Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ishtar's Love Potion: 
Rosewater Scented Spicy Date Cake

For Valentine's Day, do the overworked Cupids a favor and make this cake. Even more potent than their arrows!

Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna) is the ancient goddess of love, fertility, and sexuality in the ancient Mesopotamian culture. She is the prototype no less of a host of seductress goddesses, known in later times and other lands, such as Astarte, Hathor, Venus and Aphrodite. Aphrodite was the one who gave her name to all the foods and dishes, which enhance sexuality, the libido boosters, the Aphrodisiacs. 

The Assyrian Ishtar

Inanna  holding dates

Now, in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, Ishtar was closely associated with the date palm, it was her symbol and abode. She was often called 'The Lady of the Date Clusters', and her lover and spouse, Dumuzi/Tammuz (prototype of Adonis), god of food and vegetation,  was called 'The one great source of the date clusters'.

To the ancient Mesopotamians, the date palm and its fruit were important products economically. The dates were valued for their great nutritional value, and it made sense to associate them with Ishtar and her beloved husband, and to believe that they were highly Aphrodisiac. In fact, we still believe so. Grooms, for instance, are advised to eat one pound of dates on the day of their wedding.      

Woman, Goddess, and Date Palm

The ancient Mesopotamians knew how to make cakes. Some surviving cuneiform texts even give the proportions for cakes with fruits, including dates, to go to the temple and the palace. So I believe goddess Ishtar must have eaten a lot of such cakes.

This scrumptious cake is in honor of the 'Lady of the Dates' Ishtar, who definitely knew quite well what dates can do.

Here is how to make it:

(I adapted this recipe for my book Dates: A Global History (UK, London: Reaktion Books, 2011). I also make it with prunes/dried plums. Equally delicious!)

For the cake:
1½ cups (10 ounces) whole seedless dates
1¼ cups brewed black tea
½ cup oil (such as canola)
1½ cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, cardamom, each
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, cloves, each

For the filling and icing:
1 pint heavy/whipping cream, divided
½ cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon of powdered sugar
1 tablespoon rose water
½ cup brown sugar, packed
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces pecan or walnut halves, lightly toasted
1 ounce, shredded unsweetened coconut  

Preheat oven 375°F

1. Put dates and tea in a small pot. Bring to a quick boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes, or until dates soften (but not mushy). Drain the dates, but reserve the drained liquid. Let them cool off to room temperature. Cut the drained dates into small pieces, and add enough cold water to liquid to make it measure ⅔ cup.

2. In a big bowl, put oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, and beat for 2 minutes. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves. Stir the flour-mix into the egg-mix, in two batches, alternately with the measured date liquid. Stir in dates. Divide batter between two 9-inch round baking pans. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until surface feels firm to the touch. Let them stand for 10 minutes and then invert on a cooling rack.

3. When completely cool, divide the cakes into halves, and fill the layers with whipped cream made by whisking together 1¾ cup whipping cream with 1 heaping tablespoon powdered sugar and rosewater. Do not put any whipped cream on the face of the cake because it will be covered with the icing, prepared as in the following step.

4. In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and butter. Bring to a boil, on medium heat, stirring to allow sugar to dissolve. Boil gently for about 4 minutes. Let it cool off completely. Stir in 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla, until smooth. It should be neither too thick nor runny in consistency. Use immediately.

5. Spoon the icing on the top layer of the cake and make it look like swirls. Arrange the pecan or walnut halves and sprinkle with the coconut. Or decorate it whichever way you like. Keep refrigerated for about an hour and then serve.



  1. ...or ditch the baking and eat dates with tahini like a proper Iraqi - excellent energy food, healthy and simple.

  2. Well, I would not say ditch the baking. Baking is an enjoyable rewarding way of cooking, albeit time consuming. But it is worth it.

    I totally agree that dibis wa rashi (dip of date syrup and tahini) will be an excellent snack food, fast, delicious, and nutritious.
    Many thanks for your comment.

  3. What an absolutely beautiful blog this is! Glad I found it, it is a delight to wander around in it, much to see, a lot to learn. :-)

  4. I just made this, it is delicious! I'm bringing it to school today with my AP Psychology class!