I have been infatuated with sticky toffee pudding, or the idea of it, for years. I say the idea of it, because long before I ever actually consumed this dessert (referred to by the British as pudding, as most desserts are, but recognized by Americans as cake), I was reading about it and researching recipes. After stumbling upon the website of a small British bakeshop that specialized in this traditional toffee sauce-soaked date cake, I was captivated.
Even before baking and eating it, this dessert, like my beloved gingerbread, epitomized for me the best of old-fashioned, comforting, moist cakes. As a dried fruit aficionado, the fact that it was additionally sweetened with, and the flavor was deepened by, the addition of chopped dates pleased me even more.
After testing a handful of recipes over the years, I developed the one below. Some newer versions include nuts and other fruits. I wanted a very simple, traditional recipe, though—one in which the rich, deep flavor of the dates is prominent and complemented by a traditional toffee sauce.
These cakes are moist, delicate, and delicious enough to eat on their own. The sauce, of course, only makes them more inspired. It is indeed decadent, but actually not as heavy and cloying, laden with butter and sugar, as some.
This recipe makes eighteen small cakes for petite servings, or eight medium cakes for a more substantial dessert. The batter will fill eighteen (1/3-cup-capacity) standard muffin cups about two-thirds full, or eight (six-ounce) ramekins about three-quarters full. Serve the cakes while still warm, first soaked with a bit of sauce to make them even more moist, and then drizzled with additional sauce once plated. The cakes can also be prepared ahead, wrapped well in plastic wrap, and refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to one month. To serve the stored cakes, bring them to room temperature, warm briefly in a low oven, and soak with warm toffee sauce.
Sticky Toffee Puddings
Makes 18 small cakes or 8 medium cakes
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces pitted dates, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the toffee sauce, combine the brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter eight 3-by-2-inch (6-ounce) ramekins and sprinkle the bottoms with raw sugar. Alternatively, butter and sprinkle with sugar 18 standard muffin tin cups, or butter eighteen 1/3-cup-capacity molded small cake pans. (You don’t want to sprinkle these with raw sugar, as the design will be compromised.)
To make the cakes, combine the baking soda and dates in a medium bowl, stir in 1 cup of boiling water, and set aside for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl.
Combine the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until smooth and light, about 3 minutes, stopping once to scrape the sides of the bowl. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, and beat until the mixture is smooth and light. Add the vanilla, reduce the mixing speed to medium low, and gradually add the flour mixture, beating until nearly completely incorporated. Reduce the mixing speed to low, pour in the dates and water mixture, and beat just until incorporated.
Divide the batter among the prepared ramekins or cake cups and bake until the cakes have risen, are fragrant, and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out with a few sticky bits of crumbs on it, about 15 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the oven and set on parchment paper-lined wire racks to cool in the pans for about 3 minutes before turning out. (The parchment keeps the cakes from sticking too much while cooling. You can also turn the cakes out onto the wire racks directly and carefully remove them to a parchment paper-lined surface after a few minutes.) If serving the cakes later, allow them to cool completely before storing, wrapped well in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator or freezer.
If serving the cakes directly, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the sauce over each warm cake, allowing it to soak in. Serve the cakes and drizzle with additional sauce. If you are preparing 8 cakes, you will most likely have some sauce left over. Store any unused sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. (If serving the cakes after they have cooled, re-warm the cooled (or thawed) cakes in a low (300-degree) oven for about 5 minutes, warm the toffee sauce, and proceed as with the freshly baked cakes.