The Sticky Toffee Pudding Project

I first fell in love with sticky toffee pudding on a television special featuring the creation of the next new flavor of Häagen-Dazs ice cream.  I thought that the dark, syrupy pudding cake and rich, toffee sauce paired with ice cream would surely be an amazing treat.  When the finished ice cream finally reached store shelves, mon mari and I anxiously bought a pint or two.  They were quickly devoured, and since then, we have been smitten.

Sticky toffee pudding is also on my Culinary Bucket List because I have been wanting to bake it for years now.  I was waiting for the right occasion and this week it came — mon mari’s birthday.  Sticky toffee pudding was his dessert request.

I began by scouring the Internet for ideas.  I had a vision in my mind of what the ideal sticky toffee pudding would look and taste like…but I just didn’t find anything that excited me.  I looked at recipes from famous cooks and foodie blogs, but none of them fit my idea of the perfect sticky toffee pudding.  So, I decided to use a few recipes as a guide, and make my own adaptation.  I used Food&Wine as a basic guide for the pudding preparation, for some of the toffee sauce components and measurements, and David Lebovitz, whose recipe mentioned using molasses and a pinch of salt in the sauce, which resulted in my ideal version.

I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this recipe is incredibly good.  The sauce is a thick, brown toffee with a hint of molasses and the cake is densely packed with moist dates and figs fresh from the market.  Most sticky toffee pudding recipes feature dates, but fresh figs were on sale when I went shopping for ingredients, so I added them, too.  I topped the pudding with chopped pecans just before baking for added texture.  I’m not sure if my version would please fans of the traditional English dessert, but I succeeded in creating a dish so decadent it is perfect for sharing … and celebrating.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
The Food & Wine recipe I used as a basis for the pudding said it serves 12, but I think it’s more like 15.  I know!  A lot!  I was able to make 6 mini bundts (see photos) and one 8 x 8″ pan of sticky toffee pudding.  The sauce recipe makes plenty of sauce for all of the pudding cake.  This recipe would be great for a dinner party, a large event, or a festive holiday, as long as it can be kept warm.

12 fresh Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (if you can find the dates with the pits already removed, buy those!)
8 fresh figs, coarsely chopped
sprinkling of ground cinnamon
2 cups boiling water
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
2 cups dark brown sugar
the seeds of one vanilla bean, scraped out and reserved
2 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
about 1/2 cup of pecans, chopped into small pieces, plus extra for garnish, if desired

For the toffee sauce:
about 1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Begin by placing the dates and figs in a large stainless steel bowl with the boiling water.  Be sure that the water covers the fruit.  Add the sprinkling of cinnamon, and allow the fruit to soften in the water for 30 minutes.  After it has softened, drain all the water, and set the fruit mixture aside.

Fresh dates.

Fresh figs.

The dates and figs get a nice, spicy soak. This step smells so good!

Cream the softened butter, the brown sugar, and the vanilla bean seeds together with an electric mixer.  I let the mixer go for several minutes to get the right texture.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, using a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Combine the flour and baking soda in a bowl with a whisk to add some fluffiness.

Slowly add the dry ingredients into the brown sugar mixture, and continue to beat with an electric mixer.  I broke up the dry ingredients into thirds, and after each addition, I scraped the sides of my mixing bowl with a spatula.  Be sure to keep the mixer on low-speed, because the dough is very dense and my mixer struggled to churn through it!  Don’t worry if the dough looks a bit dry, or “sandy,” it will be fine!

Once the dough is blended, stir in the cinnamon-spiced dates and figs.  At this point, the pudding becomes very “sticky!”  I got quite an arm workout just by stirring together the moistened fruit and the dough!

Here is the sticky brown dough.

Grease a 8 x 12″ baking dish with cooking spray, or you can opt to use a mini bundt pan and an 8 x 8″ square baking dish.  I think the recipe might yield enough for 12 mini bundt cakes or two 8 x 8″ square baking dishes!

Spoon and scrape the sticky batter into the baking pans.  This is a bit tedious, but with a name like sticky toffee pudding, what do you expect?  Top the pudding with a sprinkling of pecan pieces and push the pieces into the dough a bit.  If using a mini bundt pan, this “top” will actually be the bottom, since the pan is inverted to remove the domes.

This is the pudding batter in the mini bundt pan. The pecans are pressed into the batter, then the bundts are ready to bake!

Bake for 20-25 minutes if using mini bundt pans, and about 40 minutes for 8 x 8″ pans.  The original recipe recommends 45 minutes for the 8 x 12″ pan.  The pudding is done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

While the pudding is baking, prepare the toffee sauce.  Combine all the sauce ingredients in a large saucepan.  To determine the right amount of molasses, I slowly drizzled it into the pan from the jar and counted to six.  1…2…3…4…5…6… Then warm the sauce, stirring to combine the sugar and melt the butter.  It is important to stir the sauce often to avoid burning.

The sauce ingredients ready to be warmed and melted into goodness. You can see that when I made the sauce, I didn't break up the butter, but I recommend breaking it up so that it melts faster!

When the pudding comes out of the oven, use a wooden skewer to liberally poke holes all over the date/fig cake.  Go ahead and attack the cake — the more holes, the more sauce will be absorbed!  While the pudding is still steaming, spoon two ladle-fuls of toffee sauce over the hot pudding, and watch as the toffee bubbles and soaks in!  Repeat with an additional ladle-ful before serving, if desired.

Here is a shot of the toffee sauce slowly oozing into the mini bundt puddings. You can also see the pecan pieces on top (actually the bottom).

Portion the date/fig cake or remove the mini bundts from the pans, and top with additional toffee sauce and pecan pieces to serve.  As any sticky toffee pudding recipe will tell you, this dessert must be served warm.  It just doesn’t have the same magic if you let it cool before digging in.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream is the perfect finishing touch!

Sticky toffee pudding ...

With ice cream!