Sticky Date Pudding Cake with Toffee Sauce

  • Serves: Makes one 8- or 9- x 2-inch square pan
  • Baking Temp (degrees F): 375
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  • Comments: 5

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Sticky date pudding is a British dessert (or pudding) consisting of a very moist cake (originally a steamed sponge cake), made with finely chopped dates or prunes, covered in a luscious and rich toffee sauce and often served with vanilla ice cream or a custard. It is also delicious with a large dollop of whipped cream.  It was originally called "icky sticky toffee sponge." This recipe is adapted from Gourmet Magazine, May, 1998 Issue.

The dessert's origins are considered a "mystery" according the gastronomic journal, Saveur; however the dominant story is that Francis Coulson developed and served this dessert at his Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel in the Lake District in 1960. It has been stated by Coulson's former protégé and chef, Juan Martin, that Coulson hinted that the original concept for the dessert was derived from a farm wife in Lancashire.

However it was also found that the Landlady of The Gait Inn, Millington invented it in 1907 and was then sold in the pub much to everyone's delight. In any case, Coulson introduced and refined the dessert to the general public making his recipe completely accessible to all those who asked.

A final story regarding the origins of the dessert involves The Udny Arms Hotel in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire. The hotel has claimed that it invented the pudding for years, and it is true that, if you ask almost anyone from the surrounding area, they will cite the hotel as the birthplace of the dish.

For pudding cake:
1 3/4 cups packed pitted Medjool dates (about 10 ounces), coarsely chopped
1 cup orange juice with 1 cup water or 2 cups water
2 teaspoons orange peel
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold from the refrigerator and cut into tablespoon size pieces
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar and 1/2 cup sugar or 1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For sauce:
1 3/4 sticks (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla or 2 tablespoons dark rum

Make the pudding cake:
1. Position an oven shelf in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter and flour an 8- or 9- x 2-inch square baking pan, knocking out excess flour.

2. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart deep saucepan, simmer dates and orange peel in orange juice and water, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in baking soda. Take care because the mixture will foam. Set aside for 20 minutes.

3. While mixture is standing, into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

4. With an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter untol softened. Add the sugars, slowly at the side of the mixer bowl, with the mixer on low.

Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the mixture is lightened in color and creamy.

5. Add in eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add in the vanilla.

Afterwards, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the mixture for 30 seconds to 1 minute. (If the eggs are cold, the batter will curdle slightly. It's ok. It will come together as the batter warms from the beaters.)

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

6. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating on low after each addition until just combined.

7. Unclamp the mixing bowl. Add date mixture and with a large rubber spatula, fold the mixtures together until just combined well.

8. Spoon batter into the prepared baking pan and set pan in a larger baking pan. Add enough boiling water to larger pan to reach halfway up sides of smaller pan.

9. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 55 to 65 minutes. Remove smaller pan from water bath and cool pudding to warm on a rack.
NOTE: When the water bath has cooled, remove from oven and discard water.

Make the sauce while pudding is cooling:
1. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and add brown sugar.

2. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, and stir in cream and vanilla.

3. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Cool sauce to warm.

Cut warm pudding into squares. Serve pudding with ice cream and warm sauce.

Store cooled pudding covered in the refrigerator for a few days or more. It can be frozen for a month.

Store the toffee sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week.

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