British food gets a bad rap. But I think some of that comes from the tourist trade. When an American traveler heads to the UK, they generally want a lot of “ye olde” and this often involves chain restaurants, much like a Denny’s or a Shoney’s. Even some of the most charming, half-timbered, stain-glassed pubs in England are run by companies that market “traditional” English fare, smack-dab in the middle of the most visited attractions. But much like at home, beware any menu that has pictures. So Fish and Chips are soggy, Steak and Ale pie is gluey and Spotted Dick just makes people laugh.
But I have a fondness for British food. I think it is homey and comforting and when done properly, amazingly rich and satisfying. Maybe it’s a little strange that I have developed this fondness, for a lot of my early introduction to real Brit food was either the tourist traps or institutional. I have spent, summer, college semester and grad school as a student and the food in the dining halls of England is as dismal as it is so often in the States. Meals were generally gray, and positively swimming in some form of greasy gravy, unidentified sauce and custard covering every imaginable dessert. I could, however, see the beauty underneath the gravy – recognizing that any wonderful dish can be made poorly. I have an ongoing obsession with creating versions of British classics that are true to original intentions, but move past the bad reputation. I search them out when I am in England each year, read cookbooks and most importantly glean information from British friends.
All this being said, Sticky Toffee Pudding is a British classic that is good on every level. There are a few foods I fell this way about – even bad Sticky Toffee Pudding is still pretty good. There is a museum café in London that serves a Sticky Toffee that is so stodgy and heavy, it would never make someone want to recreate it. But that sugary, treacley sauce will make you eat every last bite. And one of the first things I do when I arrive in London at my rented flat is hit the grocery store that is sure to have a small tin of Cartmel Village Shop Sticky Toffee Pudding ready to heat up.
First off, pudding is a generic term for British desserts. This is cakey and moist and has nothing to do with Jell-O. The dates lend moistness and sweet depth – this does not taste like a date cake. After many years of eating Sticky Toffee Pudding, and many, many tries at duplicating it, here is my version.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
This is just nothing but good. The toffee sauce is also fantastic on its own over ice cream. For the stickiest results, start this a day before you plan to serve it.
For the Cake:
8 ounces pitted dates, finely chopped
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Toffee Sauce:
2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 Tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put the chopped dates into a bowl and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of the baking powder. Pour over the boiling water and stir slightly. Leave to soak until soft and cooled.
Mix the flour, remaining 1 teaspoon baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the corn syrup and vanilla. Add the date mixture and the flour mixture and beat until just mixed.
Spread the batter into a thoroughly greased 8 – inch round or square cake pan. Smooth the top and bake in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out with a few crumbs clinging.
Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan then stir in the sugar and corn syrup until dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream and salt and simmer over medium heat until thickened and reduced to about 2 1/2 cups. Stir frequently and watch carefully so it does not overboil.
When the cake is done, remove from the oven and invert the cake onto a plate to loosen it from the pan. Return the cake to the pan. Poke holes all over the cake with a skewer or a fork.
Spoon over about a cup of the sauce. Leave the cake to soak for several hours, but it is best left overnight. When completely cool, loosely cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to serve. If you’d like, you can warm the cake gently in a low oven but watch it closely so the sauce doesn’t burn.
Invert the saucy cake onto a platter. Pour about a 1/2 cup more sauce over the cake and let it soak in for a few minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with additional sauce poured on each slice.