I don't know where my mother found this recipe, although I imagine she clipped it from a magazine or newspaper in the 1950s. She gave it to me, neatly typed out on a recipe card, for my own collection. Like many of our family recipes, it doesn't include details like the pan size — some things were apparently just understood. I'm sharing it here as I've adapted it.
This recipe makes one 8-inch cake or a two-layer 6-inch cake. Prepare the pan(s) by buttering and flouring them, then placing a parchment round in the bottom. Pre-heat the oven to 350℉.
Place the dates and water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low with the lid on a slight angle for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. The mixture will foam up as you do so. Set aside to cool while you work on the cake batter. (The date mixture can be lukewarm or cool, but not hot when you add it to the batter.)
Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter, then add the coconut sugar. Cream on medium high speed for about 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl during this process. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until incorporated, scraping the bowl once.
Add one-third of the flour mixture and half of the heavy cream alternately, stirring on low after each addition, and scraping the bowl once or twice.
Now add the date mixture to the batter. Stir for a few moments on low, then remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in with a spatula until evenly distributed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan(s) — if making two 6-inch cakes, ensure the batter is divided evenly between them. Smooth the top and tap the pans sharply on the counter once or twice to release any air bubbles.
Place the pans on the centre rack of the 350℉ pre-heated oven and bake 35 minutes for a single 8-inch layer or 30 minutes for two 6-inch layers. The cake will have risen and browned nicely, and will be pulling away from the edges. Use a tester to ensure the cake is done.
Remove the pans from the oven and cool on a rack for 5 minutes or so, and then turn out onto the rack. Remove the parchment paper. I like to turn the cakes right-side up (carefully!) to complete the cooling. (Note: Mom's recipe says to pour the topping over the warm cake. I tend to let the cake cool first, but it's good to know you have this option.)
To make the coconut topping, pre-heat the broiler. Put all the ingredients except the nuts in a small pot and place on medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar and butter are melted, then bring to a boil for three minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts if using. Pour over the cake, using as a filling and topping if making a 2-layer cake. Spread to the top edge of the cake.
Place the cake (or the top layer) on a sheet pan and put a few inches under the broiler for just 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture is just golden. Watch it like a hawk — if the topping gets too dark it will harden as it cools and be difficult to slice through. For a 2-layer cake, place the layer with the broiled topping on the bottom layer and filling.
I use Sayer or Deglet Nour dates for this recipe. I would guess that Mom used something similar, but possibly drier. At any rate, the Sayer or Deglet Nour dates work fine. I wouldn't use Medjool dates for baking — Queen Elizabeth Cake was intended to be an economical cake, so that degree of splurge isn't necessary.
If you substitute whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose, add the bran back after sifting.