Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Long live the Queen (Elizabeth Cake)!

This pretty plate was a gift from my friend, K.B.

My nephew recently mentioned one of his favourite desserts (as served at a gluten-free bakery in town) called Queen Elizabeth Cake. Having never heard of such a thing, I had to do a little research.

What I found was a recipe for a dark, moist, low-fat cake based on dates. The history of the cake is obscure and interesting. Here's what Patricia Treble at Maclean's has to say about it:
The story I’ve always been told about the dessert is that it was created for [Queen Elizabeth II's] coronation in 1953, when there was still rationing in Britain. So they needed to make a cake that took little sugar, just one egg and no butter. Others say it was made for the 1937 coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother). Regardless, it is a staple in church bake sales and farmers’ markets. It’s relatively low in fat and has a lovely dark flavour.
I followed Treble's recipe, mostly. She had considerable difficulty getting her cake to rise, so I read her entire article and learned from her failures, the most significant of which was to get the right sort of dates.

The picture shows date squares, another wartime favourite, which are also known as "matrimonial bars."

Not the prettily displayed flat of dates, but the brick-o-dates.

What it looks like when you take it out of its two layers of plastic wrap.
I suspect the more expensive "snacking" dates are moister or something. Who knows.

With that out of the way, let's get on with the recipe. First, the cake.

1 cup boiling water
1 cup chopped dates, from a block
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 c lard (I used butter, and it worked just fine)
1 c white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped walnuts or pecan (I totally forgot the nuts until reading this now.)


Preheat oven to 350 F.

First, chop the dates -- they are quite easy to chop; you could even just tear them apart with your fingers if you wish. This was about half of the brick.

The cover the dates with the cup of boiling water and teaspoon of baking soda.

You can see how it started to fizz.

I was uncertain about adding baking soda to a mixture in a metal bowl, but it seemed to do okay.

Next cream together the lard (or butter), sugar, egg, and vanilla. It will make a light yellow mixture.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt).

I decided to toss in about 1/4 cup of hemp hearts, just to boost the health benefits of this treat. In case you haven't seen them, this is what hemp hearts look like:

They are soft, like pine nuts, and have a very slightly nutty flavour, and are said to have all sorts of benefits from heart health to digestion.
The hemp hearts sprinkled onto the flour mixture.
Gradually mix the flour mixture into the creamed mixture, alternating with the date mixture. Combine well.

Fold in the nuts. (This is the step I forgot. Oops.)

Spread it into a well-greased 9-inch cake tin (I used a springform pan).

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean 30-40 minutes. The cake will be quite brown.

Let the cake cool completely (I went and had a nice bath), then add the topping.


1/4 c unsalted butter, soft
1/3 c packed brown sugar
3/4 c shredded coconut (long, not short)
2 tbsp table cream (18 per cent)

Mix together and spread evenly on cake. Broil for 4-6 minutes until light brown. (Watch carefully, so it doesn't burn.)

Results: YUM! The kids came back for seconds even after a hearty meal. Next time, I might add a little nutmeg. Serve with a glass of milk.

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