Tu Bishvat is a minor Jewish holiday in the Hebrew month of Shevat, usually sometime in late January or early February, that marks the New Year of the Trees (Hebrew: ראש השנה לאילנות, Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot) or the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle. It is customary to plant trees and eat dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds.
Even though it is considered a minor festival, the commandment to plant trees in the Land of Israel is so important in Jewish tradition that there is even an ancient Rabbinical saying that if you see the Messiah arrive while you are on your way to plant a tree, you have to finish planting it before greeting him.
This Tu Bishvat I am recovering from the flu, but I decided that it was important to still make something this year in memory of all of those who lost their lives in the tragic Carmel fire last month. I wish their families no more sorrow and pray for a new, healthy forest to grow in place of the old one.
I made a Baronessed version of my baking hero, Dan Lepard‘s Tamarind Date Cake. The original recipe calls for dates, which I assume most people would use Madjools, but I decided to take advantage of the different varieties of dates we have on offer here and used Madjool (center in picture above), Dekel Noor (right), and Halawi (left) dates. I wasn’t sure what Dan meant by tamarind paste in the recipe, but I used mashed whole tamarind (top of picture above) instead of the smooth paste you can buy in a jar. The mashed tamarind is more readily available in health food stores here.
This cake is delicious, moist and not too sweet because the tamarind adds a nice sour note to the cake. This is the second best date cake I have ever had. The best is my father’s fresh apple cake that has an equal amount of dates in the recipe.
adapted recipe from Dan Lepard
200g (7 ounces) chopped dates (Madjool or a combination of several varieties)
50g (1.7 ounces or 1/4 cup) tamarind paste
300ml (1-1/4 cup) water
250g (1/2lb or 2 sticks) unsalted butter
150g (5 ounces or 1/2 cup) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
275g (9.7 ounces or 2-3/4 cups) plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
Zest of 1 large orange
175g (6 ounces or 1-1/2 cups) walnuts, roughly chopped
Line the base and sides of a deep, 18cm (7 inch) cake tin with nonstick baking paper, and heat the oven to 180C/350F (160C/325F convection). Put the dates, tamarind paste and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Boil for a minute, remove from the heat, add the butter, and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
Place the date mixture in a large mixing bowl and add the brown sugar, stir, then beat in the eggs until smooth. Ina separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, spices and orange zest together and add to the date mixture until combined. Then, stir in the walnuts.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about an hour, or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pan, and completely cool on a cake rack.