This cake is for Emma.
I want to write to you about the icing. Tricky. Because, as I sit down to write this, I realise I left the recipe for the icing in a storage cupboard at my old flat. I moved out yesterday. The whole process was very simple, carried out with the kind of detached mind needed when packing up and filling bags and boxes with one years’ worth of living, ready to move the contents to another location, to unpack the old way of living, and do it again. Maybe I’ll do it differently this time.
There’s something poetic that could be written about leaving this crucial recipe for toffee icing tucked away in a notebook in the cupboard of a flat I spent my last year at university in, but, life moves on in a way that often leaves little space for poetic reflection. Thank God haha. I’m now planning when I can get on my bike to retrieve the recipe.
To understand why I want to write to you about this icing, at this time, it needs a proper description.
Hot toffee is poured over the cake still sitting in the tin, which sets firm and sticky. You might forget there’s any cake beneath the layer of glassy toffee, until you unveil the cake out the tin. As you peel the baking paper collar off the cake, the icing catches and holds on, with an almost elastic quality, before giving up, and falling over the cakes edge. It’s the most beautiful kind of giving up I’ve ever seen.
The toffee falls slow and graceful, with an understated purpose of direction. Magic. The thick layer of icing that was held in place by the cake tin has set enough so that when it’s unveiled, it bunches, slowly, slowly, slowly at the edges of the cakes top, until it just keeps falling, down the sides and sinking into the cakes body.
At first a little burst of excitement, (yeahhh… haha), peeling off the paper flood gates holding the slow-moving avalanche of toffee icing. And then, a wave of comfort as you watch the icing relax into the cake. What’s incredible about this transformation, is that like most transformations, you only notice it once it’s happened. The toffee moves too slowly, or maybe your too wrapped up in its shiny beauty to notice the change.
In every way, this cakes rhythm, the way it transforms, echoes the rhythm me and Emma have when we’re together and captures how our friendship has grown. A burst of hold-your-breath, lift-your-fists-in-the-air-like-you-do-not-care and scream out with excitement, followed by a slow, barely noticeable, sinking into the reassurance of a slow pace and a hug.
Enjoy the cake Joe!
Note on the Test Kitchen – This recipe hasn’t been developed or tested multiple times. So do with the recipe what you want. You can follow it exactly, and you’ll get a delicious cake. Or you can play around with it, and make your own delicious cake.
My Notes – The cake could do with a shorter bake, so would do well in a slightly bigger tin. I’d try subbing the water with milk, next time too, to give it a bit more dairy-ness (haha, you’ll see what I mean if you give the cake a go). I love the icing, but it’s not for everyone, it really is like toffee, I reckon adding 150g icing sugar would make it more of a buttercream consistency.
For the Cake
- 200g dates – chopped
- 250ml boiling water
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 85g butter – softened
- 80g dark brown sugar
- 2 medium eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 185g self raising flour
For the Icing
- 60g butter
- 60g granulated sugar
- 150g condensed milk
Pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan. Grease and line with greaseproof paper an 18cm (7 inch) round cake tin.
In a bowl or jug combined the chopped dates, boiling water and bicarbonate of soda. Give everything a mix and set aside. In another bowl cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture has fluffed up around the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding in a tablespoon of the flour with each egg addition.
Now add the rest of the flour, the salt and dates/water to the butter sugar mixture. Stir to combine, pour into the prepared tin and bake for 65 – 75 mins, or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Allow the cake to cool in the tin.
Once the cake has cooled, make the icing. Add all ingredients into a heavy bottom saucepan, and heat on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let the sauce simmer until it’s a rich golden colour – 4 mins, or when a little dropped into a glass of cold water forms a soft ball/blob. Remove from the heat and whisk until it just begins to thicken. Pour over the cake still in its tin and let it set in the fridge.
When the icing feels firm, remove the cake from the tin. The icing will fall slowly down the sides and into the cake. The cake is good for up to 5 days in an airtight container at room temp.