Until they discover that the universe was formed by a giant cake exploding, baking science will forever remain kitchen-based. Without realising it, we're invoking complex science to create even the simplest birthday cake. We often feel a twinge of panic when we read the packaging of shop-bought cakes and see ingredients like emulsifiers, humectants, modified starches and invert sugars, even though, say, the old-fashioned boiled date cake that my mum makes contains all of those things.
175g pitted dates
300ml boiling water
100g peanut, almond or cashew butter
125g unsalted butter, cubed
275g dark brown sugar
3 eggs (60g each)
3 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Peanut butter chocolate ganache
200g double cream
75g brown sugar
225g dark chocolate (70 per cent)
75g smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp dark rum or milk
1. Line the bases of two deep, round 18-centimetre layer cake tins with discs of non-stick paper and heat the oven to 180C or 160C fan-forced.
2. Put the dates in a bowl, pour the boiling water in then leave for five minutes. Add the peanut butter and unsalted butter then puree in a food processor until smooth.
3. Pour the date mixture into a bowl and beat in the sugar and cocoa, then the eggs and vanilla. Sift the flour with the baking soda and baking powder, then fold in until just combined.
4. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and bake for about 30 minutes.
5. For the ganache, boil the cream, stir in the sugar then pour over the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Add the peanut butter and rum then stir slowly until the chocolate dissolves. Leave until almost set, then spread and assemble the cakes while the ganache is thick and smooth.
Serves 8 to 10