The inspiration for this cake is a sweet chutney made from dates and tamarind, which is commonly served as a dipping sauce with samosas and other fried snacks. I often dust this cake with confectioners’ sugar or drizzle it with a little kefir crème fraîche.
A high-speed blender is a marvelous tool to use for olive oil cakes because it can quickly whip air and emulsify the liquids in the batter to create a delicate cake crumb. This cake is first spiced with ginger and black pepper and sweetened with jaggery, adding contrast to the tamarind and dates in the batter, and then finally drizzled with a tamarind glaze to add a pop of fruitiness. I prefer to use the sour tamarind found in the Asian grocery stores rather than the sweeter Mexican variety because its stronger flavor comes through better in baking.
Tamarind is a tropical fruit that’s typically used in African, Asian, and Mexican cuisines. Some producers label tamarind “sour Asian” or “sweet Mexican,” which refers to the stage at which the fruit was harvested. The longer the fruit ages, the sweeter it gets. I usually stick with the sour variety and then sweeten as needed.
Tamarind is available in four different forms: the whole fruit in a pod; a wet, seedless cake of pulp, which some producers call “paste;” a dried block of pulp with seeds; and a liquid concentrate with a dark, molasses-like color. The dried pulp and the wet paste are basically the same thing.
You can use either one for the recipes in this book. Avoid the liquid concentrate, though, because it’s been cooked down and it doesn’t taste the same. (I find it a little off.) Working with the fruit or the seedless cakes at home is very easy and requires only a short amount of time. If you buy the whole fruit in their pods, remove as much of the shell as you can and follow the instructions in the recipe for softening it in boiling water and straining the fruit, which will take care of any pieces of shell.
Reprinted from Season by Nik Sharma with permission by Chronicle Books
Put the tamarind in a medium heat-proof bowl and add the boiling water, pressing down on the tamarind with a spoon so it’s covered with water. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 1 hour. Massage and squeeze the pulp to soften it, and press through a fine-mesh strainer suspended over a bowl, discarding the solids in the strainer. Measure out 1 cup [240 g] pulp for this recipe. Reserve 2 tbsp of the pulp in a small bowl to prepare the glaze.
Preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C]. Grease an 8½- by 4½-in. [21.5 by 11 cm] loaf pan with butter and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, pepper, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Put the dates in a small bowl. Add the walnuts and 2 tbsp of the whisked dry ingredients and toss to coat evenly.
Combine the ¾ cup [180 ml] olive oil, 1 cup [240g] tamarind pulp, and jaggery in a blender and pulse on high speed for a few seconds until completely emulsified. Add one egg and pulse for 3 to 4 seconds, until combined. Repeat with the remaining egg.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients in the bowl, and pour the egg mixture into the well. Whisk the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and continue whisking until there are no visible flecks of flour. Then fold in the dates and walnuts.
Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Arrange the walnuts halves in a straight line down the center of the loaf. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until firm to the touch in the center and a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, and run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the cake. Remove from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Add the remaining 1 tsp of olive oil to the small bowl containing the reserved tamarind. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until completely smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled loaf and let it sit for 1 hour to set before serving.