In an attempt to stop scorning the Ekka* – and its entourage of westerly winds, allergens and disease carrying microbes – I decided to do something to honour it. Most of my grand gestures involve food, so my first thought was to whip up a ‘competition-worthy’ cake using a recipe from my CWA cookbook.
Then I remembered that I never follow recipes (or anything really) to the letter, so this would be a CWA cake…with a twist!
Uh oh. The CWA don’t generally entertain ‘twists’ in baking. Anything too twisty would surely compromise the integrity of the cake’s crumb, may result in a domed and cracked top and don’t even get me started on air bubbles. Disaster.
Ok, so I wasn’t going to whip up a prize-winning CWA cake (especially after seeing a smurf village made entirely from cake at the Ekka).
So, how about trying out one of my nan’s old recipes? After all, she was a honest country girl, and her sprawling country Queensland family still enters comps at the Ekka (though generally in the livestock and horticultural arenas, not the culinary).
More importantly, she always turned out perfectly-shaped fruitcakes and air-bubble free cupcakes and I am certain she wouldn’t give a monkey’s if I made one of her cakes a little ‘twisty’ (I rather suspect nan believed CWA cookery competitions to be some kind of cult meeting with strange talk of tunnelling, wire rack marks and lumberjacks**. I’m also sure she felt her superior knowledge in the areas of rose aphid management and pruning techniques was decidedly more useful).
But then I remembered that I’m not actually in possession of a quaint little stash of fabled family recipes for foolproof country baking (I feel very cheated). The only ones I managed to salvage are either for date cakes or tomato chutney (nan had an inordinate number for both). So, a wintery date cake it was going to be (sans chutney). Perfect!
Only, I couldn’t really remember eating the majestic date cakes and loaves nan turned out. Presumably, as a child, I prefered to demolish the pattie cakes and picklets and leave the heavier fruitcakes, served with strong cups of black tea, to the adults. So I wasn’t entirely sure what I was aiming for.
This was turing into a bit of a debacle. Surely it would just be easier to haul my disease-carrying-microbe riddled body to the Ekka and pick up a real CWA cake or scone (and perhaps a horrid, sticky toffee apple to go…for old times sake).
But I persevered and, in the end, I decided to throw everything into the mix (so to speak). One of nan’s date cake recipes, a CWA date and walnut cake recipe, my signature apple and raisin cake recipe…and bananas. You know, to give it a little taste of Queensland. And because I love bananas.
I should probably clarify that I didn’t simply throw all of the ingredients from all of these recipes into one ginormous ‘cake’ mix. I merely used them as inspiration to (finally) create a dairy-free Sticky Date and Banana Loaf. And, I am pleased to say, it turned out quite well.
It may not have looked like the impeccable CWA fruitcakes, pictured above…but, it certainly passed the taste test (even the cake-averse Gourmet Beau was repeatedly caught sawing into the loaf…oblivious to its clumsy, domed and cratered top).
Despite all of the palaver that preceded it, the resulting cake is actually very modest and super easy to make. It is a heavier-style loaf cake (though still fine and tender) and very comforting, wintery and ‘sticky-date-like’. Enjoy!
Makes: 1 large loaf
- 1 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
- 1 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1/2 cup rye flour†
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup light olive oil
- 3 very ripe large bananas, mashed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- walnuts, roughly chopped, and golden syrup for topping (the walnuts add a lovely toasty flavour and complexity to the baked cake. Yum!)
†Really do try to use rye flour as it imparts a deeper flavour, however if you can’t lay your hands on it, replace all of the flours (the 1/2 cup rye AND the 1 cup plain flour) with 1 1/2 cups wholemeal wheat flour or spelt flour.
- Dissolve a 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in boiling water and soak the dates in the water for at least 1 hour (this will soften the dates and make them more ‘toffee-like’).
- Meanwile, heat the oven to 180°C. Grease a large loaf tin (about 28cm x 13cm x 6cm) and dust with flour. Set aside.
- Place the flours, remaining 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, almond meal, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and salt into a medium-sized bowl and lightly whisk together.
- In a separate bowl, beat the sugar, eggs and oil together until creamy and thick, about 2 minutes. A food mixer with a paddle attachment is ideal for this job (it requires a bit of muscle power to come together and thicken).
- Stir in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract.
- Drain the dates well and also add to the wet mixture. Mix to combine.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and thoroughly combine, but don’t over mix.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin. Top with walnuts.
- Bake for 1 hour, until the top of the loaf is springy or a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Cool the loaf in the tin for about 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack.
- While the loaf is still warm, drizzle the top with a little golden syrup to create a shiny effect and to boost the caramelised, sticky date flavour.
The loaf will keep for about 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge. It also freezes well. Slice into portions, wrap in cling film and freeze for up to two months. I find this is a perfect treat to whip out and have with a cuppa when needed (yes, I realise I sound like a granny).
Allergens: Contains wheat, gluten, eggs and nuts.
The Change Up
Gluten-free: I always try to make my cooking free of allergens where possible. This recipe is already dairy-free, however it is also quite easy to make it gluten-free. Simply replace the flours with the same amount of your favourite gluten-free flour mix. Reduce the oven temperature slightly to 170°C and bake for 1 1/4 hours.
Serving: Serve fresh and warm with lashings of butter (or margarine). Defrost frozen slices, toast under a grill and serve soft ricotta and honey. Or serve warm, topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream, a generous puddle of caramel sauce and an extra sprinkling of toasted walnuts. A heavenly dessert.
Wine Match: If serving as a dessert, team with a glass of Rutherglen Muscat (dessert wine). Otherwise, you can’t go past a cup of black tea (or a coffee if you prefer).
* The Royal Queensland Show – which was once called the Brisbane Exhibition, or ‘Ekka’ for short (because why use all those words when half a word will do?).
** I personally have immense respect for the CWA and its cookery prowess and do not actually suspect this to be true.
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