High Country Baking: Date and walnut bundt cake (column)
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Is football an essential part of your Thanksgiving Day? Do you always play the same seasonal music in December? Most of us have traditions that add a lot to the holidays and, at our house, time-honored foods are a part of the celebration. I often make this cake because variations of the recipe have been on American tables for over 100 years. Its old-timey goodness is due to the wonderful match between soft, sweet dates and crunchy, bitter walnuts. I also choose it because the moist, mildly spiced cake can be served any time of day (a boon when the house is full) and, when accompanied by the rich, addictive brown sugar sauce, it’s a lovely and satisfying dessert.
The cake is fast and easy to make and dirties very few dishes, making it a godsend during busy times. A word of warning: Too much flour and even a little too much time in the oven will result in a dry texture, so take care. The cake is at its best a day after baking, but it’s still good on the day it’s made. Want to make it gluten free? Simply replace the all-purpose flour with a measure-for-measure gluten-free one.
Date and Walnut Bundt Cake
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above
Make in 5 one-cup, 2 three-cup, or 1 six-cup capacity Bundt pans,
1 cup pitted dates (about 4 ounces), each date chopped into 8 pieces
¾ cup water
¼ cup dark rum, brandy, or more water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick), cut into 8 pieces
½ cup superfine granulated sugar
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda, scant
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, combined and beaten
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, optional
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, optional
1 ½ cups, plus 3 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Brown Sugar Glaze/Sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Splash dark rum or brandy, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Generously grease the Bundt pan(s) with a vegetable oil-flour spray and wipe it into all the pan’s curves, crevices, and the central stem. Dump the cup of chopped dates into a large saucepan, add the water and rum and stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat, and, while stirring, simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Add the butter and the granulated and brown sugars to the pan, continue to stir over low heat until the butter is completely melted, the sugars dissolve, and the mixture is blended. Remove from the heat, add the baking soda (the mixture should foam) and stir well. Set aside to cool until tepid (about 10 minutes).
2. Add the beaten eggs, the vanilla and, the spices (if using) and stir until well blended. Add the flour, stir gently until half of it is absorbed into the batter, add the walnuts, and continue to stir only until a smooth batter, pebbled by the nuts, is formed. Don’t overbeat!
3. Scrape into the pan(s), filling the one-cup pans to no more than an inch from the top and the larger pans to no more than an inch and a half from the top. Level and smooth the batter and rap the pan on a counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, the top is set, slightly springy (still somewhat soft to the touch) and light golden. Start checking the individual cakes after 15 minutes and the larger ones after 22 minutes.
4. Remove the cakes(s) to a rack, cool about 10 minutes, then invert onto rack, carefully remove pan, and let cakes cool completely. While they cool, make the glaze/sauce: Put the butter, heavy cream and brown sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and rum, (if using), and set aside until tepid. Drizzle about one-third of the mixture over the cooled cake. (If you want a thicker/sweeter/more opaque glaze, like the one used on the small cakes in the photo, pour about one-third cup of the glaze/sauce into a small bowl and whisk in confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.) Save the rest of the glaze/sauce, covered, in the ‘fridge, to serve, warmed, with the cake. Store the glazed cakes at cool room temperature, in a cake saver or under an over-turned bowl. Present warm slices of the cake with the warm sauce.
Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, Cookies in the Clouds and Baking Above It All (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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