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FOOD HDY-DATECAKE TB

Date cake with whiskey sauce, prepared and styled by Mark Graham.

Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Despite the jokes, we enjoy fruitcake in our house. Likewise, the dark fruit flavors of mincemeat, plum puddings, stollen and lebkuchen. They prove a bold contrast to all the sugar cookies, peppermint bark and homemade fudge — which we also love.

Cakes made with dates are relatively new to our repertoire. We’ve had a few good ones this year — most recently at The Vanguard in Indianapolis. They served a warm wedge of a robust, super moist date cake with a generous ladle of warm toffee sauce. Tasted like the holidays to us!

At home, I pureed pitted dates with hot water and a bit of espresso powder for an even darker, pleasantly bitter flavor in this simple one-layer cake. A topping of diced dried dates (look for packages of diced dates with oat flour; the pieces stay separate), mixed with walnuts and cacao nibs, adds a great texture and an attractive appearance. The cake keeps well for several days. I like to serve it warm; slices can be heated very briefly in the microwave.

The whiskey-spiked toffee sauce gilds the lily. The sauce makes a nice gift packaged in small jars. Microwave the sauce until it’s warm, so it flows over the cake nicely.

I added a jar of mincemeat to my condiment collection when shopping at Waitrose in London. In the old English days, mincemeat contained chopped meat. Today, the store-bought versions are meatless — and delicious. Basically, cooked apples sweetened with raisins and molasses and flavored with sweet and savory spices, such as cinnamon, clove, caraway and cinnamon, form the base of bottled mincemeat. Often a touch of vinegar is added for tanginess. Borden’s Nonesuch Mincemeat tastes good; Amazon sells a couple of British imports that I like too.

To satisfy the varied tastes of our holiday guests, I add a cup of mincemeat to a homemade apple pie. In my experience, adding a touch of the dark condiment to a pie helps ease the guests into these flavors. I think the combination is a perfect match any time of the year.

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