If you’re picturing date cake as some old, dried-out, wrapped-up leftover in the discount bin at your local co-op, let me stop you right there. This recipe (from Foolproof) will disabuse you of that notion in a hurry. It is decadent and elegant, and simple without being at all boring or bland. Truthfully, I expected some quintessential Contessa ingredient to appear here – orange zest, chopped crystallized ginger, maybe cinnamon. But don’t you dare try to add any of that – this cake is simply perfect the way that it is.
That said, I did tweak the glaze. (Of course I did.) While my law school friends in Virginia consider bourbon to be the sweet nectar of the South, I overdid it once, and it’s probably not in the way you’re imagining. My brother and I made Bourbon Chicken for our family at a reunion in Virginia, as we were trying to clean out the freezer when a hurricane was on its way, in case the power went out and we’d be stuck with pounds of raw poultry. The recipe called for maybe a few tablespoons of bourbon, but as the chicken seemed to be drying out as it cooked, we (he) kept on adding more and more bourbon. A few tablespoons turned into half of a bottle. I think we were all a little sauced by the time we finished dinner that night, and I haven’t been able to look at bourbon the same way since then. I certainly wasn’t going to go out and buy a whole bottle just for a few tablespoons’ worth, and so I substituted Grand Marnier. It seemed to be the right thing to do, and the result was not at all disappointing. Also: somehow, I ended up with two half-used bottles of Grand Marnier. I have to finish one up to restore the feng shui of the liquor cabinet.
The sauce also reminds me of some friends we had in Williamsburg. One friend, a hobby gourmet cook, made bread pudding with a hard sauce. Another friend, not so much a gourmet, thought that “hard sauce” meant Magic Shell, the ice cream sauce made by Smuckers, which hardens as it dries.
Of course, the “hard sauce” from the bread pudding was much more like the date cake caramel sauce above, and could not be farther from Magic Shell if it tried. But now, we can’t look at hard sauce or Magic Shell the same way ever again.
But back to the cake. I didn’t have high hopes for it. Are you sensing a theme lately? I think the reason I skipped over so many of these recipes for so long is that I just didn’t think they were going to be all that great. You heard it here first, folks: I was wrong. This is definitely going on the “make it again” list.