I made sticky toffee pudding for the first time back in November – I'd been invited to a British-themed dinner party and I had no idea what to bring for dessert (having of course claimed that course before my phone had even registered the invitation email). Normally I count on my large roster of American sweets to wow the Brits among me with little effort, but I didn't think it would be fair to break from the theme just because it was outside my comfort zone. Still, what exactly constituted a British dessert (or, as the Brits say, 'pudding' – actual pudding is 'angel delight'...don't ask me why)? Most of the really successful dishes have American and European counterparts: lemon drizzle cake, shortbread cookies, fruit crisps... I didn't want to make super-classic Eton mess or a Bakewell tart (I actually hadn't thought of that one, but it would have been too much effort for the day anyway), so I was at a loss. Until I remembered that old pub classic, and one particular skeptic to whom I still have something to prove.
I have a personal bone to pick about sticky toffee pudding: I need to prove to my older brother that a dessert made mostly of dates can be indulgent and delicious and completely unfruity. I tried to explain sticky toffee pudding to him last summer and he wouldn't listen to my description of the dish itself, just kept making that irritating 'blegh' face that only brothers can keep mastering to such an infuriating degree well into seeming adulthood. I swore up and down that I would make it for him someday and he would eat his words (and facial expression), along with half the pan. So when I was trying to think of a British dessert to bring to girls' night I decided this was a good opportunity to practice, ensuring that when I do eventually make sticky toffee pudding for my family in SF, their socks will be duly knocked off.
Let me just say this: if my first attempt was any example, my family better get some seriously elasticated socks in preparation for my next visit! This dessert is beyond scrumptious. It's rich, and dark, and sweet, but somehow manages to avoid being cloying. I put a lot of this down to the tea, and to the dates, which add a sticky, sugary taste with a bit more depth than just using sugar alone – also, I tell myself that they add health benefits, and that without the toffee sauce this cake is basically breakfast.
But the toffee sauce... oh, there's no pretending that's at all healthy, or even okay for your body. It's made of butter and sugar and cream – that's it. Oh, and I doubled it. Because I'm the devil. It's far too easy to make, and even easier to consume standing over the stove, 'testing' the thickness with a spoonful here and another one there.
When it's all finished, much sooner than you might expect and with fewer dishes than feared, you assemble: hot cake + hot toffee sauce = the most indulgent dessert the pub has to offer. I can see why this is such a classic, but I don't understand why it hasn't migrated over to the States yet! We love rich stuff over there, and if you double the sauce, well that's America all over: go big or go home, right?
Needless to say, I'll be doing my part to spread the word about this amazing dish, especially now that I know it's so easy to make. I guess I always assumed it would be difficult or time-consuming, as so many classic British recipes are (because almost everything American I make is based on recipes from a time when shortcuts were the new black: the 50's or later), but boy was I wrong. This was beyond simple, used few dishes, and came together in under an hour. And the result is a moist, flavorful cake, drowning in rich, buttery, sweet toffee sauce. What's not to like?
I have a feeling my brother will be converted in no time.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
slightly adapted from BBC (mostly to make my life easier, ingredient-wise)
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. In a medium saucepan, bring to the boil:
200g dried dates, Medjool recommended, stoned and chopped (I used normal dates and it was delish)
250ml (1c) black tea, not too strong
Cook for 3-4 minutes to soften the dates, then remove from heat and stir in:
1/2 tsp baking soda
In a large bowl, cream:
85g (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter, rm temp
175g (just over 3/4c) golden caster sugar (I used light brown sugar and thought it worked really well)
2 eggs, beaten
175g (scant 1.5c) self-raising flour (I just added 1.5 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt to all-purpose)
1 tsp 'mixed spice' (this is a British thing and I didn't have it. 1 tsp cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg tasted great to me!)
Fold in the dates/tea and pour into a buttered 8x8 pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, until the top is just firm to touch.
While the cake is baking, make your sauce! I doubled the amounts below and found that I had plenty of sauce – I recommend you double it too because there's nothing worse than having to be stingy with sauce, but I'll put original measurements here in case you want a smaller amount.
In a large pan over low heat, bring to a simmer:
100g (1/2c) light brown sugar
100g (7 Tbsp) unsalted butter
142ml (scant 2/3c) double/heavy cream
When the sugar has dissolved, keep cooking until the sauce has a rich toffee color (yes, that's really all there is to it!).
Serve the warm cake in squares, drowned in toffee sauce and served alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you really want to gild the lily!