I could frankly do without a lot of holiday-time rituals, but I’m perfectly happy to have the excuse for baking. This year I made cranberry orange bread for the folks in my lab, following a great recipe in Mark Bittman’s magisterial How to Cook Everything. I’ve also taken a crack at Ma Savage’s Christmas Snowballs for one party, and for the departmental party, I dug up a family tradition: Grandma Bender’s date pudding.
My mom’s mom has a pretty serious sweet tooth, and so I learned to love this recipe—cubes of rich, sweet, date cake layered in sweetened whipped cream—as part of the main course for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Nowadays, I cut the sugar from the whipped cream, and it still goes over quite well as a dessert. It’s also possible to substitute in whole wheat or spelt flour, which only makes the cake denser and richer. Recipe follows:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat one cup of water to boiling, and soak one cup of chopped dried dates in the hot water for 20 minutes. Cream together one tablespoon of butter and one cup of sugar, and then blend in one egg, one cup of flour, one cup of chopped pecans (or other nuts), half a teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of baking soda, and one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Finally, fold in the soaked dates and any liquid remaining with them; blend it all well. Spread this batter in a greased 9 inch by 13 inch cake pan and bake it for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
When the cake is done, let it cool to room temperature, or stick it in the fridge or freezer if you’ve baked it in advance, which is often convenient. When you’re ready to assemble the pudding, whip two cups of heavy cream together with a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract until it’s stiff, then cut the cake into one-inch cubes and layer cubes of cake with the whipped cream in a midsize serving bowl. ◼