March 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
The cupcake has a lot to answer for. The ubiquitous pastel frosted creation, invariably displayed in towers of chintz and whimsy, reclaimed baking to the feminine sphere in a poof of mid 90s Carrie-inspired brunches. When Nigella graced the cover of her most famous book with a single cupcake, we extrapolated that all one had to do to gain “goddess” status at home was to bake such treats. Since then (thankfully) the cupcake craze has been swallowed (or daintily nibbled at the least) by macaroons, donuts, and, in a final rebellion, the fashion for savory-meets-sweet, leading to eggs hidden inside muffins, cheddar-flecked scones, and bacon-topped everything. Take that, buttercream!
Moving away from the overly simplistic division of ladylike cupcakes vs manly muffins, because of course nothing is ever, or has ever been, that straightforward, there must have been a time when cake was not just about celebration or indulgence, but about getting through the day. Nutrient-packed flapjacks come to mind, as does the heavy, iron-rich parkin variations from the northern English counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. And I recently came across what I unknowingly would have called a date, apple and coconut loaf, but learned that the correct denomination is a Lumberjack Cake. I had never heard of such a thing, but research suggests that it hails from Canada, where the sticky, dense creation was just the thing for keeping burly men doing their tree-chopping thang all day long. I like to think of it as a retrospective alternative to the cupcake obsession, since “lumberjack” brings to mind the other side of the 90s – plaid flannel shirts and Twin Peaks and grunge. The good stuff in other words.
I made the loaf for the event that is the Superbowl (yep, that’s how slow my blogging is right now), partly because I had most of the ingredients in the cupboards and partly because I knew that I’d be unable to partake in the majority of the butter-laden treats that would likely grace our table and that I had better do something about that. It turned out that the guys and gals alike were smitten enough that the cake pretty much disappeared ahead of the chocolate frosted creations and I found myself making another one before the week was out to satisfy my own cravings. That’s good enough for me to think you need to know about it too. I adapted a recipe from the uber-tasteful Frances restaurant in our neighborhood, swapping out butter for coconut oil, grating the apple for a finer texture and baking it as a loaf rather than in the round, which gave more chewy edges to nibble. I think I also used whole wheat flour but it’s honestly too long ago for my mom-brain to be sure: I think you could play around with flours without ill effect though if you’re so inclined as it’s a pretty moist loaf. And although the name gives service to the nourishing qualities of the cake, it downplays the ingredients themselves, and the real magic takes place in the interplay between the dates, apples and coconut. The apple and coconut tag-team on texture, while the dates and apples provide the kind of moisture that makes this a week-long cake, if you can muster such self-restraint. Or, you know, go and climb a tree, scrape a knee and call it lunch. No frosting required.
Adapted from Frances, published in 7×7 magazine
1 cup (250ml) water
1 cup dates (about 8 dates), pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cup (137g) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (125g) coconut oil, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (50g) coconut flakes
1 apple, grated
Combine the water and dates in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Whisk in the baking soda and leave to cool to room temperature (while they are cooling you can prepare the tin, grate the apple and weigh out the other ingredients if you like).
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf tin and line the base with parchment paper.
Mix and sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set to one side.
Using a stand mixer or electric whisk, beat together the coconut oil and sugar until combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again to combine. Slowly add the date/water mixture in stages, and once integrated add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they are blended and taking care not to over-beat at this point. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the coconut and the grated apple.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Check to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer in the middle. If it comes out clean or with just an odd crumb the cake is done; if not, continue to bake for 10 minute increments. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling to room temperature.