I think that this cake, with its abundance of slightly boozy fruit and its dense texture, could most accurately be described as a chocolate fruitcake. But since (as I mentioned last year in my Brandied Fruit & Almond Pound Cake post) not too many Americans will try a cake with "fruitcake" in the title, "Date, Dried Cherry & Chocolate Torte" is a clever name. If, like me, you love dates, dried cherries and chocolate, you will probably love this cake. I made it on Saturday and started eating it on Sunday. I expected it to be best the day after I made it, but I have been surprised to discover that it continues to get better—becoming moister and more intensely fruity with each passing day.
The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of two varieties of dates. I only had one kind of date on hand (Medjool—my favorite), so instead of making the cake with all dates, I substituted some nice white Turkish figs for a half cup of the dates. If the distinctive seedy crunch of the figs would bother you, go ahead and use all dates. But, if you are a fan of those little Italian Fig Cookies called Cucidati, you will enjoy the cake when it is made with the figs.
I think this cake would make an elegant holiday dessert...cut in small wedges and served with a little whipped cream. But it is also excellent served with an afternoon cup of coffee (or tea). And I don't really need the whipped cream...or even the plate. I have discovered that my favorite way to eat a slice has been with my hands—using my fingers to break off little chunks of this chocolate-y, fruity treat.
Date, Dried Cherry & Chocolate Torte
1 c. Medjool dates (6 oz), pitted and each cut into 6 pieces
1/2 c. Dried figs, stemmed and cut into uniform dried cherry-sized pieces or use another variety of dates, pitted and each cut into 6 pieces (3 oz)
1 c. dried tart cherries (5 oz)
1 t. baking soda
1 c. boiling water
1/4 c. brandy
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process), sifted to remove lumps
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 t. vanilla
zest of one orange
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
3/4 c. pecans (3 oz), lightly toasted and finely chopped
Combine dates, cherries, and baking soda in a heatproof bowl, then stir in boiling water and brandy. Set aside to cool.
Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt.
Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and zest. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just combined. Add half of flour mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Add date mixture with liquid and beat at low speed until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate and pecans.
Pour batter into a buttered and floured 9-inch springform pan, smoothing top. Bake in middle of a 375 degree oven until center is slightly rounded and top of torte is cracked (edges will be dark brown),
about 55 minutes. Let torte stand 10 minutes in pan on a rack. Run a small knife around side of pan to loosen, then remove side. Cool torte on rack. Cake tastes best if allowed to sit, well-wrapped, for 24 hours. Serves 12 to 16.
(Recipe adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison)