Cake of the Day: Warm Date Cake with Ginger Gelato from ‘Gjelina’

They taste good, they look good, and they’re made by good people — talented bakers from around the world. Today, Chef Travis Lett who runs Gjelina restaurant in Venice, Calif., shares the recipe for their popular date cake in his new book Gjelina: Cooking from Venice California.


Warm Date Cake with Ginger Gelato. (Photo: Michael Graydon & Nikole Herriott)

Warm Date Cake with Ginger Gelato
Serves 12

This ranks among Gjelina’s star desserts. The sticky, date-sweetened cake is ridiculously moist. Adding a bourbon-spiked toffee sauce and a scoop of ginger gelato pushes it right over the top. It’s impossible not to like this combination.

Date Cake
1 pound Khadrawy dates, or another type of fresh soft date, pitted
2 teaspoon baking soda
2¹⁄³ cups very hot water
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder

Whiskey Sauce
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2½ Tablespoons bourbon

Ginger Gelato, for serving (see recipe below)

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-by-14-inch glass or metal baking dish or pan.

In a small bowl, combine the dates and baking soda. Pour the hot water over the dates and mix with a fork until they have mostly dissolved and are pulpy, about 5 minutes.

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, egg, and egg yolk until the mixture is pale yellow and falls in smooth ribbons when lifted with a spoon. Stir in the date mixture, incorporating it completely.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Gently fold the flour into the date mixture until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Leave the cake in the pan for about 40 minutes before serving.

To make the whiskey sauce: In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter with the brown sugar. As soon as the sugar has dissolved, gradually add the cream, pouring in a steady stream while whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the whiskey.

Pierce the cake all over twelve to twenty times with a butter knife or a skewer. Pour half of the sauce over the top of the cake, guiding it into these holes, and set aside the rest. (The cake can be stored at room temperature in the baking dish, covered with plastic wrap, for 1 day and in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring back to room temperature before serving.)

Cut the cake into squares and drizzle with the remaining whiskey sauce. Serve on dessert plates, accompanied by scoops of gelato.

Ginger Gelato
Makes about 1 pint

I like the piercing quality of fresh ginger. I want as much of that to come through this gelato as possible. I am not much for powdered ginger or extracts; they give you the floral qualities but none of the real punch that makes this gelato special. We generally serve this on its own, with one exception: as a garnish for our sticky date cake (see page 344), which we make in the wood oven and serve warm.

¼ vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
½ cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
One 4½-ounces piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced ¼ in [6 mm] thick
Pinch of kosher salt
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
½ cup sugar
½ cup Buttermilk Crème Fraîche
2 Tablespoons honey

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into a small saucepan. Add the bean pod, milk, cream, ginger, and salt. Stir over medium-high heat until steaming and bubbles begin to form around the edges. Turn off the heat and let steep for at least 20 minutes, or up to 2 hours.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, and sugar until the mixture is pale yellow and falls in smooth ribbons when lifted with a spoon. Transfer to a large liquid measuring cup or pitcher, and set a fine-mesh sieve over the top.

Discard the bean pod. Pour the warm milk-ginger mixture into a blender and purée on high speed until smooth, about 10 seconds. Pour the mixture through the fine-mesh sieve into the liquid measuring cup. Gradually pour the strained milk-ginger mixture into the egg base, whisking constantly. Whisk in the crème fraîche and honey.

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Churn according to your ice-cream maker’s directions until frozen.

Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Reprinted with permission from Gjelina by Travis Lett (Chronicle Books).


More stunning cakes for the Thanksgiving table:

Pistachio and Pomegranate Cake from ‘Rachel Khoo’s Kitchen Notebook’

Coconut Bliss Cake from ‘Sweet Envy’

Toffee Apple Cake from ‘Lovely Layer Cakes’