There are times where cooking feels like both science and magic.

Take, for example, the date toffee at the heart of this recipe. There’s science here, of course – the caramelisation of sugars and emulsification of fats – but it feels more like magic, with three disparate ingredients bubbling away like a brewing potion to give something altogether different and uniquely delicious: a luxuriously rich but delicately fruity toffee. Or perhaps I’m overthinking it and just need to read a bit less sci-fi and fantasy this year.

Date traybake with toffee

The best place to find date syrup is in health or Middle Eastern food shops. Or, failing that, online. Soak the dates in orange juice an hour or two before you start.

Prep 15 min
Soak 1 hr
Cook 1 hr 30 min
Makes 16 squares

200g orange juice
175g medjool dates, chopped into 1cm pieces
150g unsalted butter
150g light muscovado sugar
5 large eggs
300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
200g date syrup

For the toffee sauce
150g date syrup
75g unsalted butter
200g double cream

An hour or two before you start, pour the orange juice over the dates and leave to soak.

To make the toffee sauce, stir all three ingredients in a saucepan and leave to simmer on a low heat. Give it an occasional stir, scraping the base and sides of the pan to make sure none of the mixture scorches. After about 30 minutes, you will see a clear layer of fat sitting on top of the toffee. At this point, turn off the heat and leave to cool, stirring the fat back into the mix to give a smooth, spreadable toffee.

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To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, then stir in the eggs, flour, baking powder and syrup, followed by the soaked dates.

Pour the mixture into a 23cm square cake tin lined with greaseproof paper and greased with a little butter. Bake at 170C (160C fan)/gas 4 for 45-50 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool, then spread the toffee sauce all over the top and slice into squares.



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