Date Maple Cakes
Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Refined Sugar-free
I have always been a huge fan of Joanne Chang and the sweet empire that she has built in Boston. Flour and Joanne Chang were the lightbulb that went off in my mind years ago. She made me believe that I could be a baker if I really wanted to; if you love something, just keep trying at it, doing it and sharing it and you will get there one day.
So it is no surprise that I own all of her cookbooks and read them nearly every week. They hold a wealth of knowledge and fantastic recipes. Her cookbook, “Baking With Less Sugar” is perhaps my favorite of them all. It is very easy to bake with the staples of sugar, butter, flour and eggs, but it is so much harder when you change any one of those. She’s a master of it all.
This recipe is a rejiggering of one of my favorite recipes from “Baking With Less Sugar:” Sticky Toffee Pudding with Maple Sauce. I think that watching 6 season of the Great British Bake Off has made me so eager to try that British classic, sticky toffee pudding. Joanne’s recipe is a great one, which I just made a few adjustments to so I could make them gluten-free and dairy-free. Let’s call it Paleo-ish.
Want a Raisin? How About a Date?
That was my dad’s favorite pickup line many years ago. Still cracks me up. Ok, dates. Dates are delicious. They are naturally so sweet, full of a rich caramel flavor and so sticky. All this means they are a perfect replacement for sugar and moisture in these babies.
Dates are a natural source of sugar, perfect for paleo folks or anyone who wants to cut back on refined sugar. So what dates should you use? Like Joanne, I love Medjool dates (which is what she suggests using), but for this recipe I used a mix of Medjool and Deglet Noor dates. The Deglet ones just taste more…datey? I don’t know how to describe it, they just taste richer. Medjool are perfect, but I wanted to give these lovelies a little boost.
If you can’t find Deglet Noor dates, don’t worry; use all Medjool.
Mighty Maple and Olive
Nothing is better than maple syrup. I am biased however. It is my favorite flavor. Maple syrup is also a great alternative to refined sugar. It adds the sweetness you need and the moisture to make these little lovelies so tender.
When you are buying a maple syrup, it is worth the money to buy Grade B. Grade B is darker in color and richer in flavor. Definitely don’t use maple flavored syrup.
Joanne’s recipe calls for melted butter, which I usually love, but I wanted to make this dairy-free. I used olive oil in place of butter, which is a great substitute. You don’t need to use the expensive extra-virgin olive oil, just a simple virgin olive oil is perfect. If you don’t want to use olive oil, avocado oil is another great oil for baking.
The Dry Mix
Joanne’s recipe calls for all purpose flour, like most. I swapped it out for my favorite gluten-free flour blend: oat and almond flour. Almond flour on it’s own doesn’t always give you the best texture of structure for cake; it’s just too moist on its own. Oat flour gives more structure, a little bit more flavor and some bonus fiber.
In addition to the flour, leavening and salt, I added spice because, well, that is what you do around the holidays right? The ultimate spice trifecta for me is: cinnamon, ginger and a pinch of coriander. I realize the coriander sounds a little crazy. Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, but, have no fear, does not taste like cilantro. I only use a pinch here just to give a little balance. This cake is sweet, the cinnamon and ginger are warm spices and the coriander adds a bit of a savory balance to all that.
(Adapted from Joanne Chang’s recipe in "Baking With Less Sugar")
14 pitted and chopped dates (Medjool and Deglet Noor)
1/2 cup boiling hot water*
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup finely ground almond flour
1/2 cup gluten-free oat flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground coriander
4 tbsps olive oil
3 tbsps grade B maple syrup
2 large, free-range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (optional)
A basic start: boil a kettle of water. While it heats up, place the pitted and chopped dates and baking soda in a small heatproof bowl. When the water boils, measure 1/2 cup and pour over the dates and baking soda. Give the dates a little smush to make sure they’re all in the water. Let them sit for 15 minutes.
Using a standard muffin/cupcake pan, line each dimple with paper liners and set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the almond flour, oat flour, spices, baking powder and salt, making sure to get out any big lumps of almond flour.
Pour the soaked dates and liquid into the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth, takes about 4 minutes to get all the dates blitzed. While the food processor running, pour in the maple syrup and puree for another 2 minutes. You’ll see the date puree get a little runnier, which will help get any remaining chunks of date.
Pour the date-maple mix into a large bowl. Add the olive oil, eggs and vanilla and whisk until the eggs are fully incorporated. Fold in the flour mixture, making sure to get any remaining lumps of almond flour all mixed in.
Using a 2 tablespoon cookie/ice cream scooper (or two spoon), fill each muffin liner about 3/4 full, leaving a little room at the top. If using, top with cranberries.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick to the center of a cake comes out clean.
Let cool for 15 minutes. These are best eaten warm; I top mine with chilled almond yogurt (favorite brand is Kite Hill) mixed with maple syrup. The yogurt is a tart, runny sauce that is the perfect pairing with these sweet little lovelies.
*I have also made these using boiling hot ginger tea instead of plain water and it is FABULOUS. It gives a subtle flavor of ginger.