Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Tahini and date syrup cake

My mother used to bribe us with food. Neither my brother or I had much interest in learning the piano but we had boundless enthusiasm for the treats we'd get for afternoon tea at the deli cafe next door to the music school where our lessons were held. I'm pretty sure it was there I first had halva, the dense, sweet and crumbly Middle-eastern confection made from sesame seeds. It was halva that came to mind when I tasted this cake, relatively new to my repertoire. I've made it three times now, in quick succession. I'd never used tahini before in anything sweet and it was a revelation. Though this cake looks complicated, it's easily one of the more simple I've ever made in both ingredients and technique. It's excellent with tea or coffee, sophisticated enough for a dinner party, humble enough for morning tea, enjoyed equally by kids and adults, and the sort of thing that if you make once, you're sure to make again and again. It's chewy and moist, sweet and sesame-y and entirely dairy-free.

Eventually we gave up the piano. My grandfather was disappointed. He thought it a good skill to have for parties. To date I have not attended a gathering where piano playing was called for but every day I'm grateful to my mum for teaching me to cook. No matter the age, or the social occasion, cake is perennially popular.

Tahini and date syrup cake
Adapted from a recipe by Hadas Benjamin on the lovely Sydney food blog Who Does the Dishes

I found date syrup in the kosher food section of a supermarket in Bondi Junction in Sydney. If you don't live near an area with a large Jewish/Middle-eastern population (and food stores catering to them), you could make your own, or substitute with treacle or golden syrup, even honey. For a demonstration of marbling technique, see the original recipe here. Note: the middle will take longer to cook than the sides of this cake. You might want to cover the top with aluminium foil after 20 minutes to avoid burning. But if you end up with a slightly undercooked centre - as I've done not once but twice - fret not, it's still utterly delicious.

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups self-raising flour (or 2 plain + 4 teaspoons baking powder)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons date syrup

Preheat oven to 180 deg C.

In a bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar til light and creamy.

Mix in the oil and the flour.

Pour into cake tin.

In a small bowl, combine tahini and date syrup and swirl in a spiral on the top of the cake batter using a teaspoon, then use the same teaspoon to marble light and dark together. You may want to lightly warm the tahini date mixture first in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stovetop to allow a more swirl-able consistency.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes.

Serve with tea or coffee.


  1. This is a gorgeous cake and indeed very reminiscent of halva.

  2. Just made a trip to my local middle eastern vendor so I can recreate this! Alice, thanks to you this cake is one of my new favourites. And I just shared your recipe with two ladies in the shop.
    Mireille x