STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

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Makes 8 servings

Lovers of warm, gooey desserts will swoon over this British contribution to the genre. It is not an American pudding, but a warm, mildly spiced date cake moistened by warm toffee sauce. Don’t be concerned about the unusual addition of baking soda to the soaking dates, as it helps soften them. Be sure to serve it with ice cream or whipped cream.

TOFFEE SAUCE

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 cups heavy cream, heated until steaming
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DATE CAKE

  • 1 cup pitted and diced (½-inch) dates
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, beaten, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream for serving
  1. To make the toffee sauce, combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until boiling. Stop stirring and cook, occasionally swirling the saucepan by the handle, until the mixture is deep amber, smoking, and has a sharp aroma (see Note). Reduce the heat to low. Gradually stir in the hot cream and butter (take care, as the toffee will bubble furiously) and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Stir in the vanilla. Let cool until warm.
  2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly butter, but do not flour, an 8 x 11½-inch baking pan. Spread ½ cup of the toffee sauce in the pan and refrigerate while making the batter. Reserve the remaining toffee sauce at room temperature.
  3. To make the cake, bring the dates and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until the dates are soft and the liquid is reduced to ½ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the espresso powder, then the baking soda (the mixture will bubble). Transfer the saucepan to a bowl of ice water and let cool until tepid.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, ginger, and salt together in a medium bowl. Beat the sugar and butter together in another medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until the mixture is light in color, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the beaten eggs, then the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low. In thirds, alternating with two equal additions of the date mixture, beat in the flour mixture until combined, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Spread the batter evenly over the toffee sauce in the pan.
  5. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
  6. If needed, reheat the toffee sauce until warm. Remove the cake from the oven and pierce all over with the tines of a meat fork. Spread ½ cup of the toffee sauce over the top of the cake and let stand until the cake absorbs the sauce, about 5 minutes.
  7. Using a large serving spoon, scoop the warm cake into individual serving bowls. Top each with the warm sauce and add a scoop of ice cream. Serve at once.

NOTE: When making toffee from granulated sugar (as opposed to brown sugar), rely on your eyes and nose to tell you when it’s done. If the syrup is merely cooked until it is light brown, the flavor will not have the distinctive toffee notes, so be bold. The color should be deep amber brown, a few shades darker than a new penny. Smoke is a sign that the temperature is high enough to change the melted sugar into toffee, so don’t be alarmed. Finally, the toffee should give off a sharp, but not burned, aroma.

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