Mrs. K’s Date Cake

July 20, 2008



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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

Recently, the HH and I spent a couple of evenings with my old friend Phil, first in Montreal and then again here in Toronto.  It was wonderful to see an old friend with whom I share so much history (we’ve known each other since we were both 15).  She’s supported me through high school angst, sweet sixteens, no date for the prom, moving away to attend university, my first real boyfriend, moving to Toronto to attend graduate school, my starter marriage, my traumatic divorce, my first house purchase, and finally, meeting the HH and “adopting” The Girls.  The list of events on her side to which I was witness is similar (minus the divorce and plus a couple of children).  And yet the strange thing is, when we get together, we rarely talk about the past.

It’s more than just deference to the two men in our lives (who weren’t around when we experienced the early Phil-and-Ricki escapades, and who only made each other’s acquaintance at the tail end of the 20th century). No, it’s just that life keeps changing, and we always seem to be facing new work dilemmas, self-identity crises, weight roadblocks, or relationship worries (the last not discussed with the guys present, of course).  So there’s no dearth of topics to keep us gabbing. 

This last visit, however, we did ease into some reminiscenses about our high school days.  I was kidding Phil about her teenaged quirks, and we replayed some of the times whiled away in her mother’s kitchen, sipping coffee and eating avocados.  And, of course, we couldn’t forget her mother’s cakes.

Mother Phil had two sweet specialties.  Well, I guess I’d characterize them as “two standards.” Actually, they were more like “two reliable standbys.” Okay; they were the only two desserts she knew how to make.  Still, they were both terrific and I never tired of tasting them.  The first was called “Pistachio Cake,” and it was, I later discovered (once she revealed the recipe after I’d moved away from home and had my own kitchen in which to bake) comprised of one box of yellow cake mix, a box of pistachio pudding mix, and some Hershey’s chocolate syrup.  The result was a bundt cake round and high and light as a drizzle in July, with a meandering brown swirl throughout.  As with most cake-mix cakes, the texture was impossibly airy and seemed so insubstantial as to require at least 3 servings before one felt even mildly appeased.  In our case, Phil and I could polish off half the cake ourselves before even having to pour a second cup of coffee. 

The other confection was a from-scratch affair that Mother Phil called, simply, “Date Cake.”  Brimming with chopped, softened dates and just a whisper of cocoa, the resulting deep brown batter transformed into a dessert that, on first impression, impersonated chocolate very nicely.  I’d always thought the cake was, indeed, a cocoa-based one until I was finally privy to the recipe and found that it contained only one tablespoon of the rich, dark powder.  The rest of the intense flavor came courtesy of moist, sweet dates.

As someone who’d never tasted a dried (or fresh, for that matter) date before this cake, I wasn’t prepared for the level of sweetness imparted by the dates.  Nowadays, I value dates for their natural sugar content (the highest in the fruit kingdom) and use date purée frequently, both for its added sweetness and moisture content.  But in those days, dates, like Mrs. Phil herself–a stunning, accented import from Belgium–were considered exotic.  I was jubilant the first time I attempted to recreate the cake on my own and it came out almost exactly as the original. 

As Phil and I reminisced, I began to wonder whether I could reproduce the cake still, given my inflexible dietary restrictions.  I dug up the recipe, which I’d scribbled hastily in pen across the faint turquoise lines of an old spiral notebook. The page is now torn along the spine and dotted with irregular, amoeba-like tea stains and little splotches of oil that render the paper transparent in spots. But the recipe appeared fairly straightforward and seemed to lend itself quite easily to adaptation.  And even with the sprinkling of chocolate chips over the top, it seemed like a fairly healthy indulgence. 

After a couple of attempts, I managed to reproduce something akin to the original.  This cake would make a perfect snack, moist but not too sweet, with the pièce de resistance in the topping: the crunch of golden toasted coconut contrasted with the crackly, caramelized Sucanat and soft, melty chocolate chips.  The HH pronounced this cake “Just like Duncan Hines!”–meant as a compliment, to be sure, but not an endorsement I’m sure I’d embrace.  As for me, the dessert transported me back to Phil’s high-school era kitchen and the original cake of my adolescence.  That memory alone is sweet enough for me.  

Mrs. K’s Date Cake–2008 Edition


This is the kind of cake you like to have on hand as an after-school snack, or when you’re feeling peckish mid-morning.  Baked in a square pan, it will keep, covered on the counter, for up to 4 days, longer if refrigerated (though bring to room temperature before indulging).



28 Responses to “Mrs. K’s Date Cake”

  1. VeggieGirl Says:

    I love baking treats that bring back nostalgia – love that cake!

  2. shellyfish Says:

    I loved this post! Here’s to the very best friends, and to the treats that help us celebrate friendships & memories. I am a huge date dessert fan, so I know I will be tryng this one!

  3. Friends and cake; what could be better?

    This looks delicious. I love dates in desserts!

  4. Johanna Says:

    Yum! this reminds me a little of a chocolate date cake I love which is made with tofu (although when I last made it I didn’t really impress my friends). I particularly love your coconut and choc chip topping – that would be much preferable to the pureed date topping we had on my chocolate date cake last time! And I love your green plate too!

  5. Celine Says:

    I’d make best friends with this cake in no time, all right.

  6. holler Says:

    It is great catching up with old friends, isn’t it?
    Sounds like you had a fun time and I like the look of the cake. The coconut in it appeals to me 🙂

  7. Maureen Says:

    Wow, yum! Looks fantastic. It looks like it would go great with a cup of coffee and a friendly conversation.

