Wedged beneath an above-ground section of the JZ subway line in Brooklyn is Moto, a fantastical slip of a restaurant. All dark and madly whimsical, the interior feels alluringly dangerous, like a Jeunet and Caro film. Even the restroom gives off the beautiful-creeps.
It's one of my favorite spots in all the 5 boroughs, one which I am sad to say I never get the chance to visit anymore. Life (kid) and neighborhood move (the subway is as inconvenient as it is convenient) have consigned it to golden memory status. Shining at the core—what really keeps Moto pinned to my heart—is their Warm Date Cake with Toffee Sauce. Sheer perfection.
Once, years ago, I imbibed a bit too much during a birthday dinner there and tried to charm (pester) the bartender for the recipe. You probably guessed correctly that I failed to obtain the magical formula that night (and if you thought I succeeded, then thank you so much for the benefit of the doubt!). That said, it was with giddy delight to find a recipe for the exact cake while flipping through a recently gifted copy of the Sunday Suppers cookbook.
This past weekend, I finally got the chance to try it. Mostly. I ended up cutting the recipe in half because:
a) there's just the three of us
b) the recipe calls for a 10" square pan. Nope.
c) I only had 5 ounces of deeply withered dates tucked away.
All-in-all, the final cake came reasonably close to my memory cake, but I definitely want to try it again—the full recipe (though I am not buying another damn pan for one cake. FYI, you can use a 9" x 13" instead). Curious to hear thoughts if any of you try it!
Warm Date Cake with Toffee Sauce and Cream
Adapted from Sunday Suppers by Karen Mordechai
Preheat oven to 350°; prepare a 6" round cake pan
For the cake:
5 ounces (142 g) pitted dates (double check that they are, indeed, pitted
8 ounces (240 g) boiling water
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick (113 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons (75 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar (I might use all brown sugar—dark—next time)
1 large egg, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 g) all-purpose flour
For the toffee sauce:
1/2 stick (113 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (120 g) heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (124 g) light brown sugar (again, I may try dark next time)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To serve: heavy cream, straight-up or whipped
To make the cake: In a medium-sized bowl, cover the dates with the boiling water. Stir in the baking soda and let soak for 30 minutes, or until plump and soft, then puree in a food processor. Set aside.
Melt the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars with the melted butter until smooth. Whisk in the egg, then gently fold in the flour followed by the date puree.
Spoon the batter into the pan, smoothing the surface with an offset spatula.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist, sticky crumbs attached.
Remove from the oven, let cool a few minutes in the pan, then remove to a rack to cool a bit more while you make the sauce.
To make the sauce: Stir together all of the ingredients in a saucepan set over medium heat. Let gently bubble until somewhat thicker, about 7–10 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Serve the warm cake drenched in the sauce and heavy cream or whipped cream. I repeat, serve the cake warm. I tried it both ways and found it exceedingly better with heat.