The baked pastry is very delicate, so be careful when spreading it and moving it.
Prep time: 1 hour, plus 30 minutes chilling and 15 minutes soaking | Cooking time: 30 minutes
For the shortbread
- 65g sugar
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ¾ tsp salt
- 115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 115g very soft butter
- 240g plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
For the filling
- 570g dates, pitted
- 1 tbsp brewed espresso or coffee
- 1 tbsp tangerine or orange juice
For the honey buttercream
- 3 large egg yolks
- 90ml honey
- Pinch of salt
- 170g unsalted butter, very soft
- ¾ tsp rose water
- Rose petals and crushed pistachios, to decorate
- Whipped cream, for serving
- Make the shortbread. In a wide bowl, whisk together the sugar, cardamom, and salt. Furiously whisk in the melted butter; the mixture will emulsify, resembling mayonnaise. Whisk in the soft butter. Combine the flour and baking powder and add to the butter mixture all at once.
- Using your hand, rake through the mixture until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough is homogeneous. This should be fun, and not much work.
- Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper, top with a second sheet of parchment, and roll into a 40x26cm rectangle. Place the dough, still on the parchment, on a baking tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 150C/130C fan/Gas 2.
- Cut the dough (still on the parchment) crosswise into four equal rectangles. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 120C/110C fan/Gas ½. Use the palm of your hand to gently pat down any bubbles that may have begun to form. Then continue baking until the shortbread is dark golden brown, 10-15 minutes longer. Let it cool fully on the tray on a wire rack.
- Meanwhile, make the filling. Put the dates in a glass jar or narrow bowl, add just enough very hot water to barely cover, and soak for 15 minutes, or until the dates are very soft.
- Drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and transfer to a food processor. Add the coffee and tangerine or orange juice and process until smooth, soft, and spreadable, adding tablespoons of the soaking liquid as necessary (some dates are drier than others and will need more liquid). Transfer to a bowl and set aside at room temperature.
- Make the buttercream. Put the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl). In a small saucepan, bring the honey to a boil. Begin beating the egg yolks on medium speed (with a hand-held mixer if not using a stand mixer), and, while beating, carefully pour the hot honey into the yolks, being careful not to hit the beaters and splatter yourself with boiling honey. Add the salt, increase the speed to high, and beat until the yolks are pale and cool, about 10 minutes. When they are completely cool, beat in the soft butter a little at a time until the buttercream is smooth and creamy; if it looks as if it’s beginning to separate, don’t despair: continue beating, and it will come together. Beat in the rose water.
- To assemble the cake, carefully place three of the shortbread layers on a clean work surface and use an offset spatula to spread one third of the date jam on each of the layers. Using a large spatula or the bottom of a removable-bottomed tart pan, gently lift and stack the layers, pressing very gently so they stick together. If the layers crack, don’t despair; once the cake is assembled and frosted, you won’t be able to tell. Top with the final shortbread layer and frost the top and sides of the stack with the buttercream.
- The cake can be served immediately or chilled until the buttercream is set, then covered with cling film and refrigerated until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before serving. Decorate with pistachios and rose petals if you like, cut the cake into 2.5cm slices and serve with whipped cream.
Recipe from the 20th Century Cafe by Michelle Polzine (Artisan Books, £27.99)