Date Cake with Whiskey Sauce

Fuck frosting, Seriously. I have never liked it. As a result, I grew up with the false belief that I didn’t like cake. Oh, the folly of youth. I love cake! But I am very particular about it. I don’t like overly sweet cakes. I love denser, moist cakes that incorporate fruit in some way or pairs with a sauce instead of frosting. My best friend, Caren, makes a cornmeal cake with whiskey sauce that is to die for. So, when I saw this date cake with whiskey sauce in the Gjelina cookbook, I was all in. It is much sweeter than I usually go for but the complexity of the sweetness from the dates and caramelized brown sugar is unique enough to make it work instead of being cloying. The other amazing thing about this cake is that it is super easy to throw together. It is, in short, pure genius.

The only thing I changed was substituting 1 teaspoon of vanilla for the seeds from one vanilla bean as called for in the recipe for no other reason than price.  A cyclone that hit Madagascar last year wiped out the harvest hence the sharp spike. Vanilla robbery is now on the rise there as the prices have soared. This world makes me sad sometimes. Sending love to farmers everywhere who struggle to put products on the shelves that we all rely on.

Gjelina serves this warm with ginger ice cream but vanilla ice cream does the trick nicely.

Date Cake with Whiskey Sauce (from Gjelina)

Serves 12-15

For the cake

1 lb dates (I used medjool) pitted

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 1/3 cups very hot water

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

For the whiskey sauce

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups packed dark brown sugar

1 cup heavy cream

2 1/2 tablespoons bourbon (I only had single malt scotch on hand and it turned out great)

To serve

vanilla ice cream or whipped cream


Preheat the oven to 350 and butter a 10×14 inch glass or metal baking dish. I didn’t have one this big so I used 9X12 and baked it 10 minutes extra.

Chop up the dates and place them in a bowl with the baking soda and hot water. Leave for 5 minutes or so. Stir them up and they should become dissolved and paste like.

Whisk the sugar, egg, egg yolk and vanilla in a large bowl until it turns pale yellow and falls in ribbons from the spoon. This took a little while as the mixture is pretty dense until the sugar begins to dissolve a bit in the egg. Be patient. Stir in the date mixture.

Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl then gently fold into the wet ingredients.

Pour the batter into the buttered dish and bake 35-40 minutes until a cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean. Leave the cake in the pan to cool for 40 minutes before serving.

To make the whiskey sauce, combine the butter and brown sugar in a heavy bottomed large sauce pan. Heat over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. This is basically the beginnings of making caramel except you are only dissolving the sugar, not cooking it. Famously you are not supposed to stir sugar while it’s caramelizing or the sugar can seize up. But with brown sugar, I feel like you have to stir it to get an even melting. I did and nothing catastrophic happened. Be careful not to go beyond the dissolving stage as brown sugar can burn quite easily making the sauce bitter. As soon as the sugar is dissolved, add the cream in a slow steady stream. It will bubble up wildly and then calm down so be ready. If the sugar does seize up at this point, just keep stirring over medium heat and it should melt back into the sauce. Remove from the heat and add the whiskey.

Poke about 15-20 holes in the cake with a butter knife or skewer and pour 1/3 of the sauce over the cake. Set aside to rest for another 10 minutes. Serve warm (with or without ice cream or whipped cream) and extra sauce drizzled on the plate.

For a less sweet cake, you can skip poking the holes and adding the sauce directly over the cake. Just serve the cake with a drizzle of sauce. I like it both ways depending on my appetite for sweetness.

You can keep the cake covered at room temperature for 1 day or in the fridge for 3. Gently reheat in a 300 oven for 10 mins to serve or eat at room temperature.