Excerpted from Baking at the 20th Century Café by Michelle Polzine (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020.Read our book review here

Date-­Pistachio Torte

mcith_p.122%20Date-Pistachio%20Torte_BAKAlthough this torte has none of the same elements that make up the famous Gerbeaud cake, to me it somehow feels like a San Francisco version of that storied treat.

It is a sophisticated dessert with a gentle sweetness. It’s made of four layers of cardamom-­scented pastry sandwiched with a coffee-­date jam, and the whole thing is topped with honey buttercream.

The pastry recipe may look familiar; I just lightened the shortbread that forms the bottom layer of the Plum Kuchen and the Walnut-­Apricot Torte with a little baking powder and added some ground cardamom.

The baked pastry is very delicate, so be careful when spreading it with the date jam, and use a large offset spatula, or the bottom of a removable-­bottomed tart pan, to lift and stack the layers.

Makes 1 rectangular cake; serves 10

For the Shortbread

¹Ã¢Ââ€ž³Ã¢â‚¬Â¯cup (66 grams) sugar

½Ã¢â‚¬Â¯teaspoon ground cardamom

¾Ã¢â‚¬Â¯teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

8 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, very soft

2 cups (240 grams) all-­purpose flour

½Ã¢â‚¬Â¯teaspoon baking powder

For the Filling

1¼ pounds (567 grams) dates, such as Barhi or Medjool (see page 18), pitted

1 tablespoon brewed espresso or coffee

1 tablespoon tangerine or orange juice

For the Honey Buttercream

3 large egg yolks

¹Ã¢Ââ€ž³Ã¢â‚¬Â¯cup plus 1 tablespoon (90 milliliters) honey

Pinch of kosher salt

12 tablespoons (169 grams) unsalted butter, very soft

¾Ã¢â‚¬Â¯teaspoon rose water (see page 21)

Pistachio Praline (page 234) for garnish

Whipped Cream (page 330) for serving

Make the shortbread: In a wide glass or stainless steel 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 like a claw, 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, top with a second sheet of parchment, and roll into a 15¾-­by-­10¼-­inch (40-­by-­26-­centimeter) rectangle. Place the dough, still on the parchment, on a sheet pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

Cut the dough (still on the parchment) crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 250°F (120°C). 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 to 15 minutes longer. Let cool fully on the pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the filling: If using a variety of dates other than Barhi (which are very soft and do not require soaking), 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 the bowl of 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. (The filling can be made up to a week in advance, covered, and refrigerated; let come to room temperature before using.)

Make the honey 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 handheld 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. (Did I mention being careful?) 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 3 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 (they are as fragile as all get out!), 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 honey buttercream. Garnish with a generous sprinkle of pistachio praline. The cake can be served immediately or chilled until the buttercream is set, then covered with plastic wrap so it doesn’t pick up any off flavors and refrigerated until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before serving. (The cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, but the praline will melt, so be prepared to reapply!)

Cut the cake into 1-­inch (2.5-­centimeter) slices and serve with whipped cream alongside.


One of the many lovely things about living in San Francisco is proximity to the date farms of Southern California. At my farmers’ markets, I can choose from among a dozen different varieties of dates, from syrupy Barhi and Deglet Noor to the large, firm, maple­y Medjools, which are the variety that seem to make their way most often to grocery stores elsewhere. Medjools are fine, and they will work for all the recipes in this book that call for dates. The handpicked ones from Rancho Meladuco are especially good; for the coveted Barhi and other varieties, including Medjools, order from Flying Disc Ranch.

Rose Water

Rose water is exactly what it sounds like: water in which rose petals have been steeped. It has a wonderful fragrance and flavor, and a little goes a long way (too much, and your dessert may taste like soap). It’s available at many grocery stores (look in the problematically named “International” aisle), in specialty baking shops, and online; Nielsen-Massey is a good brand.