Me and Mango have a pretty serious relationship, but me and Dates? Well. Let’s put it this way – I’ve been known after many a long day to disappear off to bed with just a full bowl of medjools and a terrible film for company. As a teenager I had a terrible weakness for the chopped date mix that was sold in solidifed squares in some supermarkets – I’d buy that instead of chocolate. My mum makes hot, paradisically good Sticky Toffee Date pudding every Christmas, without fail. In my opinion, dates are God’s snackfood. Sticky brown sugar and caramel notes with a hit of healthy fibre, you say? Come right this way…
You can imagine, then, how I felt finding this recipe.
…However, I’ve got a household and social circle that includes several folk who find dates anywhere from distasteful to disgusting. Even the original creator of this recipe hates them! A problem for the overly excited baker, brandishing a pretty new recipe and asking around about uptake, right? Not quite. I’m smarter than that. Sort of. Ahem.
Owing to a few anti-date testers, I decided to be sneaky and puree the recommended amount of dates in Lizzy’s recipe. Parents puree vegetables to feed to picky toddlers, so why not puree a less-liked fruit to see if it appeals to more people when it’s not so startlingly obvious an ingredient?
“I don’t think these should be legal. Oh my god…there’s caramel in the middle…”
“We made the mistake of letting our two young sons try these…there was a riot because there wasn’t enough”
“Out of this world.”
“Luscious. This is a complete luxury.”
This version of a date cake recipe eventually turned out to be a fantastic idea – and I say eventually, because I had not predicted in any way how much more difficult it is to properly bake puree-infused cupcakes. Jesus, it was terrifyingly difficult. This turned into a two day project. You have been warned! From what I can figure, the puree greatly increases the wetness and density of the batter, necessitating a much longer time in the oven, and at a higher temperature than I had predicted. This meant I ended up baking mine…twice. And then leaving them overnight to set in a cold room, for extra caution. I’ve written this recipe as though I meant to do that (I really totally didn’t). You could probably skip the two-bake complexity by experimenting with lengthening & heightening the initial bake time & temperature, but then you don’t get to bake in the caramel centers, which was an accidental glory I hadn’t expected. Your call!
Here we go…
265g Pitted, Chopped Dates (Any will do; I used 200g Medjool & 65g Deglet Nour)
1 Tsp Baking Soda
250ml Boiling Water
250ml Boiling Buttermilk
150g Butter, Softened
200g Brown Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Large Eggs
350g Plain Flour
½ Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Baking Powder
200g Brown Sugar
1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
190ml Double Cream
Maple Cinnamon Buttercream:
145g Butter, Softened
200g Cream Cheese
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
500g Icing Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Tsp Cinnamon (or more, to taste)
1. The first thing to do is prepare your date mix. Put this music on, too. Chop up your chosen mix of dates and put them in a good sized measuring bowl – sprinkle baking soda over them. Boil water and buttermilk up (and be warned that buttermilk does funny things under heat, like separating and changing texture – if you’re boiling it in a pan on the stove, worry not! Just let it bubble and do its thing, it’ll turn out fine). When they are both boiled, pour over the dates, give a brief stir and let sit for about an hour. When that hour is up, tip this lovely-smelling mix into a blender and blast the crap out of it til no bits or pieces remain.
2. Preheat oven – that’s 175 for the fan un-supported, or 155 for the fan-financed. I recommend that you use the biggest muffin liners you can find to line a twelve hole tray – that, or be much more sensible than I was and make sixteen to twenty four cupcakes instead (liner size dependent). Beat butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until it fluffs, then add the sugar and combine to a creamy consistency. Next, add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla finally – beating to evenness at each addition.
3. In a separate bowl, finely blend the flour, salt and baking powder. When you’re happy that looks even, add a third of it to the butter/sugar/eggs mix. Next, a third of the date mix. Repeat in thirds, combining to even consistency at each addition. Voila! Finished batter. Pour it into a measuring jug and use the jug to distribute the batter into your liners. Yes, it’s a huge amount of batter. I know. If you feel you need to grab some extra liners and trays, please do! Aim to keep a margin of brim between the batter and the top of the liner, because these puff up very considerably during baking. Place in the oven for sixteen minutes.
4. While your cupcakes are undergoing their first round of baking, prepare the caramel fill. Place all ingredients except the cream into a saucepan and combine with consistent stirring at a medium heat. When the mix is looking even, throw the cream in to and allow to come to the boil. Once a good roll of bubbles is going, turn the heat down low and simmer for a further two minutes before putting aside. Check your cupcakes – if the tops bounce back to the touch, take them straight out, but let them sit in their baking trays – don’t remove them yet. Turn up the oven by twenty degrees.
5. Pour your caramel into a bottle with a nozzle, or a syringe – whatever you may have to hand. Cut or carve a hole up to halfway down each cupcake. Keep the tops on a plate to the side – swat away eager ‘tester’ hands. Use your injection device to generously fill the cavities you’ve made with caramel, then cover over with the removed cake bits. It’s important to note that this caramel-injection stage is vital for informing you about the length of the second up and coming bake. As I had created overly-enthusiastic giant cakes, my cakes were honestly just still batter on the inside (this was more than a little alarming). Yours may be the same, or they might be much more stable. Gauging from there, re-bake your caramel filled cakes for at most eight, and at least three more minutes. Once out of the oven, pull one cupcake out of the tin and let stand on a wire rack for two minutes. Is it holding its shape? If so, rack and cool the rest of the batch. Is it starting to fall out, or collapse? (Don’t worry, because mine were). If so, place back in the muffin tin with the rest. Put your rack or tin somewhere safe and leave to let cool for at least two hours (mine were left overnight).
6. Morning lovelies! It’s wonderful, happy buttercream icing time. Beat your soft butter and cream cheese together til silky smooth and even, then throw in your icing sugar in batches. When about four fifths of your sugar has been combined, add in the maple syrup and cinnamon to taste, the last of the icing sugar and blend to readiness. Pipe onto your cupcakes and top with whatever takes your fancy. I used red grapes, because, erm, they were beside me at the time – I should really work on my creativity. Serve. Watch people make happy faces. Watch people who greatly dislike dates ask you what’s in them. Pretend you didn’t hear them.