i like to tinker in the kitchen

10 Jul

Often, when people introduce me, they will say, “This is e, she’s a ‘foodie’.”

Ack!  I really dislike the word, “Foodie”.  This term is really not appropriate to describe me.  After an introduction like this, people feel compelled to start name dropping – celebrity chefs, latest in trendy restaurants, food critics….. blah, blah, blah.

Typically this is met with a blank look in my eyes.  You see – I don’t keep up with any of that!

Our mutual friend will then try to fill the awkwardness by saying,  “e is a great cook!”   This comment also makes me cringe, because – while I DO like to spend time in my kitchen, unlike people who deserve to be called “great cooks”, I would be lucky if maybe 50% of the things that come out of my kitchen are fit to be consumed by the general public. 

I can’t make buttercream frosting to save my life!  My attempts at French macarons were tasty, but looked like little beige turds.   My finicky oven tends to over-cook and burn things. 

Based on what I’ve seen come out of my kitchen, I would definitely NOT describe me as a good cook.  

What I WOULD say is, “I like to tinker in the kitchen.”


A classic example of my tinkering is – Sticky Toffee Date Cake

My friend J first made this cake for me for our Easter gathering.  He had started to watch the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, and saw this Sticky Toffee Date Cake on one of the episodes.  Yes, this cake was like crack – it was so good!  

May I present, Exhibit 1: J’s beautiful cake!


We couldn’t stop eating it!  The cake was moist, and the topping was sweet ooooey gooey bliss!  It makes you want to lick the plate!

Recently I was invited to attend youfedababychili’s Battle Beer Can Chicken 4.
I figured it would be the perfect venue to try out the Sticky Toffee Date Cake!!

This is a really cool cake to make.  When cooking the chopped dates, you add in baking soda, and the entire mixture bubbles up – whoosh! Then, you add the date mixture into the batter.  The batter becomes very watery – but then, you add in baking powder – more bubbles start to form!  The end result is a moist fluffy cake that isn’t too sweet – the challenge for me, is to get the toffee sauce right.  

May I present, Exhibit 2: my first attempt at Sticky Toffee Date Cake moments after I poured the warm toffee sauce over the warm cake:


Not too bad – right?  I left the cake in the pan because I knew I was going to transport it.   

The next day, I arrived chez babychili, and realized that I would need to invert the cake – oops!
Good thing I brought extra sauce…….  

May I present Exhibit 3: e’s cake plated


Not the prettiest cake I ever seen….  Tasty, but not the oooey gooey delight it should have been. Once the sauce had cooled, it turned solid and grainy.  I was grateful to see that the group, which included some very accomplished chefs and food bloggers, consumed it anyway. (Bless you guys!)  

I couldn’t give up!  Practice makes perfect – right?  A week later, I decided to make this cake again for my friend S’s son B’s second birthday party.

May I present, Exhibit 4 – STDC #2, aka CTDC (Crunchy Toffee Date Cake)

Thinking that I could solve the graininess issue, I cooked the sauce a little longer.  While multi-tasking, I ended up cooking it a little too long, and it had gone into the “Hard-Ball Stage”.


The sauce formed a crunchy coat on the top of the cake.

Exhibit 5: The extra sauce


You should NOT be able to mold sauce into shapes………

Again, the cake was tasty, and the toffee pieces on top were absolutely delicious!  We had to refrain from just picking off the toffee pieces.

BUT! I also had some ‘tinkering’ success!  

Since my friend S had recently discovered that she was gluten intolerant, I adapted the original recipe, and made an extra gluten-free version of this cake especially for S.  Since the extra sauce was too hard for the cake, she put some store bought frosting on top and had two servings!  She was thrilled to find a delicious gluten-free dessert.  And I was thrilled that she enjoyed it so much!  Yay!!!  

I did a side by side tasting of both versions.  There is very little difference in taste and texture between the original and the gluten-free version.  Both were moist and lightly sweet.  That’s pretty good for a de-gluten-ized version!

Below is my recipe for
Gluten Free Sticky Toffee Date Cake!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, prepare one 9 in round cake pan or spring form cake pan


  • 1/2 pound dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbs granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 1/4 cup flax meal (why not? everyone needs some extra fiber
    and omega-3s!)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbs + 2 tsp baking powder


  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Place dates into large saucepan with 1 3/4 cups of cold water.  Bring to boil, stirring to break up the dates.  Simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Sprinkle baking soda over the top.  The mixture will bubble and expand – keep this in mind when selecting the pan.  You need about 2-3 inches extra header space to accommodate this.  (sidenote: if any reader has insight on why this happens, please comment – baking soda bubbles when it comes into contact with something acidic. From what I have read, dates are supposed to be alkaline.  So what’s causing this?)
  2. In separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together til pale and creamy/  Add the eggs one at a time.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the vanilla extract, then rice flour, flax meal and salt.  
  3. Add the warm date mixture in two batches.  Mix on slow speed.  The batter is watery, so may spatter.  (I made the mistake of mixing at too high of speed, and am still finding dried sticky date batter in random places around my kitchen)  Scrape down sides of bowl and mixer to incorporate.
  4. Sift in baking powder – when J and I have made it without sifting, you tend to get clumps of uncooked baking powder in the final product.  I find adding the baking powder through a sifter helps prevent this from happening. The batter will bubble up.  Mix til incorporated, but don’t over mix.  This batter was VERY watery – much more than the traditional wheat flour version.  I had to adjust cooking time to accommodate.
  5. Pour batter into pan.  Bake for about 40 mins, then lower the temp to 300 degrees and cook for another 10-15 mins. Check periodically depending on your oven this might take more or less time.  Cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean in the middle of the cake.  
  6. While the cake is baking, make the sauce – again, this part has never come out successfully for me.  These are the directions as written in Ina’s recipe.  Combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan.  Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer gently for a minute or two until thickened and well blended.  You might want to use a candy thermometer so that you don’t over cook like I did – “Thread” stage is between 235-240 degrees F.
  7. When the cake is done, poke little holes all over the surface with a toothpick.  Pour the caramel sauce over cakes while both are still warm and leave to soak for about 10 mins.  (I typically will pour half of the sauce over the cakes, and then save half to serve on the side.  This cake can be too sweet.)  The original recipe says to serve the cakes upside down.  I prefer to use a spring-form cake pan and serve it top-side up.



I will continue to tinker away in the kitchen, and continue my attempts to master this tricky sauce.  

To my friends and family who continue to support my hobby and endure my wacky food creations – I am so grateful, and love you all dearly!  Just – please don’t call me a “foodie”!!

xoxo, e






One Response to “i like to tinker in the kitchen”

  1. S N O :) July 11, 2011 at 5:50 AM #

    Hint hint – ha! Miss you E! This cake was so yummy delicious that I didn’t even share the two monster pieces you sent me home with! Yum yum! N&O had no idea they missed out. 😀

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