As my husband will bemoan, “pudding” means different things in Britain and America. Here in the States, pudding is what the Brits would call “custard” — a soft, gloopy substance, usually found in plastic individual servings in the lunchboxes of children. Pudding in the United Kingdom…has a few different forms. If you’d rather not have a lesson in English etymology, you might want to just skip to the recipe.Jump to Recipe
The word pudding probably comes from the Latin word botellus, which directly translates to “sausage”. In British English, the term black pudding harkens back to these roots, as it denotes a specific type of sausage. These days, pudding as a general term can be a synonym for dessert, or it may refer to a specific dish – as with today’s Sticky Toffee Pudding. (I’m getting to the recipe, I promise.) It seems that the original term morphed from only describing sausages to eventually include any steamed dish prepared with animal fat – as British Christmas cakes were originally made. This is why the British also have more savory puddings than Americans would expect (steak and kidney pudding, for example), and why if you aren’t careful and ask for pudding in Scotland, you could end up with haggis.
Fortunately for everyone involved, this sticky toffee pudding has migrated a long way from the word’s sausage-y roots. It contains zero lard or suet, and instead is more reminiscent of a caramel-drenched spice cake. It is my very favorite British dessert, and our newest family tradition is to enjoy this dish together on Christmas Eve. We started this tradition about three years ago, and have no plans to stop at any point in the future.
The only unusual ingredient you need for this recipe is about 8 ounces of medjool dates. I buy them with the pits (it’s cheaper), but the pitted kind work just as well. Your first task is to chop them into small pieces; measured out, you will have about 2 1/2 cups of chopped dates.
Combine your dates with 1 1/4 cups of water and bring to a boil. If you would like to speed up this process, feel free to use an electric kettle to add already-hot water to your dates. Simmer this mixture for about 2 minutes before removing from heat and stirring in 1 teaspoon of baking soda. The mixture will become foamy. Allow this to come to room temperature before adding it to the rest of your ingredients. (You could easily do this step a day ahead of time. The goal here is for the dates to soften, in order to maintain a consistent texture throughout the body of the cake.)
Once your dates are close to room temperature, preheat your oven and grease your pan. An 8″ by 8″ square dish or a 9″ round cake pan both work well for this recipe.
Cream together your room temperature butter with both types of sugar using an electric mixer. The final result will resemble wet sand. Mix in your eggs, beating after each addition.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and spices.
And now we assemble! Place 1/3 of your flour mixture and 1/3 of your date mixture in the bowl containing the butter/sugar mixture. Stir together. Repeat this process until all of your cake ingredients are combined. Do not overmix! Stir only until the ingredients are combined and there are no more “flour streaks”. Pour this mixture into your prepared baking dish.
Bake your cake at 350 degrees F for 45-50 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Whilst the cake is baking, prepare your sauce. Combine butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, vanilla bean paste, molasses, and optional bourbon in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for approximately 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
Once the cake is done, pour half of the sauce over the warm cake and allow to soak in. (Poking holes in the top of the cake using a toothpick can be useful, as it provides places for the sauce to more easily access the heart of your cake.) Use the remaining sauce as a drizzle when serving the cake…or as an ice cream topping, all on its own.
This pudding is best served warm; microwaving is perfectly acceptable.
As you’ve discovered, you don’t need to travel to England to enjoy this excellent dessert. If you made this sticky toffee pudding at home, feel free to tag @WhiskAverseBaking on social media, or leave a message in the comments below.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
- 8 oz. pitted dates. chopped (about 50 dates; 2 ½ cups once chopped)
- 1 ¼ cups water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup unsalted butter room temperature
- ½ cup brown sugar packed
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ¼ teaspoons cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 2 tablespoon molasses
- 3 tablespoons bourbon optional
- Chop the dates and make sure all of the pits have been removed. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and pour it over your chopped dates. (Bring to a boil, remove from heat.) Stir in baking soda; the mixture will become foamy. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch round baking pan.
- Combine butter and sugars using an electric mixer, whipping until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla.
- Mix in eggs, one at a time.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour, spices, and baking powder.
- Add ⅓ of your date mixture to the butter/sugar mixture, then stir in ⅓ of your flour mixture. Repeat this process until all are combined; the final mixture should have a uniform color, with no streaks of flour. Do not overmix.
- Pour batter into your prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely.
- While the cake is baking, prepare your toffee sauce.
- Combine butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, vanilla bean paste, molasses, and bourbon in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- Allow to simmer for approximately 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
- Once the cake is done, pour half of the sauce over the warm cake and allow to soak in.
- Serve slices of the cake with a drizzle of the remaining sauce.
- The dates can be chopped and soaked up to one day in advance.
- Un-sauced cake will remain fresh in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
- Cake topped with sauce should be refrigerated.
- The sauce should be made as close to serving the cake as possible.