I’ve got a confession to make. Every year I give up sugar for Lent. Don’t ask me why. I’m not religious. I’m not on a diet. I’m on speaking terms with my dentist. I think it might be as a challenge – I’m too much of a sugar-guzzling addict – tunnelling my way through mountains of the sweet grains, and falling into sugar coma after sugar coma until I start to resemble a glucose-saturated sloth. A six week hiatus from all things sticky and syrupy can only be a good thing.
The problem with giving up sugar is…sob…no cake. “NO CAKE!” I hear you cry in a tone of fretful desperation. “But what do you EAT??” The lack of cake from my diet is indeed significant – no sneaky office cupcake, no teatime slab of lemon drizzle, no fluffy frosted red velvet giant to celebrate it being a Wednesday. No nutty, caramel-hued banana bread (for breakfast). And BIRTHDAYS. I mean, what do you do on a birthday other than eat cake? I’ve started eating vast quantities of cheese in the hope that it will replace the longing for a spongey treat. It hasn’t worked.
Luckily, there is always a loophole. And where cake is concerned, I have unrestrained determination to find that loophole. After scouring the internet enthusiastically for a cake that I could eat, I noticed a trend amongst sugarless cakes for using naturally-sweet dates as a replacement for the sugar. It had to be tried – not only would the cake be sweet, but wait for it, it would be healthy. A cake with one of your five-a-day. Hurrah!
This cake is loosely based on one from the petite kitchen blog. I’m not going to say that it’s the best cake I’ve ever eaten, but the simple joy of cake after a few weeks of self-restriction was enough to give it serious brownie points. The dark sponge was bouncy, light, and redolent of a homely gingerbread. The dates added sweetness, but no overwhelming date flavour, the ground almonds lingered fragrantly adding depth and structure, but the real punch came from the cinnamon and ginger – warming and autumnal (even if it is nearly spring). The pecan nut topping became slightly caramelised in the oven under its maple syrup coating, and added great crunch to the cake in contrast to the soft sponge. Served with crème fraîche (almost like icing…) and an extra drizzle of maple syrup, it was a highly successful, saintly pudding.
Maple-Pecan Date Spice Cake (sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free!)
- 170g dates (soaked for a couple of hours, then drained)
- 200g ground almonds
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- 5 eggs
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
For the topping
- 100g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
Crème fraîche and more maple syrup to serve.
Preheat the oven to 160°C and grease a 20cm square (or round) cake tin with butter. Line the bottom of the tin with greaseproof paper.
Place the soaked dates, ground almonds, maple syrup, eggs, vanilla, baking soda and spices into a food processor and blitz until smooth.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Mix together the chopped pecans and the maple syrup and then scatter them over the surface of the cake. Bake for 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before removing it. Serve with crème fraîche and maple syrup.