A Swiss-Italian Weekend – Chocolate Almond Date Cake

20 years ago I graduated from high school in Lugano, Switzerland. The time I spent there was one of the most memorable in my life, where I made some of my best friends, who are still in my life to this day.  I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to have returned there for our reunion, and have shared this wonderful weekend full of food, friends and fun.  Here are some of the things that we ate and prepared throughout the weekend:

The view as I was landing in Milan

Typical Italian breakfast: Cappuccino and Chocolate “Brioche”

The church next to my old school

Having fun with my salmon bruschetta

Cicche del Nonno- Translates to “Grandfather’s Pillows” but they are spinach gnocchi…..my favorite.

Dates brought specially from Dubai so I could make my Chocolate Almond Date Cake!


From Top to bottom, left to right:  Crescenza cheese, mixed olives and mushrooms, green figs, Porchetta and in the middle, tuna stuffed spicy peppers.

Parmesan with Balsamic vinegar

Our table with a view

My friend Miki preparing the Okonomiyaki

So this is my Chocolate Almond Date Cake, and the only thing I cooked this weekend (Ok, I also did the Summer Cherry Tart).  This cake is so moist and luscious…..you really should try it.  You’ll find the recipe below.

Radishes at the local market in Lugano

Giant Salami hanging in the streets of Lugano

The olive stand at the local market in Porlezza, Italy

Beautiful Lake Lugano

The goodies in my kitchen……6 kilos worth of food!

From Left to right:

Top Row:Culatello and Lardo (yes, it is lard, but amazing on toasted bread) 2 packets of buckwheat polenta, a box of spinach lasagna.

Middle row: 1/2 kilo of Speck, 2 Salami Cacciatorini, Fresh horseradish! 1/2 kilo of pumpkin gnocchi, 1 kilo of Parmesan Cheese, 1/2 Kilo of Appenzeller Cheese.

Bottom row:  Guanciale, a package of Trofie Pasta, and Pancetta Romana!

Dinners are going to be awesome.

And now, for the recipe:

Chocolate Almond Date Cake

For the cake:

1 1/4 cups water
22 pitted medjool dates, plus 4 more for garnish
3 tbsp sweet Marsala wine (or brandy)
2 tbsp strong brewed coffee
4 tbsp good quality cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
12 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp. plus more for pan
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61% cacao), finely chopped
1/4 cup almonds, slivered (non salted)

For the glaze

4 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cups light brown sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup ( light or dark- I prefer dark)
1 tbsp water
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet or milk chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp hazelnut liqueur
1/4 cup toasted and salted Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped

1. For the cake: preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Butter 9×3 inch cake pan, line with parchment, and butter parchment.
2.  Combine water, dates, Marsala, coffee and 2 tbsp of cocoa powder and bring to a boil.  Take off heat, and let cool.  Puree cooled date mixture in a food processor or with an immersion blender.  Place 3/4 cup purée in a small bowl, and press plastic wrap directly on surface; reserve.  Place remaining purée in a large bowl.
3. Whisk flour, salt, cinnamon, and remaining 2 tbsp cocoa in a bowl.
4. Beat butter and brown sugar with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition (batter will look curdled).
5. Stir baking soda into date purée.  On low-speed, beat flour mixture into egg mixture in 2 additions, alternating with the date mixture.  Beat in chocolate.  Mix in slivered almonds.  Transfer batter to prepared pan, smooth top.
6.  Bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Let cool in pan on top of a wire rack for 30 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen, and invert cake onto rack.  Remove parchment, turn cake right side up, and let cool completely.  (cake can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temp for up to 2 days.)
7.  Make the glaze:  Bring butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, water and salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium low heat, stirring occasionally.  Boil 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in cream, then hazelnut liqueur.  Add chocolate, whisk until smooth.  Let cool until thickened, about 15-20 minutes.
8. Assemble the cake:  Using a serrated knife (or my handy-dandy little trick, non minted dental floss to cut the top of cake, just cut a tiny piece at one end, insert the floss tightly wound in your fingers, and drag it across the top of the cake and slice the top off!) trim the rounded top off so it is flat.  Spread remaining date purée on top, then pour the glaze over top, letting some drip off the sides.  Garnish with halved dates and salted toasted Marcona almonds.

From my kitchen to yours,





3 comments on “A Swiss-Italian Weekend – Chocolate Almond Date Cake

  1. So much maxing food and the variety is making my mouth water! I’m in love with those different types of Salumi and I’d even love to try the lardo, it must taste pretty wonderful! As for Okonomiyaki it’s one of my favourites! Love all of these & a lovely cake too (of course!)

    • expatchef says:

      The lardo is absolutely sinful…..When you put it on hot chunky bread, it melts and it is just……yum. And Okonomiyaki! It was my first time trying it, so happy that I did. It was a great weekend too….I see we both had a great time travelling and eating! Thank you!

  2. […] Yesterday at our market, we overdosed on these.  We bought about 20 apricots, those fabulous flat peaches, which they call Paraguayos here, nectarines and blueberries.  I was pretty certain we couldn’t consume all that fruit before it goes bad…..but that is us.  We see things and we want them, thinking that we are going to go on a fruit fast or something.  But not so, because well, you know about how much food I brought back from Switzerland. […]

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