Date Cake with Toffee Sauce


The Sweet Life

Published by Bulfinch Press

This image courtesy of Tina Rupp

This is my version of the ever-popular sticky toffee pudding, sometimes called sticky date pudding. The sweetness of the dates and toffee is offset by the spices and the coffee, producing a balanced date flavor, especially delicious in the winter months when warm, rich cakes are most comforting.

NotesStorage: This cake will keep, wrapped and at room temperature, for 4 days.

Steam--the leavening power of batters with a high percentage of liquids:

Once water is heated to its gaseous state (steam), it occupies vastly more volume than it does as liquid. All baked items are leavened somewhat as liquid turns into steam in the oven. Moist bread dough, in particular, rises well because the water is trapped in well-formed cells with strong gluten walls. Pate a choux, or cream-puff pastry, depends completely on steam and an intense heat to create those wonderful air pockets bakers and chefs fill with ice cream, mousse, and cheese.

A cake with a high percentage of liquid such as the steamed brown sugar and date cake featured here is leavened not only by baking soda’s reaction with the acid in the brown sugar, dates, and coffee, but also by the batter’s high liquid content.

Baking soda and baking powder:

These two chemical leavening agents, when used correctly, produce carbon dioxide, which expands when heated, giving baked goods greater volume and a lighter texture.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) does not act on its own to produce carbon dioxide; it must react with an acidic ingredient such as chocolate molasses, honey, fermented dairy products, juice, or vinegar or directly with added acids such as cream of tartar.

Baking powder is a complete leavening system waiting to be ignited through exposure to moisture and sometimes heat. It contains both baking soda and acid, which are separated in powder form by a starch like cornstarch. Baking powders can contain different types of acid. Certain acids dissolve and react in the presence of liquid, and certain acids dissolve and react in the presence of heat. Double-acting baking powder is a leavening agent that contains both types of acids so that carbon dioxide is produced immediately in a moist batter and then again in the oven.

In the spiced apple and sour cream cake recipe, you will notice I call for both baking soda and baking powder. The baking powder acts on its own and the baking soda is used to react with and neutralize the acid in the sour cream. The Gingersnap Recipe, on the other hand, calls for only baking soda, which reacts with the acid in the molasses and the brown sugar, which contains molasses.

Chemical leavening agents cannot act alone to inflate baked goods. The baker must first create air pockets by stirring, folding, whipping, and beating the batter in its various stages. Carbon dioxide finds its way into these air pockets and, in the presence of heat, expands in these trapped spaces, leavening baked goods.

Cooking MethodBaking



Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe CourseDessert

Dietary ConsiderationHalal, Kosher, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegetarian

EquipmentElectric Mixer, Food Processor


Taste and TextureButtery, Spiced, Sweet

Type of DishCake, Dessert


  • Approximately 11 (9 ounces) large Medjool or moist dates, with pits
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or plain brandy
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (preferably Medaglia D’Oro)
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • Food processor
  • Stand mixer
  • 7 × 12-inch rectangular pan or 9-inch square pan


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and adjust the rack to the center of the oven. Butter or spray a baking pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, aluminum foil, or wax paper, then butter or spray it again.

  2. Prepare the date mixture: With a paring knife or your hands, remove the pits from the dates. In a small mixing bowl, combine the pitted dates, brandy, and espresso powder. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and pour it over the dates and allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes to cool. Transfer the date mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth (a few small lumps are okay). Alternatively, puree in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes.

  3. Cream the butter and incorporate the eggs (see the Notes on creaming butter and room-temperature eggs).

  4. Place the butter in the bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes fluffy and almost beige in color, 6 to 8 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing the batter slowly for 20 seconds after each addition. This recipe has a high proportion of eggs and not all the eggs will emulsify into the butter. After you add the third egg, the mixture might begin to look curdled. After adding the last egg, mix just enough to distribute the egg in the batter.

  5. Finish the batter: In a dry bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients except the baking soda. With the mixer on slow speed, add half of the dry mixture to the butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl. The batter should look less curdled after half the flour is incorporated.

  6. Add the baking soda to the date mixture and stir it with a wooden spoon for 10 seconds. With the mixer on slow speed, add the date mixture to the batter and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until the batter comes together. Stop the machine and, using a spatula, scrape the bottom of the bowl to bring the batter to the top. Turn the machine back on and mix on slow speed for another 30 seconds.

  7. Bake the cake (see "Steam--the leavening power of batters with a high percentage of liquids" in Notes).

  8. Scrape the batter into your prepared pan, evening it out with a spatula. Bake until the center of the cake is set or a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour. If the center of the cake is still jiggling, continue to bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 40 minutes before inverting it and removing it from the baking pan.

  9. Serving Suggestions: Slice this cake into 2- to 3-inch squares while it is slightly warm and serve it with warm Toffee Sauce poured over the top. This cake can be reheated for 10 minutes in a 325°F oven before serving. Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream also provides a nice contrast, both in flavor and temperature, to the dark sweet flavor of this cake. The Coconut Cream Cheese Ice Cream is also a wonderful accompaniment.


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