add the dry goods in three batches. Stir until almost fully incorporated after each addition.
Stir the date mixture into the batter by hand and incorporate any leftover flour. Pour the prepared batter into the prepared pan.
Bake the cake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. It’s over to over-bake here since the cake will be plenty moist.
While the cake is baking, combine all the syrup ingredients EXCEPT the brandy and vanilla in a medium non-reactive saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat. Add the brandy and vanilla and stir to combine.*
When the cake is done remove it from the oven and put the still-closed pan on a plate or tray to catch any leaking syrup. Pour the syrup slowly over the warm cake and let it soak in. You may need to stop pouring and wait every few minutes as the cake becomes more saturated. The liquid tends to run to the center so make sure you drizzle a lot over the edges.
Serve warm or room temperature, preferably with whipped cream. The cake is even better a day or two after it’s made.
* If you want to remove the alcohol, add everything together to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Then boil for several minutes. It’s still just as delicious and it’s how I had it as a kid.