Holiday Date Cakes: Fruitcake Reimagined
By Cheryl Forberg
For many of us, December recipes differ from those we prepare the rest of the year. Hot cocoa, gingerbread, sweet spices, roast turkey, mulled wine, and eggnog—food plays a major role in most holiday celebrations.
And as much as I love tradition, our lifestyle is evolving and we’re not always in the same place anymore for the holidays. Different climates, different kitchens, different cultures; retirement really has us reaching outside the box to invent new holiday ideas and traditions each year. Along with that comes a whole new world of recipes and menus, and I am really enjoying it.
This year, we will be in a new city for Christmas after selling our farm in California; many of my kitchen items will still be packed, but I have my measuring cups and spoons, my favorite spices, and a few baking pans. I decided to create a recipe that would be perfect for holiday gift-giving as well as something we can enjoy while entertaining or a simple but delicious accompaniment to our morning coffee.
My riff on a holiday fruitcake is minimalist in a way. Instead of a plethora of vibrantly colored and textured fruits and nuts, I’m going with my favorite dried fruit, moist, chewy dates, and crunchy toasted walnuts. You can, of course, use your own favorite fruit or nut, and if you like to make it a bit boozy with rum or cognac, you can do that too.
I chose to divide the Holiday Date Cakes batter (6 cups) between 12 muffin tins to make individual cakes. They’re absolutely fabulous on their own with a cup of coffee. But they can also be dressed up for a dinner party with a drizzle of Melissa’s Dessert Sauce, a dollop of whipped cream, a sprig of mint and a few fresh berries.
I hope you’ll give this recipe a try. It’s not too complicated and the results are scrumptious.
Happy holidays and happy baking!
Date and Toasted Walnut Holiday Cakes
Yield: 12 Cakes (muffin-size servings)
Nonstick cooking spray, for the muffin tin
9 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ Melissa’s vanilla beans prepared according to instructions below * (or 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup brewed coffee (or water), not hot**
1 pound Melissa’s pitted Deglet Noor dates (1 pound), finely chopped.
1 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans.
Melissa’s Caramel Sauce
Fresh mint leaves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 12 regular muffin cups (or mini bundt cups) with cooking oil spray.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until soft. Add the eggs and vanilla* and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, nutmeg (if using), baking powder and salt; mix well. Add spoonfuls of flour mixture and coffee, alternating between each.
Stir until just combined. Stir in dates and chopped nuts. There will be about 6 of cups batter. Evenly distribute ½ cup of batter between the 12 prepared muffin tins.
Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, for approximately 25 minutes or until there is barely a crumb left on an inserted toothpick. The cakes should be nicely domed and golden brown and very moist.
*To prepare a whole vanilla bean: Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a paring knife. Working with one half bean at a time, hold tip of the bean against cutting board. Use the dull side of your knife and scrape the vanilla “caviar” from the pod. Move from the tip of the pod, where you are holding it, and scrape down the entire length. Chop the pod very finely with a small chef’s knife. At this point, minced pod and vanilla “caviar” can be added into the recipe when required.
**If you like, you can replace a tablespoon or two of the coffee with your favorite libation, such as rum or brandy. And if you don’t like coffee, it’s fine to use water.
The cakes can be served warm or at room temperature. To serve, place the cake on a salad or dessert plate. Garnish with dessert sauce, whipped cream, mint leaves, and fresh raspberries.