Thursday, March 20, 2008
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky toffee pudding is a quintessential British sweet. It resembles a cake but is a traditional pudding since it is usually boiled or steamed. While the origin of the dessert is contested, the dominant story is that Francis Coulson, a chef at the Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel in England’s Lake District, brought the pudding to mainstream attention.
While I have had this dessert several times, I was surprised to learn that the primary ingredient is dates. Dates are a fruit of the date palm tree and were cultivated in Arabia as far back as 8,000 years ago. They were soon introduced to South Asia, Southeast Asia, North Africa and Spain. In 1765 the Spaniards brought dates to Mexico and what is now California. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are the world's largest producers of dates.
Dates are widely consumed in the Middle East in both savory dishes such as tagines and in sweet dishes such as breads, cakes and puddings. They are referenced several times in the Qur'an and traditionally eaten when breaking the Ramadan fast each night. I was recently at a party where a Saudi Arabian friend brought date sweets from a Bond Street shop including chocolate-covered dates, date cookies and date cakes. Apparently, you can also make a non-alcoholic sparkling date beverage.
The following recipe is adapted from one created by Nigella Lawson.
1 1/2 cups dark brown (or muscovado) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger powder
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
8 ounces dates, pitted and chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups water, boiling
1. Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a 6-cup, glass, deep ovenproof baking dish.
2. In a medium sized bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar, ginger powder, flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In either a small pot on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe bowl, mix milk, 4 tablespoons of butter and dates. Heat and stir until the dates have dissolved.
4. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add the date mixture to the flour mixture and pour batter into the baking dish.
5. In another heatproof bowl mix 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons butter and boiling water and gently pour over batter. You should now have a baking dish with a layer of batter at the bottom, underneath a layer of hot brown sugar water.
6. Bake for 45 minutes or until the batter has risen and is firm but springy. Beneath the pudding the sugar water sauce bubbling.
7. Let cool for 10 minutes. Scoop batter and sauce into a bowl and serve with clotted cream, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.