Deep Dark Secret Cake (Dairy-Free)

Deep Dark Secret Cake with coconut cream topping
Deep Dark Secret Cake (with coconut cream topping)
makes up to 12 slices

3 cups chopped dates (about 36 medium)
100g (1/2 cup) sugar or honey
100g (about 1 cup) walnuts, chopped finely
4 eggs
50g (1/2 cup) wholewheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence

3-4 bananas
2 large oranges or 4-5 satsumas

435g can crushed pineapple
400g can full fat coconut milk, chilled

Combine the first eight ingredients in a bowl, and mix together thoroughly. Spread them into a greased and lined cake tin, approximately 20x30cm. Bake for about half an hour at 180C, until the top is firm to the touch. Cool, then turn onto a wire rack.

Break half the cake into small pieces and spread out on a platter or flan dish, at least 30cm in diameter. Chop the bananas and spread over. Peel the oranges or satsumas, and place segments over the bananas, squeezing a little of the juice over them to stop them browning.

Break up the rest of the cake, and pile it on top, hiding the fruit. Top the whole with the can of pineapple, including the juice. Whip the coconut cream (see below for detail) and pile on top.  Refrigerate until needed.

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I had never seen or heard of this dessert until a friend brought it to a house group, many years ago. I asked for the recipe, and put it in my folder, but didn't get around to making it until recently. As I read through the ingredients, I realised that it would probably work just fine to make an ordinary cake - maybe a chocolate one, or even a plain cake - rather than the more expensive one using dates rather than fat.

But I had plenty of dates, including some medjool ones, so decided to follow the recipe as given. The only change I made was to use 100g sugar rather than 200g which was given in the original recipe. The dates make it very sweet anyway. Perhaps sugar could be left out altogether.

I suspect that egg substitutes, maybe even aquafaba would work for vegans, but I was a little dubious about replacing four eggs, so, again, decided to follow the recipe. I used my food processor to chop the dates, about twelve at a time. I then used it to chop the walnuts finely.

half the deep dark secret cake, covered in bananas and satsuma segmentsThe mixture did not seem at all cake-like when I put it into the tin, but after half an hour's baking, it looked and felt like any cake.  It was a bit gooey when I broke it up and placed it in a suitable sized flan dish, but the original recipe mentioned that it probably would be.

I used three bananas, as they were quite big, and five satsumas left over from Christmas. Piling them on top was easy, and I made sure it started to form a mound, as shown in this photo. If you use oranges or mandarins, make sure you remove any pips. If they are not in season, or are expensive, you could substitute a can of mandarin oranges, drained.

deep dark secret cake, with the fresh fruit covered in the rest of the cake
Piling the second half of the cake, in broken pieces, was a little more tricky as it kept falling down the sides, but I made sure the pieces were fairly small, and pushed them around the fruit so that it was all covered in cake. This, apparently, is the 'deep dark secret' - that the centre of this sweet and tempting treat is full of fresh fruit.

It didn't look particularly appealing at this point, but I had already tasted a few of the cake crumbs and realised that the resultant concoction was going to be extremely tasty, and well worth the apparent complexity of the process. It wasn't, in fact, particularly difficult or time-consuming.

deep dark secret cake, after adding the pineapple, before the cream
My can of crushed pineapple wasn't the same size as the one in the original recipe (an American one, so it said 20 ounces, which is 566g). But I realised by this stage that it didn't much matter as it was just used as a topping.  So I emptied it over the cake, juice and all.

If you are trying to avoid fat, then you could serve the cake at this stage. But it won't look as good as it does with the final topping.

The recipe I was given used ordinary dairy cream, 500ml of it, which is quite a large amount when whipped. We don't use dairy products these days as my husband is intolerant of cow's milk. There are many ethical and health-based reasons to avoid dairy produce too.  However, if you use them, you could simply whip some cream to go on top. Soya cream would make a good alternative for those who can tolerate it, but soya products give me migraines, and there are some health concerns about soya too.

However, the cream substitute we use (on the rare occasions we use cream!) is that found in canned coconut milk. And yes, I know there are health reasons to avoid cans! The coconut milk must be full fat, with as few additives as possible. Then you need to put it in the fridge overnight, upside-down.  This part is important if there's a ring-pull can opener. If not, you can turn it upside down after you take it out of the fridge, and then open the bottom.

The reason for this is that when refrigerated, coconut milk separates into water and cream, with the cream at the top. It's important to open the can at the watery end, so the water can be poured away or into a jug; it's not used in this recipe.

What remains is fairly solid, and needs to be assisted out of the can into a bowl with a knife or spatula around the edges.  Add a drop or two of vanilla essence, and then whip, ideally with an electric mixer. You'll need to be careful at first or it will spatter around the bowl, but it should whip easily and after a couple of minutes reaches the consistency of whipped cream.

There was probably only about 200ml of cream, and it didn't reach the bottom edges of the mounded cake, but it was plenty to make a suitable topping. It needs to be in the fridge until it's served, and any leftovers also need to be refrigerated.

The original recipe says it serves 6-8 people and I was sharing it with a group of eight of us. But we cut it into twelve slices, and each one was a good size. The remaining four portions kept well in the fridge and we enjoyed them over the next couple of days.