December 2: Oh Bring me a Sticky Pudding

DSC03719Sticky toffee pudding: neither toffee nor pudding. At least not to American sensibilities. (It is, however, by all accounts sticky.)

When I first heard of sticky toffee pudding, I thought it was going to be some kind of Heath bar parfait. So you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that it is really date cake with butterscotch sauce.

This is pudding in the English sense of the word: dessert. The sauce is the toffee part, and the sticky part. And don’t make the same mistake I did at first: it is delicious. If you’re looking to break away from pumpkin and peppermint, this makes a lovely, rich, slightly different holiday dessert.

I’ve made this several times now for birthdays and Christmas. It’s fun (and science experimenty!) to make. Also it impresses people with Dickensian flair.

Do you like fun, science, and showing off? Then sticky toffee pudding is the holiday dessert for you! As usual, I use the recipe in The Joy of Cooking.

Step 1: Trial by fire. Chop 1 1/2 cups of dates.

I just used this entire 12 oz. package, and it worked out about right.

I just used this entire 12 oz. package, and it worked out about right. Self-grooming cat optional.

I recommend buying pitted, if you can. Pitting dates is kind of fun at first. It reminds me of Danny, Champion of the World, when Danny and his father are implementing their disturbing plan of sewing horsehair inside of raisins to kill all the pheasants (yeah, definitely go read that book, if’n you haven’t). However, the novelty wears off after the 50 first dates.

This picture is misleading because my entire knife is not coated in sticky brown goo.

This picture is misleading because my entire knife is not coated in sticky brown goo.

Is this your first date? Ha! Ha! I’m not sure whether or not I have encountered a fresh date, but dried dates are basically horse tranquilizers made of crystalized sugar. Chopping dates is THE WORST.

And as usual, the recipe gives you absolutely no idea what you’re getting into with the chopping by just calling for “1 1/2 c. dates, pitted and chopped.” Right. And a tablespoon of unicorn horn?

Chopped dates look like meat, which is kind of gross and weird.

Chopped dates look like meat, which is kind of gross and weird.

Step 2: OK! At last we’re done chopping dates, and ready to do something with them!. Put the dates in a pot with 1 1/2 C. of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

Mmmm....yummy...

Mmmm….yummy…

Step 3: Dry ingredients. Whisk together 2 c. flour and 1/4 tsp. baking powder in a separate bowl.

Step 4: Butter and sugar. If you really hop to it, you can get this going, too, while the dates simmer away. Throw 1 1/4 c. brown sugar and 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter into your mixer and beat. Don’t get so fixated on completing three steps at once that you forget to measure the butter and almost throw in the whole stick, like I did!

Step 5: Take the dates and water mixture off the heat. Things are about to get interesting. 

Don't forget your safety goggles.

Don’t forget your safety goggles.

At this point, all the stuff in the pot should be one, gloppy, dark, lumpy consistency. Get ready! Add 1 1/4 tsp. of baking soda to the dates and water mixture. Then stand back and watch the magic happen. FOAM PARTY!

I always get anxious at this step, because what am I supposed to do about the foam? I want to stir it so the pudding doesn’t have nasty baking soda pockets. But if I stir it, won’t I kill the foam? And doesn’t the pudding need the volume? I dunno. Leave the pot on the stove (no heat under it, though) and go back to the mixer.

Step 6: More wet ingredients. One at a time, add 3 eggs and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla to the mixture. It will be extremely drippy at this stage.

Step 7: Finally, add the dry ingredients to the mixer, a little at a time. When it’s all mixed, you’ll have a lovely, smooth, thick paste.

DSC03702

Like super, duper creamy, unsticky peanut butter.

Step 8: Finally, the pieces come together. Fold the date mixture into the batter and combine.

Delightful!

Delightful! The hot water will kind of melt the paste, and you’ll be right back to glop in no time.

Step 9: Before proceeding, I implore you to grease, spray, or butter the s*** out of whatever you are going to bake this thing in. I like to use individual ramekins. I’m not kidding about grease. This is the time to break out the Clark Griswold super nonstick coating, if you have any of that lying around. I confess to using a spray, mostly because Daisy is obsessed with it and likes to stand underneath the spray and lick the floor.

Step 10: OK, now you may proceed with pouring the batter into the containers.

DSC03705If you’re using ramekins, it’s easiest if you put them all on a large baking sheet. Pop into the oven until they rise a lot and are dark brown all over (darker than you’d think). The cookbook says 20-25 minutes for ramekins, but mine took more like 40 minutes. A skewer should come out “moist but clean.”

Just keep an eye out. And while they’re baking….move on to butterscotch sauce.

Step 11: That’s right. You’re not even close to done. While the puddings are in the oven, put 2/3 c. light corn syrup, 1 c. packed brown sugar, and a 1/4 c. (1/2 stick) of butter over medium heat.

Yeah, yeah. Starting with syrup is a cheater's way to make syrup. Joy amusingly calls this a "slightly easier version" of butterscotch sauce. I tried the original version once and it was a disaster.

Yeah, yeah. Starting with syrup is a cheater’s way to make syrup. Joy amusingly calls this “an easier version with delicious results.”Once I tried the original version. It involved candy thermometers and wasn’t worth it.

I know, I know. You didn’t want to know how bad butterscotch sauce is for you, but now you do. And it gets worse.

Step 12: Stir until the sugar dissolves, then heat to boiling. Let boil, without stirring, “until as thick as corn syrup.” I find this instruction very confusing, since corn syrup is in fact one of the component ingredients of the sauce. So I just let it go for awhile and poke at it until it seems syrupy.

Caveat comestor: you will burn all the skin off your fingers and lips if you try to sample the sauce while it cooks. 

Step 13: Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Then stir in 2/3 c. heavy cream. Yes. 

Don't they look like little houses on Tatooine?

Don’t they look like little houses on Tatooine?

At this point, your puddings should be just about done, and your kitchen will smell so delicious. More like sweet bread bread than cake or cookies–sort of warm and yeasty. When the puddings come out of the oven, set them on a wire rack and let them cool for awhile. When they’re fairly cool, run a knife around the edge, pop out the pudding, and thank God for PAM (or butter and flour if you’re old school).

You will be tempted to eat them right away, but it’s best to let these sit for awhile so they can cool completely and the flavor settles down. Finally…..share with a friend (even a single ramekin is too much and too rich for my blood. Drizzle generously with sauce and enjoy!

DSC03719

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3 thoughts on “December 2: Oh Bring me a Sticky Pudding

  1. Your comment about the dates made me think of this blog post from Joy the Baker: joythebaker.com/2013/09/baking-101-how-to-read-a-recipe/

    I love sticky toffee pudding, but I’ve never tried making it before. This recipe doesn’t sound too hard, just a lot of steps to keep track of. Maybe on a cold rainy day I’ll try it out. 🙂

    • Hey, this is really useful! For example, as you can see above, I did *not* “respect the comma” in my recipe. I chopped the dates first and *then* measured them. Oops….

      And you’re right: this recipe is not hard at all, it just has a lot of steps. Definitely give it a try!

      • Exactly! The “respect the comma” idea revolutionized how I read recipes. I used to get so confused about when to measure things, especially nuts. Do I chop them first or measure first?

        Anyway, I will definitely attempt this recipe after the new year!

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