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Date Marsala Buttermilk Cake a Birthday Winner

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DateButtermilkCakeFriends and my husband have birthdays in late September and early October. We’ve never been big on making cakes for these events. It is desserts such as fruit tarts, blueberry pie, homemade ice cream, lemon bars and so forth that are more often requested.

This year, after coming across a recipe for a Date Marsala Buttermilk Cake in “The Spice Kitchen,” by Michal Haines (Interlink Books, $29.95) I showed it to my husband, David.  “Maybe you’d like to reconsider having cake for your birthday?” I said. No arm twisting was necessary.

The cake turned out very well, though I departed from the recipe a few times. I baked it in a single, large fluted cake pan instead of two 9-inch cake pans as the recipe calls for. I also only made half the buttercream frosting in the recipe, for reasons you might suspect. And, I put a couple of tablespoons of Marsala, an Italian fortified wine, into the cake batter, too.

It was a hit when I served it on Saturday night. Ice cream was not necessary and everyone had seconds. I think the spicy dark cake, with the chopped dates, creamy frosting and nutty Marsala is an especially good choice for guy birthdays. Mine loved it.

Recipe is below. For a recent review of Michal Haines’ “The Spice Kitchen” on SavorSA, click here.

Date Marsala Buttermilk Cake

1 cup chopped dates or raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped OR use more chopped dates if you don’t have apricots
3/4 cup boiling water
13 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups muscovado or light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
3 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 whole nutmeg, grated, OR about 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 cloves, toasted and finely ground, OR about 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and finely ground
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Marsala Icing:

7 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
1/4 cup Marsala

9 ounces mascarpone OR cream, whipped, for center filling

Preheat oven to 345 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round springform cake pans.

In a bowl, soak the dates and apricots in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and mash with a fork until broken up but still somewhat chunky.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  If desired, add 2 tablespoons Marsala wine. Sift the dry ingredients, including the spices,  into the bowl and gently mix together before folding in the buttermilk and fruit.


Spoon mixture into prepared cake pans and bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cakes have shrunk from the sides of the pans and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Turn out the cakes onto a rack to cool before icing.

To make icing, beat butter until creamy. Slowly add the confectioners sugar and the Marsala, if using, beating well after each addition. Ice the top of each cake and allow to set for 30 minutes. Once set, spread a layer of mascarpone OR whipped cream on top of one of the cakes then put the other one on top of the one with the mascarpone.  (If desired, put aside some of the icing for the sides of the cake, if you wish.)

Makes 1, two-layer 9-inch cake.

From “The Spice Kitchen” by Michal Haines

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