Friday, February 22, 2013

Sticky Toffee Pudding

The origins of Sticky Toffee Pudding are distinctly British.  Some say it's an old recipe from the South of England, although inhabitants of Eastern Scotland also lay claim to its invention.  Whatever the case, it appears to have been developed in a hotel kitchen, which may account for the fact that it continues to appear on restaurant menus with some regularity, likely based in part on its ease of preparation.  Also note that this is not a pudding in American terms.  In Britain, "puddings" are steamed cakes.  In America, Sticky Toffee Pudding is a baked cake served with toffee sauce, which is where the sticky part comes in.  Are you with me?

I have to confess, I've never been inclined to try this dessert.  I've always veered away from most recipes for it because they seemed too sweet for my taste.  But when I saw Rose Levy Beranbaum's version, I was very tempted to give it a go.  First of all, she soaks the dates in Guinness beer, which I think provides a great foil for the sweetness.  Secondly, her use of sugar is relatively restrained.  And despite Beranbaum's reputation for copious detail, this recipe is not at all complicated or fussy. (By the way, Rose dined in a restaurant where I once worked and the pastry department went into high prep mode to present her with some exquisite tastings.  She is very funny and gracious.)

This cake is fairly light with a very nice soft crumb.  The toffee sauce is really terrific - rich and dark without overwhelming everything.  I think the lemon juice saves it from being too cloying.  The sauce really makes the whole dessert so don't even consider leaving it out!  And I've added a dollop of whipped cream here but vanilla ice cream would of course be superb.

Bench notes:
- I highly recommend using Medjool dates because they are gorgeously plump and have a sort of natural toffee flavor all their own.
- When you add the baking soda to the hot beer, the mixture will foam up.
- Don't be alarmed when you see that there isn't much cake batter.  It rises generously.
- I made 1/2 the cake recipe in an 8" x 8" dish.  If you double the recipe for the cake, you'll need a 9" x 13" pan.  Use a total of 3 eggs.
- In the original recipe, Beranbaum sets the temperature at 350 degrees but cautions if you use a Pyrex dish or dark pan, then it should be lowered to 300 degrees.  However, I baked mine in a Pyrex dish at 325 degrees and that worked fine.
- I made 1/4 of the toffee sauce recipe, which I thought was plenty for 1/2 of the cake recipe.  If you increase the toffee sauce, you'll likely have some left over, which would be crazy terrific spooned over ice cream.
- I cooked the toffee sauce for 2 minutes on low heat to make sure the sugar was dissolved and to develop a bit of color.
- If you notice a white powdery film on the surface of your dates, this is due to their natural sugar and is not cause for alarm.  It's just sugar crystal formation.  Once the dates are warm, the crystals dissolve.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
adapted from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Note: The recipe below is for half the original cake recipe and one-fourth of the toffee sauce. You can find the full version of this recipe here.
Serves 6

3 oz dates [I used 7 medium-sized Medjool dates]
1/2 C stout beer, preferably Guinness extra stout
1/2 t baking soda

1 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 1/2 oz (3 T) butter @ room temperature
1/2 C + 1 T sugar
3/4 t vanilla extract
1 egg @ room temperature
1 egg yolk @ room temperature

Toffee Sauce
2 oz (4 T) butter
1/4 C dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 vanilla bean [I used a scant 1/2 t vanilla extract]
2 T heavy cream
1 1/2 t lemon juice
pinch of salt, to taste

1 C heavy cream
2 t sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease an 8" x 8" Pyrex baking dish and line the bottom with parchment, leaving an overhang on two sides.

Cut open the dates and remove the pit and stem.  Coarsely chop and place in a bowl.

Bring the Guinness to a boil.  Remove from heat and whisk in the baking soda.  Pour this over the dates and set aside to cool.  Then place the dates in a food processor with a little of the beer mixture.  Process until a paste is formed, gradually adding the remaining beer mixture through the feed tube.  Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Whisk the egg and egg yolk and gradually add in three additions, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as you go.  Add a third of the flour mixture, alternating with half the date mixture and beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix just until the batter is uniform in color without any streaks.  Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and spread out the evenly.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack.  Then gently lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Remove the parchment.

While the cake is baking, prepare the toffee sauce.  Place the brown sugar and butter in a small saucepan.  If you're using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the pan and add the pod.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the heavy cream, lemon juice and salt, to taste.  (If using vanilla extract, add it at this point.  If using a vanilla bean, remove the pod.)

For the whipped cream, whisk the cream, sugar and vanilla just until it holds a very soft peak.  Place a slice of cake on a plate and spoon the toffee sauce over the top.  Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream.


Elly McCausland said...

Sticky toffee pudding (or STOPU as I like to call it) is my all-time favourite dessert. I love the tweaks to it in this recipe. I eat it in pubs and restaurants but I've never made my own - feeling inspired now!

pastry studio said...

Hello, Elly - love the acronym! This is very easy to make and I'd be curious how it measures up to other versions you love. The sauce is to die for!