Recipe is at the end of the post
We went to Ireland at the end of October. It was very beautiful, but was quite cold, and frequently wet. Fortunately, Ireland is full of comfort food. We explored, we got cold, and then we warmed back up with stews and pies, pasties and porridge, and my favorite: warm sticky toffee pudding.
Sticky toffee pudding is one of the most delicious things I ate during our entire trip — a trip that included six weeks in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France. It’s not what we in the U.S. refer to as “pudding,” but a rich, moist cake soaked in warm buttery toffee sauce. (In the British Isles, “pudding” usually just means “dessert,” except when it’s something like blood pudding. If you’re not sure which one you’re ordering, ask your server.)
The surprise ingredient: dates
Unfortunately, our server did not have the recipe, even though I asked very nicely and promised not to post it on my blog. Fortunately, there were plenty of other recipes on the internet already, and with some tweaking I’ve got something very close to what I remember.
I was surprised to find that most recipes include dates. They make the cake super moist and tender and sweet, which is nice, and eliminate the need for more refined sugar, which many people will appreciate. (There’s still plenty of sugar in the dates, though.)
And if you don’t like dates, don’t worry — you chop them up fine, and then simmer them, and they totally disappear into the cake. My sister was very skeptical on this count, and verified that it’s just fine. If you still just can’t do it, I’m told you can substitute dried apricots or some other kind of dried fruit. (You can also find other, fruit-free recipes.)
On the subject of substitutions, you may be tempted to use whole wheat flour. I tried this with one batch, and it wasn’t great. Not terrible, but suddenly it seemed like a big slab of bran muffins instead of a cake.
About the sticky toffee sauce
The first time I had sticky toffee pudding, the toffee sauce was thin and liquid, about the color and consistency of warm maple syrup. I tried it twice more at other places, and it wasn’t as good: the sauce was thicker, more like caramel than syrup, and it didn’t soak up into the cake, which, to me, defeats half the delight of this dessert. If you prefer a thicker sauce, use a different recipe. (The unanimous feedback on my version was “Perfect, except it needs about three times as much sauce,” so take that into your decision.)
Especially attentive people may notice that the toffee sauce in my version uses apple juice instead of cream. That’s half to get the nice thin syrupy sauce, and half because I’m lactose intolerant so I don’t keep cream around the house and didn’t feel like running out to the store to get some. Again, feel free to use a different recipe, or sub the cream back in; just be aware that it will probably end up being thicker.
One more thing about the sauce: as noted in the recipe below, the Ina Garten recipe I used as a starting point has you pour the sauce over the cake while it’s warm, then let it sit and soak into the cake before serving. This can make things a little soggy. Especially if you’re trying to take photos at the same time and pour just a little more than planned.
Instead, I recommend waiting, then pouring warm toffee sauce over each slice of cake as you serve it. (If the sauce separates, just warm it up and stir it around a little.)