The proof of the pudding is in the eating

In the thick of winter, all you want to do is tuck into something warm. Hot chocolate, warm cake, hot pudding. Whether Sticky Toffee Pudding gets billed as winter dessert, I don't know, but there's something about this Pudding.


Which is (again) not really a pudding. The word pudding brings to mind a rich, custardy, firmly set dessert. This is not that. Because this is a cake; It's made like one. (Don't worry, I won't start the whole is it pudding, is it cake debate)

For some reason, in some part of my mind, I associated Sticky Toffee Pudding with Enid Blyton novels - as a dessert eaten at all those fantastic boarding schools like Malory Towers (seriously, have boarding schools ever been more appealing? Not counting Hogwarts, obviously). But the Malory Tower Books were written between 1946 and 1951. Which was about two decades before the invention of sticky toffee pudding. The sticky toffee pudding was created, in it's most prevalent form, by Francis Coulson at the Sharrow Bay Hotel sometime in the 1970s. You know those recipes where employees have to sign secrecy contracts and never divulge recipes? This was one of them!

A stick toffee pudding is essentially a date sponge (cake) that is served with a double helping of toffee sauce, and served with ice cream. The whole thing together on a plate becomes an icky, gooey, sticky, sweet mass, which is possibly why they use the word pudding. What's unexpected though, is that even though the sauce is extremely rich and heavy and absolutely necessary, it's the dates that work the magic in the cake. If you use sticky, seedless dates, that's even better. R. W. APPLE Jr in the New York Times says:

"The texture and the dishearteningly delicious taste owe a lot to the pitted dates in the batter."

Most recipes use water to soak the dates, but I think the tea (as in this recipe) works just as well. Maybe even better, because it makes the cake even darker. I had never tasted this pudding before, but my imagination was running in all directions. Gooey dates, Ice cream, Toffee Sauce - oooh, brown sugar and cream? Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yes, cake.  When I cut a piece of the cake, I was slightly disappointed to find the texture slightly dry (because I kept repeating the word pudding in my head, not sponge). But once you let the cake soak in the ice-cream and the sauce, it's magic. It transforms from a simple date cake into an elegant and comforting dessert. So if you have a lot of dates in your house, or want to try your hand at a British Pudding, you have to make this.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
(Adapted from Rachel Allen Bake!)

225 gms seedless dates, chopped roughly (or use 250g  dates, stoned and chopped) 
250 ml black tea (about 1 large cup undiluted tea; I used 2 tsps. loose tea to brew)
100 g soft unsalted butter
150 g brown sugar or powdered white sugar 
3  eggs 
1 tsp  mixed freshly ground spice (I used a mix of Cloves, All Spice, Cinnamon and Nutmeg)
1 tsp  vanilla extract 
225 g  plain flour
 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp  bicarbonate of soda 

To serve

 vanilla ice cream
 toffee sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the sides and base of an 8inch square cake tin with butter paper.

2. Strain the tea, and in a saucepan, place the tea and dates and bring to the boil. Cook for a few minutes to soften the dates, then remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Sift in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and set aside.

4. In a bowl, beat the butter  until soft, then add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the mixed spice and vanilla extract. Fold in the date mixture.  Then fold in the flour until mixed.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 30 - 45 minutes,  until skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

6. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to stand in the tin for about five minutes before removing and transferring to a serving plate. Let it cool completely.

7. To serve, cut into squares and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and a generous drizzle of warm toffee sauce over the top.

For Toffee Sauce

You need:

35 g  butter
80 g brown sugar
90 g  golden syrup
75 ml  double cream
1/8 tsp  vanilla extract 

To make:

 1. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan set over a high heat and boil for approximately 4-5 minutes, stirring regularly, until it has thickened. Serve warm.



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