Plump, soft dates lend themselves to warm puddings and, yes, I have served this at breakfast time and got away with it. Given its name, sticky toffee pudding has none of the leaden qualities you would expect, and is actually well suited to the breakfast table; rich but not heavy, and rather muffin-like in texture.
I started off trying to perfect a sticky toffee pudding recipe using Jane Grigson in English Food as my source; Francis Coulson apparently invented it in 1948 at his country house hotel at Sharrow Bay on Ullswater, and it’s been fairly unmessed with ever since. Dates, softened with boiling water and bicarb, are added to a basic cake mixture which is then baked and served slathered in piping hot, toffee sauce.
I couldn’t perfect it; it is already exactly as it should be. All I did was add the juice and zest of an orange because it counteracts the rich effect of the dates and gives it a nice early morning brio. Blood oranges are in season, and their tartness is a good foil for the sweetness, but use whatever is available. Raisins also help keep the cake moist, adding pop and juice.
I gave the finished cake a light dousing with the toffee sauce and grilled it as the toasted stickiness reminded me it was intrinsically pudding and messy that way. To be eaten with vanilla ice cream I should think, or yoghurt if before 10am.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Lightly adapted from Jane Grigson, English Food
I’m not entirely convinced that you need to liquefy the dates with water and bicarb. Or at least I’m not entirely convinced about the bicarb, which if you can taste it even minutely, is revolting and tinny on the tongue. Other recipes advise simply chopping the dates very finely, which I’ve tried and also like. You could perhaps try both. Here I’ve stuck to the original for ease and because it’s still delicious (though have reduced the amount of bicarb).
175g dates, stoned and chopped
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
175g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, softened
2 free range eggs (at room temperature)
175g self-raising flour, sifted
pinch of sea salt
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 blood (or normal) orange
Large handful of raisins (optional)
For the toffee sauce:
140g unsalted butter
200g light muscovado sugar
6 generous tablespoons of double/heavy cream
Pinch of sea salt
Zest of 1 orange
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F. Butter a square cake tin approximately 24cm x 24cm.
Make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a pan. Heat slowly until the butter has melted, then turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for 3 minutes. Add more salt if you like it salty, as is the current style.
Put the dates and raisins in a saucepan, add 250ml of boiling water and bring to the boil. Remove from the stove, stir in the bicarb and leave to stand.
Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, and then gradually beat in the eggs. Fold the flour and salt gently into the batter and add the orange zest. Once the dates and raisins have soaked up all the water, add this to the cake mixture along with about 3 tablespoons of juice from the orange, or a hearty squeeze. Don’t over-mix.
Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Then puncture holes over the top of the cake and pour over half the toffee sauce. Heat the grill to medium, and put the pudding briefly underneath, keeping an eye on it as it can easily burn. Serve with the remaining toffee sauce, along with a dollop of ice cream for dessert (fresh ginger ice cream works beautifully), or as is at any other time.
If you want to store this cake before eating, leave it toffee-free and keep the sauce in the fridge. Then, when it’s close to serving time, poke the cake all over and douse with the sauce, cover the cake in foil, gently re-warm in the oven at 150C/300F for about 20 minutes. Finish off with a blast from the grill.