Of course I am all too aware that, good though it is, homemade cake doesn't fix the big problems of life and I am not suggesting it does, but I do passionately believe that homemade baking is therapeutic for the body and soul of both baker and eater, both on good days and bad ones. It can be especially, but not only, so in those ongoing, stressful situations that are not one-off crises or real disasters but which can have the effect over time of making one feel quite down, not least because there is nothing much one can actually do about whatever the problem is. Anyone else have those periodically? So you can expect an ongoing sharing of those recipes that I have found meet the bill i.e. have been tried and tested and not found wanting on the "feel-good" scale, not just on stressful days of course, but good, light-hearted, happy days too. A good cake must be up to both types of occasion. And as I say, in my humble opinion, there is never a good time Not To Have Your Cake And Eat It. (Unless you are on a diet of course, although personally, I would rather give up a lot of other things first.)
So ... manifesto and apologia mea over ...!
... Here, unashamedly, is another cake recipe.
It's called "Hosanna Cake"and is especially appropriate for today, Palm Sunday, because it's full of things that come from palms of one sort or another - dates, bananas, coconut and jaggery* (*I love that word so I shall use it as frequently as I can here! "Fâites vos jeux, Mesdames et Messieurs" as to how often you think I can get it in!) I think this cake is scrumptious! It is unapologetically damp and dense, full of syrupy, caramel flavours, aromatic and intense. You may well find that the dates sink to the bottom a bit, well I do. This doesn't matter a bit - go right ahead and taste it! You will not be disappointed!
Its origin comes from a Frances Bissell recipe in The Times, nearly twenty years ago, called "Palm Loaf". I have tweaked it quite a bit and changed the name. I don't like the name "Palm Loaf" - it's the word "loaf" - sounds too worthy for something so delectable, so I've given it my own more joyous-sounding, palm-echoing title. Couldn't call it Palm Cake because that's something else used in Indian cookery and might confuse the issue.
What you need:
7 oz / 200 g unsalted butter at room temperature
7 oz / 200 g sugar - ideally a mixture of soft brown light muscovado sugar and jaggery (use a bit of jaggery if you can get it, otherwise just use all soft light brown muscovado sugar. Jaggery, or palm sugar as it's sometimes called, can be got from health food stores or try the Asian ingredients section of a big supermarket which is where I got mine most recently)
4 tbsp date syrup (obtainable from health food stores; if unavailable, use a dark, strong honey instead)
3 ripe bananas (any size - with small bananas you may find the cake is cooked sooner and with large ones it may need a bit longer. I just use whatever there is in the fruit bowl and adjust accordingly.)
3 large eggs (or 6 bantam eggs)
7 oz / 200 g white self-raising flour
freshly grated nutmeg - about 1 tsp
5 oz / 150 g pitted dates (use good quality, soft ones such as Medjool dates, not ones that have been stuck at the back of the cupboard for ages and gone hard or those pre-chopped-for-convenience ones)
2 tbsps dessiccated coconut (if you can get shredded coconut, use this rather than dessiccated; shredded coconut is difficult to obtain in the UK but possibly in the US and Australia you may be luckier)
What you do:
Preheat the oven to 170 C for fan ovens, 180 C for an oven without a fan.
Cream the butter and muscovado sugar (and jaggery, if using), together in the food processor. You can see in the pic there is quite a different texture in the soft brown sugar on the upper left from the jaggery at the bottom centre although sometimes the difference is not as marked as this. Depends on your supplier. I had some lovely jaggery, from Oxfam, of all places, a while back, which was more like the soft brown sugar in consistency. This here (which came from Waitrose where they call it "Palm Sugar") is more like coarse-crystal, demerara sugar. Here I have used about 5 oz / 150 g soft brown sugar and 2 oz / 50 g jaggery but use whatever proportions you fancy.
Add the date syrup, bananas, eggs, flour and nutmeg and whizz with gusto until the caramel-coloured batter looks nice and smooth. You might need to go round the sides of the food processor bowl with a blunt knife blade, after an initial blast of whizzing, to make sure any escapee chunks of banana have been captured, before whizzing again.
Add the coconut and whizz again (not with so much gusto this time, just briefly!)
Snip up the dates into smallish pieces with a pair of kitchen scissors - not too small though, you want the pieces to remain recognisable. (See pic)
Add to the food processor and stir the date pieces into the mixture with a blunt knife, by hand. If you want, you can use the food processor on the pulse setting, but go very gingerly - you don't want to pulverise them just incorporate them gently!
If you don't have / want to use a food processor, cream the butter and sugar(s) by hand; mash the bananas well with a fork before adding, beat the eggs and fold in with the rest of the ingredients. Go easy on the amount of jaggery you use, if it's a coarse-textured variety, because it won't cream quite as well as the finer textured stuff. This is not relevant in the food processor where everything is blitzed but it will be if you are using any other method.
Tip the mixture into a lined 2 lb l**f tin even though we are not calling it a l**f!
Bake for a good 60 minutes - it takes quite a long time. Test with a skewer and be prepared to give it longer, if the skewer comes out with cake mixture still on it, although of course if you happen to spear a date, it will come out sticky anyway! With this one, I had to give it a good extra 15 minutes because it was still quite wibbly-wobbly in the middle, when I checked on it, after an hour. The cake should be firm to the touch, well-risen, a most beautiful, toffee-brown colour and with a nice crack across the top surface. See pic at top.
Allow the cake to cool completely and then slice and eat it exactly as it is. This is not the kind of cake that requires butter on it, regardless of its originating l**f name. Despite its dark, dense, secretive appearance, that might lead you to think it needs jazzing up, this baby sings and practically waves a joyous palm branch or two all by itself without any outside help! I do often make it at this time of year because it comes to mind, but by no means is it restricted by seasonality, in this house anyway.
Enjoy with a cup of tea, preferably sitting outside, under the blossom, in the April sunshine as I am now about to do!
* I think that's "jaggery" 9 times! Sorry, I will shut up about jaggery now! *10 times!!