I’ve been cooking for a little while now: professionally for huge quantities of people for a couple of years, writing about it for the thick end of four, and teaching myself at home for over six. I’ve been to pastry school for an entire full-time academic year. None of this matters to my family: all my family wants from me is sticky toffee pudding. At Christmas, it is mandatory, and every other occasion where I fail to arrive bearing a huge tin of the stuff, its absence is quietly resented. I’m going to visit my sister soon, but will be away just beforehand, so there’s already a large pudding sitting in my freezer.
I’m not sure what it is about proper sticky toffee pudding that sends everyone, including my family, so comprehensively mad for it, but it holds some kind of sugary, damp magic. I’m not talking about the tasteless, rubbery sponge you find in certain pub chains, or restaurants who view their dessert list as an upsell rather than a menu in its own right, with a sauce thin in flavour as well as texture. I’m talking about a pudding heavy with dates, laced with soft muscovado sugars, and maybe a little spice. For my money, it should be drenched – drenched – in a dark toffee sauce, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. This recipe produces a lot of toffee sauce, but that’s borne of experience, where too soon only sad dribbles of toffee sauce are left in the jug, and at least one face at the table is aghast. If your pudding guests are less toffee greedy than mine, please feel free to scale back.
I know that the classic choice for serving sticky toffee pudding is ice cream, and that’s fine, but you’ll take the thick, fridge-cold custard from my cold, dead hands.
Sticky toffee pudding
Makes: Enough for six
200g dates, stoned and roughly chopped
For the sauce:
1. First, soak your dates. Placing the dates and bicarb in a small, heatproof bowl, add around 250ml boiling water, and set to one side.
2. Heat your oven to 180°C. Cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl until they are fluffy, and noticeably paler than when you started. Incorporate each of the eggs, one at a time, and then fold in the flour and the ground spice. Fold through the soaked dates, along with the water they’ve soaked in. Spoon into a baking dish approximately 30cm by 20cm. Bake for 30 minutes until the sponge is risen and golden and, when pushed gently with a finger, springs back.
3. While the sponge is cooking, make the toffee sauce: put all the ingredients in a small pan and bring up to a gente boil, stirring throughout. Continue to boil for a few minutes until the sauce is thick and gloopy, and coats the back of a spoon. Set to one side to cool a little.
4. When the sponge had had its 30 minutes, remove from the oven, prick a handful of holes across the surface, and cover with half of the toffee sauce. Return to the oven for 5 minutes, during which the toffee sauce will soak into the sponge and bubble at the sides. Serve with cream, custard or ice cream, and the rest of the toffee sauce on the side.