Yay! Don’t you love chancing across a new recipe that you know you are going to use again and again? I can think of no good reason this cake has never crossed my radar before, but am completely happy about meeting this charmer at a recent Christmas dinner party. Away from the table when dessert arrived, I returned to a table grown silent, my dinner companions quietly chewing and making that promising “mmmhmm” sound. You know that sound. Someone spoke at last saying, “Just try it,” and when I did, I began making the “mmmhmm” sound too.
Despite the pudding tag in its title, this is definitely a cake. A dessert tradition from the British Isles, this dish is as hard to describe as it is identifying the ingredients while eating it. It is sweet, but not overly so. The texture is best described as toothsome and chewable in the very best sense. Without a speck of chocolate in it, the flavor eludes it, along with winter and warmth, each essence sourced to the coffee-soaked dates pureed then added to the batter. The dates are responsible for the dense texture and at first bite, gingerbread comes to mind, but this cake isn’t at all spiced so the gingerbread association is all about the texture of this dish.
If this concoction isn’t already the signature dessert of a famous eatery somewhere in the civilized world, it definitely deserves the honor. The recipe below I adapted after reading the history of the cake followed by looking through a dozen recipes for it online. I used hot coffee for soaking the dates, and used light brown sugar though next time I will try dark. Having all but two ingredients in my pantry meant only a quick trip to the market for dates and heavy cream, then preparing and enjoying it with mama at our traditional New Year’s Eve supper. Mama insisted she could only eat a very small piece so I served her a nice medium piece and she ate every bite of it without one word of further protest.
I checked the cake after 30 minutes as I used a different sized baking dish than in the recipe; I wanted something smaller than a 9×13 pan so the cake would be taller, so used an 8×11″ dish. If baked in a 9×13″ dish, the baking time will be much shorter so just watch it and don’t let the edges begin to brown. I took it out of the oven when a toothpick inserted came out streaked but not gooey, about 36 minutes on my timer. The sauce is delightful; serve it sparingly, drizzled over each serving. And do go whip the cream for this and sprinkle it with just a pinch of sea salt before serving as the salt is a great contrast to the whipped cream. You’ve already figured this out surely, but the cake keeps well, covered tightly, sitting on the counter. Hello, added bonus! The bottom photo here is of the cake on Day 2, with lunch, in better light.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
2-1/4 cups dried dates, coarsely chopped
2-1/4 cups scalding hot coffee
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 T. dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
Toffee Sauce Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup plus 2 T. dark brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Directions Pit and roughly chop dates and place them in a heavy bowl; pour hot coffee over them and stir in the baking soda. Cover the bowl and set it aside for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 350, and butter a 9×13-inch baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, if desired. I didn’t, and the cake turned out of the pan with no sticking at all.
Blend the date-coffee mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and sugars. Whisk in eggs, then salt. Stir in the flour, fold well, then add the prepared date puree and fold well again. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30. Cool on wire rack. If you used parchment paper, invert the cake onto a serving platter and remove parchment paper from bottom of cake; finish cooling on wire rack.
When your cake is ready for serving, make the sauce: you need a large sauce pot with a heavy bottom, at least 2-1/2 quart size because the mixture increases in volume as it cooks. Melt the butter in the pan, add cream, sugar and vanilla and bring mixture to a good simmer over medium heat. Whisk continually for 10 minutes until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and allow to begin cooling. To serve, cut cake into squares and drizzle with toffee sauce, top with 2 tablespoons of unsweetened whipped cream with a pinch of sea salt added to the top of the cream. Serve when the cake is still slightly warm.