Tamarind Date Cake with Cardamom Icing
There once was a little girl who lived in the Middle East in a house with a sandy backyard and a tamarind tree. She and her friends would gather under the tree and spend their afternoons shaking it for its tangy sweet fruit, which her friends called Tamarhindi (Arabic: Indian dates). She loved how the curly pods dangled from the branches far above her and how they came showering down around her like tiny presents. She loved gently peeling back their skins to unwrap their pinkish white fruit and shiny black seeds, right before she popped them in her mouth.
A couple of nights before Christmas, she snuck out of her house and made her way to the tree for a tamarind treat. As she tiptoed around the tree for fallen fruit, she noticed the light shining from her parents’ bedroom window. Imagining herself a stealthy detective, she quietly crept up to their window and overheard them talking about… her Christmas present!
They talked about her favorite game, Operation – a board game with a drawing of a man, Cavity Sam, with ailments that she would have to carefully remove with metal tweezers without setting off a buzzer and lighting up Sam’s red bulb nose. She heard them say how happy they were that she was interested in following in her family’s footsteps by becoming a doctor. But then she heard them say how they couldn’t afford a game that had to be specially imported from America, since most of their money had been spent on their recent move from Africa. She could also hear their sadness in the silence that followed.
Afraid of getting caught, she tiptoed her way back to the tamarind tree, closed her eyes and made a wish. She wished that the tree would shower her parents with gifts and money, and make all their wishes come true; just as it had showered her with all its tasty fruit.
When Christmas morning arrived, she eagerly ripped open the wrapping to her present and was thrilled to see that her parents had bought her an even better gift – a toy stethoscope! It was the perfect present for a little girl with a playful imagination. She spent the rest of the day, and the next few months, checking everyone’s “heartbeats” and appreciating her parents and their magical tamarind tree even more.
On my way back from a recent visit to my parents in Dubai, my mum packed a small block of dried tamarind pulp for me. I’ve been curious to cook with it and, since it’s the holiday season, I wanted to make something sweet, not savory. A quick Google search uncovered a recipe for a Tamarind Date Cake with Cardamom Icing that piqued my interest. I cut off an inch off the tamarind block and dissolved it in warm water to remove it seeds and make a paste. I closely followed the recipe, since I had not baked a cake before, but I made one important change. Thanks to the suggestion of my talented friends at OneDayInBrooklyn, I browned the butter to give the cake a nuttier taste.
The cake was a success! All the ingredients came together to create a perfectly flavored Wintery cake: the tamarind adds a mild tartness, the dates add a roasted fruity sweetness and texture, the walnuts add a nutty crunch, the brown butter a warm nutty taste and the cardamom icing adds a lemony spicy sweetness. I highly recommend grinding the cardamom seeds yourself. This, my friends, is THE cake to bake for the winter holidays. Even the icing looks like melting snow!
Wishing you and your family a happy holiday!
~ Anjali (& her toy stethoscope)
A printable list of ingredients and directions are at the end of this post,
along with an image of this Perfect Morsel.
Steps 1 & 2: Butter and flour cake pan. Preheat oven to 350F or to 325F, if using a springform cake pan.
Step 3: De-seed and chop the dates. I used Medjool dates for their luscious roasted flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Step 4: Place dates, tamarind paste and water in a pan. Bring to a boil for 1 minute.
Step 5: Remove pan from heat and pour mixture into a large mixing bowl. Stir in butter and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Steps 6 & 7: Stir in brown sugar. Beat in eggs until smooth.
Step 8: Beat in flour and baking soda until smooth.
Step 9: Stir in the chopped walnuts.
Step 10: Spoon cake mix into the cake pan.
Step 11: Bake for 1 hour. Set aside to cool. TIP: Pierce the cake with a toothpick and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.
Step 12: Remove seeds from cardamom pods and, using either a spice grinder or a mortar & pestle, finely grind to a powder. Skip if using store bought ground cardamom.
Step 13: Place icing sugar in a bowl and stir in ground cardamom, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water to make a thick smooth icing.
Step 14: Cover cake with icing and allow the icing to drip down the sides of the cake. Serve with a sprig of mint and enjoy!
Tamarind Date Cake with Cardamom Icing
- 1 ½ cups dates
- ¼ cup tamarind paste
- 1 ¼ cups water
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, organic
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, organic
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose or cake flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 cups walnuts, roughly chopped
- 2 cups icing sugar
- ½ tsp cardamom powder or
- seeds from 6 cardamom pods, finely ground
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 1 sprig of mint, optional
- Butter and flour cake pan.
- Preheat oven to 350F or to 325F, if using a springform cake pan.
- De-seed and chop the dates.
- Place dates, tamarind paste and water in a pan. Bring to a boil for 1 minute.
- Remove pan from heat and pour mixture into a large mixing bowl. Stir in butter and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
- Stir in brown sugar.
- Beat in eggs until smooth.
- Beat in flour and baking soda until smooth.
- Stir in the chopped walnuts.
- Spoon cake mix into the cake pan.
- Bake for 1 hour. Set aside to cool. TIP: Pierce the cake with a toothpick and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.
- Remove seeds from cardamom pods and, using either a spice grinder or a mortar & pestle, finely grind to a powder. Skip if using store bought ground cardamom.
- Place icing sugar in a bowl and stir in ground cardamom, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water to make a thick smooth icing.
- Cover cake with icing and allow the icing to drip down the sides of the cake. Serve with a sprig of mint and enjoy!
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 1 minutes
Number of servings: 8