  8. Courtney Says:

    I am in love with dates–they are so sweet and good. I love that you were able to adapt the recipe to make it a little more healthy! Isn’t it strange how strong a pull smells and tastes have on the memory? One whiff of the salty smell of Ramen Noodles and I swear I am back at my grandparent’s house in Florida with the “Days of Our Lives” theme song in the background…

    That cake looks too good not to try!

  9. Jennifer Says:

    Mmmmmm….that just looks so good!

  10. Katy Says:

    I have to admit, when I first read “Date Cake”, I was immediately uninterested. But after reading your description and seeing the wonderful pictures, I’m postitive that I will make this cake. It sounds absolutely delicious!

  11. Ashley Says:

    Oh my this looks so good! And I can definitely tell myself that it’s healthy and not feel bad indulging in it.

  12. Wow! This cakes looks scrumptious! Thanks for the comment on my site, today. so glad to have found your site (through your comment). Looks like you have some fabulous recipes here. 🙂

  13. This is so weird. Today, I was looked at my carton of dates in the fridge, wondering what I should do with them, & I see your beautiful cake!

    Isn’t it wonderful to re-create the classic, nostalgic foods from the past? I really enjoy veganizing my granny’s recipes. It makes me feel close to her, without going against my beliefs.

    You’re awesome, Ricki!

  14. Andrea Z Says:

    Duncan Hines. Sheesh. If you were able to make a cake filled with dates, spelt and sucanot taste like Duncan Hines, then you are one talented baker! Of course you ARE a talented baker, but maybe the HH hasn’t had DH in a while! Or has he?

    This cake looks delightful and the friendship even more delightful. Makes me nostalgic for my good high school friend, who lives too far away. Her mom gave me recipes for chocolate cake and orange cake that I should try to find and re-create. Nice post.

  15. atxvegn Says:

    Such a lovely, sentimental post. I do believe this cake is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen you post!

  16. You are the greatest writer! I love your story behind the cake, and of course, the cake seems like a fabulous eat as well! Dates are truly amazing. And I love your picture of the “2008 edition” of the date cake!!!

  17. bee Says:

    this is such a great use of spelt flour!!! thanks for the recipe.

  18. Sue Says:

    Mmm, Ricki, that looks fantastic! And I loved your story to go along with it, too. But ‘light as a drizzle in July’ has to be your best turn of phrase yet… here in England the southern half of the country is basking in a heatwave, whilst the rest of us wrap up in jumpers and shiver. So it rang very, very true!

  19. eatavegan Says:

    Oh my gosh, I love your blog. And we have more than just food-related interests in common; I’m going for a master’s in literary modernism this fall.
    p.s. I am so making your avocado mayo tonight!

  20. Ricki Says:

    Thanks so much!

    Funny how friends, memories, and food seem to go together so often, isn’t it?

    Yes, a great combination–both of them 🙂

    Thanks so much! Wish I could take credit for the combo, but it was Mrs. Phil. I saw the plate in a kitchenwares store and had to have it!

    Cake is as good a friend as many!!

    Always great to see old friends again. And cake, well, always good, too!

    That’s just how we used to enjoy it, actually 🙂

    I know–food really can elicit strong memories. Love the Ramen and Days memory! Yay Beau and Hope! 😉

    Thanks! Let me know how you like it if you do give it a try!

    Glad I could change your mind! It’s really quite yummy (and doesn’t taste like dates at all). 🙂

    Overall, pretty healthy–as far as cakes go, that is. 😉

    Thanks so much for visiting, and your comment. Glad you like the look of the cake!

    What a great way to stay close to your grandmother. And glad to give you a reason to use those dates!

    I didn’t really take that as a compliment–I always thought that Duncan Hines cakes tasted fake and chemical-y! And I’d love to see your recreations of the high-school era cakes you’ve got!

    Guess I’m just sentimental. . . and wow, thanks for the comment re: the cake!

    Ruby Red,
    Wow, thanks so much. I’m glad you liked the story–she’s really a great friend 🙂

    Glad it appeals. And most of my baking is made with spelt, if you’re looking for others 🙂

    Sorry to hear that you’re in the chilly part of the country right now! But glad you liked the post.

    Thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting! Congrats on the Master’s degree, too 🙂

  21. That looks so sinfully, amazingly delish! Damn, I’m craving chocolate now, and it’s almost midnight! I feel a midnight snack time coming on!

  22. Haley Says:

    We’d like to invite you to participate in our July berry recipe contest. All competitors will be placed on our blogroll, and the winner will receive a fun prize! Please email me,, if you’re interested. Feel free to check out our blog for more details. (Click on my name in the message header link to visit our blog. 🙂

  23. BitterSweet Says:

    Oh my goodness, I -love- dates! I can’t keep them in the house anymore, because I’ll just snack on them all day long. Pair that with chocolate, and it sounds like a dangerously delicious cake indeed!

  24. Ricki Says:

    Thanks for visiting, and for your comment! Really not sinful at all, though it tastes that way 😉

    I’m with you on the dates–used to hate ’em, now I love ’em! And they are great with chocolate.

  25. Kevin Says:

    This looks and sounds so good! I have been wanting to try baking with dates for a while.

  26. Ricky, I love how popular your blog has become! It does my heart good.

    This cake looks really tasty. Dates are awesome in cakes, and I heart anything that combines chocolate and coconut.

  27. Ricki–I meant, not Ricky. Ha ha.

  28. Sarah Says:

    Aww your friend reminds me of my BFF, wonder if she’d like the cake too (probably if I didn’t mention the dates…).

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