Friday, 31 January 2014
My final Pudding Month recipe had to be sticky toffee pudding.
When I was in the Lake District last year I made it my mission to eat as much sticky toffee pudding as possible. For research purposes, of course.
Though sticky toffee feels like one of those dishes that has been around forever, it was actually created in the early 1970s in the Lake District. Francis Coulson opened the Sharrow Bay Hotel on Ullswater in 1948 and is generally credited with the invention (though, as always, theories abound).
Four years ago I made some Sticky Toffee Volcanoes, little individual portions that had a gingery butterscotch sauce. They were good at the time but I knew I could improve on them now. I also wanted to make one big pudding - a slab that you can cut the portion of your choice from (and can have seconds from, if desired...).
I found a really interesting method on Not Without Salt for a salted caramel date loaf that involves making a deep bronze caramel, stirring in butter, boiling water and dates, then leaving it to cool into a delicious caramel-date slush before adding the final ingredients and baking.
The dates seem to permeate the whole pudding in a way they don't with the traditional method unless it's blended, when you don't get the lovely chunks of date you do here. The slightly smoky caramel creates a great flavour base that's more complex than just brown sugar. It's not quite as dark as some sticky toffee sponges - it's a brighter, rusty, autumnal brown.
My other contentious choice is to use baking powder instead of bicarbonate of soda. One of my biggest pet hates is the taste of bicarb coming through in a dish and I've had several sticky toffees when eating out that were ruined by it. I didn't see why I needed to use it instead of baking powder so I swapped.
I also salted the sauce because it transforms it into something so pleasurable that it's very hard to leave any in the pan while the pudding cooks. Other than that, I used a similar ratio of ingredients to normal and used Jane Grigson's recipe as my guide.
It's a sticky, sweet, hot-and-cold-and-saucy, mood-lifting, filling and generally all-round wonderful way to counteract the gloomy rain and finish off Pudding Month. I hope you've enjoyed the month as much as I have.
Finally, I couldn't resist sharing - last week our family expanded. Meet Albert: he's Arthur's nephew, just turned eight weeks old, enjoys helping me test recipes and is very cute. They're all back in Switzerland and he's settling in really well.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
(inspired by Jane Grigson's English Food and Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt)
For the pudding:
100g Medjool dates (weighed without stones)
90g white caster or granulated sugar
40g cold unsalted butter
125ml boiling water
1/2 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
1 large egg
90g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of fine sea salt
For the sauce:
150g double cream
100g light brown sugar
50g unsalted butter
fine sea salt - I used fleur de sel - to taste
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F (fan). Chop roughly half the dates into big chunks and the rest into slightly smaller pieces. Tip the sugar into a wide, heavy-bottomed pan and spread out evenly. Turn the heat up to medium-high and watch carefully - after a few minutes, the sugar will start to liquify at the edges. Don't stir it - you can flick some of the crystals onto a liquid bit, but don't fiddle too much. Once it's nearly all melted and starts to caramelise, swirl it all together. Keep heating until you have a deep bronze colour. To stop it cooking, remove from the heat and add the butter and stir as it bubbles. Next add the boiling water, the dates and the vanilla paste. Stir until the caramel has dissolved (don't worry if it's clumped up - put it over a low heat and it will dissolve). Leave to cool for 10 minutes - it will thicken a bit.
Line a small baking dish with baking parchment (or grease really well with butter) - I used a 7x5"/12x18cm (minus the lip) pie dish with slightly sloping sides - a 6" or 7" tin would probably work too or something similar. Lightly whisk the egg to break it up. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into the date-caramel pan and add the egg. Beat together until there are no lumps of flour. Scrape into the dish and place into the oven for 25 minutes.
While it bakes, make the sauce. Place the cream, brown sugar and butter into a pan and heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until you have a smooth sauce. Salt to taste a pinch at a time (keep going until you suddenly find yourself unable to stop sampling the sauce - that's the sweet spot) then pour into a jug.
After 25 minutes, a skewer or cake tester inserted into the sponge should come out clean (if not, pop it back in for another 5 minutes). Pour over some sauce and spread out to cover the whole top then put back into the oven for 3 minutes - the sauce should bubble over the top. Remove and serve hot with the extra sauce in a jug and scoops of vanilla ice cream.
The sponge reheats pretty well (it keeps in a sealed tin for a few days) covered by foil in the oven (I tend to just do the amount I'm serving). The sauce keeps in the fridge and can be reheated by placing the whole jug in a pan of hot/just simmering water and stirring until thin and hot.
(Serves 6-8, smallish but rich portions)
Three more syrupy-caramel puddings:
Sarah's Syrup Sponge
Cider Caramel, Sautéed Apples and Cinnamon Ice Cream