An Immigrant's Sticky Situation
Unlikely to ever be deemed culinary capital of the world, I was perplexed to learn Great Britain had been saddled with a reputation for lacklustre cuisine for some time, or so I learned soon after moving to the United States. When first challenged about the dishes I’d enjoyed throughout my youth, including the classic sticky toffee pudding; a tender sponge cake studded with honey-sweet dates & decadently doused in a warm, buttery toffee sauce, I was somewhat speechless. I wasn’t quite sure how to defend the comfort food, lesser known ingredients, or stolen traditions the United Kingdom is now notorious for. Embarrassed to admit I loved bangers & mash, black pudding, & chicken tikka masala, I quietly ceased to discuss the meals I once shared with my family, & I pushed my cravings for “British cuisine” to the back of my ordinarily food-focussed mind.
Eleven years on, the dishes I’d first faltered to preserve as a result of uninvited criticism, are no longer hiding in the shadows of more popularized global fare. Preparing roast beef & Yorkshire puddings on Sunday afternoon is heartwarmingly nostalgic, & even a can of Heinz baked beans served on generously buttered toast fills me with great delight. I’m proud to be British & to embrace the food of my roots.
My childhood was filled with delicious home cooked meals, including many of the classics people outside of the United Kingdom fail to comprehend, & still today, there are dishes prepared by my family that I plead for when I return home. With that being said, as an enthusiastic home cook, I often find myself straying from the traditional recipes & methods that were passed on to me in search of experimentation & improvement. A tweak, a twist, a spin, or an update here & there makes cooking & baking my favorite British dishes both exciting & rewarding.
One such culinary creation has been a firm family favorite for as long as I can recall. There are countless dishes synonymous with the United Kingdom; from beer-battered fish & chips to steak & kidney pie, yet few resonate so much with the people & place I call home as the indulgent sticky toffee pudding. A true classic found on pub & restaurant menus in all four corners of the British Isles & everywhere in between, sticky toffee pudding was thought to have been created in my home county of Cumbria, & is undoubtedly one of my sweet-toothed nation’s most beloved desserts. More personally, it remains one of my Grandmother’s absolute favorites & on this her 90th year, we’ll be rounding out her celebratory lunch with none other than the Lake District classic itself.
Equally impressive in taste & texture, this version of Britain’s cherished pudding is perhaps a touch more refined, served in individual bundt form for dinner party perfection. This is elevated comfort food, that in both mine & my Grandmother’s opinion, is enough to quash the false rumors of bad British cuisine & poor palates for good. Still unconvinced the United Kingdom could rival fine French fare or Mediterranean mezze? The proof is in the pudding.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Serves: 12 servings
Note that ingredients are listed in metric and imperial units as this recipe is adapted from my British mother!
For the cake:
6 oz / 170g dates, chopped into small pieces
2 oz / 55g unsalted butter, softened
6 oz / 170g caster (superfine) sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
6 oz / 170g self-rising flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the toffee sauce:
7 oz / 200g light brown sugar
6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
4 oz / 110g unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F / 325°F convection. Generously butter & flour a 12-mold bundt pan.
Pour 300ml of cold water over the chopped dates in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the temperature & simmer for 5-10 minutes until the dates are beginning to breakdown & the mixture becomes sticky.
Cream the butter & sugar with an electric whisk until light & creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs until fully incorporated. Should the mixture show any signs of curdling, add a small spoonful of the self-rising flour.
Carefully fold in the flour & salt using a spatula or metal spoon, followed by the sticky date mixture & vanilla extract. Stir until just evenly mixed.
Fill molds with the cake batter approximately one-third from the top to allow the cakes room to rise.
Bake in the center of the pre-heated oven for 15-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into one of the cakes comes out clean.
While the cakes are baking, combine all the toffee sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat & simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside until ready to serve.
When the cakes are fully cooked, remove the pan from the oven & allow to rest for 5-10 minutes, before turning out on to a wire rack. Serve immediately with lashings of toffee sauce, & if you’re feeling extra indulgent, a scoop of vanilla ice cream!