A simple tea-time treat. Photo: Saee Koranne-Khandekar
My maternal grandfather, a retired IAS officer, wasn’t the type to accept retirement as a period of relaxation. Shortly after he retired as Chairman of the Cotton Corporation of India, he set up a small Management Consultancy in the heart of Mumbai’s then most uppity corporate hub—Nariman Point. A short walking distance from home, Dada made his way to office every single day of the week, often dressed in the now defunct safari suit, that he could not shrug off from his diplomatic lifestyle; suits and blazers were for visits and conferences.
But underneath that very severe and disciplined taskmaster demeanour, sat a grandfather. A man who would melt into puddles at the very sight of his grandchildren. We spent almost all our weekends and most of our summer holidays in our grandparents’ house, and were pampered silly. There were movies to go to, video tapes to rent to our hearts’ content, fancy restaurants to eat at, and fun outings to the park, zoo, the sea face, and what have you.
And then, there were the everyday indulgences—the small stuff. He would bring us back little paper cones of roasted and salted singdana and chana from the guy who sat at the corner of his office building, primarily catering to the bureaucratic public sprinting in the direction of the evening train home but desperate for an evening snack. Without fail, he would pick up the Mid Day for my grandmother to solve the crossword from. Occasionally, he would detour and go to the fruit seller next to Asiatic and pick the choicest fruit for dessert or for the next day’s breakfast table.
One of the occasional treats we really enjoyed, though, was the Date and Walnut Cake he brought back. If you have ever worked in an old-worldly office in South Bombay in the 80s or 90s or have had a family member work there, or just travelled a lot by train, you would have seen or heard about the cake sellers who went from office to office carrying a large black rexine bag full of small loaves of chocolate, fruit, and date and walnut cakes wrapped in cheap plastic. This was before cake shops were too common. We loved the deep, dark flavours of the cake, punctuated by the occasional bit of walnut, and would wait impatiently for tea-time (milk-time, rather) when we were allowed to eat it.
It has been several years since Dada passed away, and I hardly see those cake-sellers anymore, but sometimes, when I think of the small pleasures of childhood, I think about his naughty, indulgent smile when he brought us fun stuff, and the way we all sat chatting and eating Date and Walnut Cake in that peaceful apartment, a stray saline breeze heightening our senses.
This easy recipe for Date and Walnut Cake incorporates chopped dates, but you could just as well blend three-fourths of the dates in the blender with the eggs, butter, and sugar for a darker coloured cake. I especially enjoy the bits of chopped walnuts on top that get toasted and crunchy when the cake is baked. The sugar content in this cake is a little low because I like the natural sweetness of the dates to come through; however, you may use 100 grams of caster sugar if you like your bakes a little sweeter.
Recipe for Easy Date and Walnut Cake
125 grams plain flour
100 grams butter, softened
75 grams caster sugar or muscovado sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
¼ cup seedless dates, roughly chopped and soaked in 2 tablespoons water
¼ cup walnut halves, chopped
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
1. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Toss in the walnuts (reserve some for topping) and dates, taking care not to over-mix.
2. Place the butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs in a blender and blend at medium speed for one minute.
3. At this point, if you think the mixture in the blender is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoonful of the flour mixture and blend for a quick second to incorporate.
4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and fold gently using a spatula.
5. Pour into a greased and lined 7-inch square tin or loaf pan. Top with the reserved walnuts.
6. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees centigrade for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Serve warm or cold with coffee or warm milk.
When Saee is not playing harrowed mum to her three children (and sometimes, WHILE she is playing harrowed mum), she is cooking up recipes in her head or in her kitchen, and finding parallels in world cuisine.