I'm sure the protests will roll in, but I'm a much bigger fan of British puddings than Italian desserts. Despite the innate passion of the Italian people, there is something much more indulgent about a good old warm English pudding, dripping with cream, loads of moist cake.
As they are in everyday life, English desserts are straightforward - what you see is what you get. And so when I was writing my Christmas menu, I didn't realize until later that I planned to make not one but two English desserts: cherry chocolate trifle, and sticky toffee pudding.
My parents beseeched me: Please make something light for dessert. They're keen to keep their cholesterol and weight down. But I told them I had been waiting to make sticky toffee pudding all year. Because it's that kind of dessert - rich, multi-layered, dense, interesting depth of flavour, that you crave on Christmas Day. And so I turned, once again, to Jill O'Connor's amazing "Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey" book.
Ingredients for the cake:
2 cups pitted dates (about 12 ounces)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Ingredients for toffee sauce:
1 cup unsalted butter
3 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
vanilla ice cream for serving
Directions (adapted from O'Connor's recipe):
Butter muffin tin or spray with cooking tray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine dates and water in saucepan. Bring to gentle boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook uncovered until dates have absorbed water. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Let stand for about 20 minutes.
Meantime, sift together all dry ingredients for cake, and then set aside. In another bowl, beat together butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then add vanilla. Stir dates into batter. Gently fold dry ingredients wet batter.
Fill muffin cups and then bake for about 22 to 28 minutes until tooth pick comes out clean.
While baking, make the toffee sauce. Start by combine butter and brown sugar over medium heat in saucepan. Cook until they melt then add cream, vanilla, salt. Increase heat high and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook, stirring frequently until sauce thickens, 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove cakes from oven and poke tops with wooden skewer then drizzle warm sauce atop cake. If you like, add some vanilla ice cream.
Would I make this again?
Yes, I would, but for special occasions that call for rich sweets like this one.
Four stars out of five. Yes, it was delicious, and one of my ultimate indulgences. But I can see that it won't be to everyone's taste. My only complaint is that for whatever reason, my oven temperature wasn't staying consistent, and I had to keep a sharp eye on the temperature on my thermometer.
Turns out I should have watched it more carefully because this batter was more sensitive than I thought. The puddings in my older, darker muffin tin burned on the bottom. But that wasn't a big problem as this recipe made about 18 servings, and that was much too much. (If you run into this problem, simply cut away the bottom, you will be soaking it in yummy toffee syrup anyway.