Friday, May 23, 2008

Not Chocolate: Sticky Toffee Pudding

You should know by now that I won't put a non-chocolate recipe in my blog unless it's truly outstanding. The following dessert is no exception.

I became obsessed with sticky toffee pudding a few years ago when the Food Network hosted a competition for the next ice cream flavor for Häagen-Dazs. Sticky Toffee beat out the competition. Intrigued, I bought a pint, and the rest is history. For as much as I love chocolate, and never get any ice cream that isn't chocolate based, this has changed me. :) It's hard to find, so it isn't uncommon for me to stock up when I do find it!

Sticky toffee pudding isn't really pudding at all. Silly Brits! It's a brown sugar cake, sweetened with chopped dates, and covered in a warm, gooey, butter toffee sauce. Vanilla ice cream is a must.

Do I have your attention yet?!

I was a little hesitant about the dates—they just didn't sound appealing—but after some online research, I found that sticky toffee pudding just isn't right or traditional without them. You couldn't taste them either, especially when chopped finely enough and plumped in water first.

If you don't have the time to make the cake, I strongly STRONGLY recommend you at least make the sauce and pour it over vanilla ice cream, brownies, carrots... ok, kidding on the last one. But I'd eat it....

I adapted this recipe from two on the Food Network. Gale Gand is an excellent Chicago pastry chef, whom I'd trust with anything, but her sauce recipe was called "Butterscotch," which isn't authentic. I used Marie Simmons's recipe for the sauce instead, and some techniques from both.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
12 oz. dates, pitted and roughly chopped (you can find them near raisins)
2 1/2 c. water
2 t. baking soda
3 1/4 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
Sticky toffee sauce, recipe follows

Sticky Toffee Sauce
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. packed brown sugar
vanilla ice cream, to serve

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with parchment or waxed paper. (I just greased it; turned out fine!)

Combine the dates and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and gradually stir in the baking soda (it will foam up), and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar to the butter, and cream until fluffy. Without stopping the mixer, add 2 eggs and mix until combined. Add the remaining 2 eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the date mixture and mix until combined. (You want to add the date "sauce" made from mixing the dates, water, and baking soda, but I had to strain a little bit of it out because it was too watery.) Repeat until all the flour mixture and dates are incorporated into the batter. Pour into the baking pan and bake 40 minutes, until firm and set in the center. Let cool in the pan. When cool, turn out of the pan onto a baking sheet and peel off the parchment. The recipe can be made through this step up to 2 days in advance.

Toffee Sauce: (Preheat oven to 400 if serving immediately.) Combine the butter, heavy cream, and brown sugar in a small saucepan; heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil gently over medium heat until mixture is thickened, about 8 minutes.

When ready to serve pudding, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour the sauce (or most of the sauce, if you want garnish later) evenly over the top of the cake. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and cake is heated through, about 5 minutes. Cut cake into squares and serve with vanilla ice cream and remaining sticky toffee sauce.

*Next time I might experiment more. The ingredients on the Häagen-Dazs carton list cinnamon in the cake and date paste instead of chopped dates. The sauce also contains corn syrup.

I could drink gallons of the sauce alone...

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