Several years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in London while my parents were living there for 6 months. Prior to my trip, there were many things that I lwas looking forward to: seeing Buckingham Palace, shopping at Harrod's, touring the Tower of London. Eating English food was not one of these things. Like may people, I had heard the horrible reports about the bland British cuisine, and I readied myself for 10 days of tea and porridge (whatever that was).
At the end of my trip, I felt so ashamed to have bought into something so completely false. True, some of the food sounds a little unappetizing (bangers and mash anyone?), but for the most part, I had a very pleasant culinary experience when I was in London. The most memorable item that I tried while I was there was the delectable dessert Sticky Toffee Pudding. The name alone could make you go into sugar shock. It is a dense, moist, spiced sponge cake made with finely chopped dates and topped with a rich toffee sauce. Unfortunately, this dessert very rarely appears on restaurant menus in America, so I created my own version, a nutty spiced date cake with a caramelly toffee sauce. This would make a great holiday dessert served warm with some vanilla ice cream and it is guaranteed to sweeten up even the biggest Scrooge! Here are some tips for this recipe:
- The drizzled cake can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days.
- The toffee sauce on its own would make a great homemade holiday gift. Pour it into a glass jar and attach a recipe for the Sticky Toffee Pudding with a ribbon. Recipients can either make the cake or just pour the warm toffee sauce over ice cream.
- Although dark brown sugar really does work best for this recipe, both for the cake and for the toffee sauce, in a pinch, you can use light brown.
- Instead of using a mixture of two nuts, you can opt to use 1 cup of only one or the other.
- When you are inverting the cake after baking it with the nuts, be careful when removing the pan. The nuts can have a tendency to stick, and you may need to loosen the parchment a bit in order to to help.
- You shouldn't have any trouble finding Medjool dates (pictured) as they are the most common type available in the grocery store and probably the kind that you are most familiar with. The fresh dates are much easier to work with as far as pitting them goes.
8 ounces Medjool dates, pitted
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon molasses
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup walnut halves
½ cup pecan halves
2 tablespoons corn syrup
For Toffee Sauce:
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the parchment. In a small saucepan, simmer the dates in the water over moderately low heat until the liquid is reduced by half and the dates are very soft, about 10 minutes. Scrape the dates and liquid into a food processor. Add the molasses and puree.
In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and ¼ teaspoon salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with ½ cup of the brown sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla and then beat in the dry ingredients. Beat in the date puree until well incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the cake is springy to the touch and a tested inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes and then turn the cake out onto a rack. Peel off the parchment paper and return the paper to the pan.
Meanwhile, spread the walnuts and pecans in a pie plate and bake for about 9 minutes or until fragrant and golden. Let the nuts cool slightly and then chop coarsely. In a small bowl, stir the corn syrup with the remaining 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt. Scatter the nuts over the parchment in the cake pan and drizzle the corn syrup mixture on top. Carefully return the cake to the pan (the same way that it came out), pressing to adhere, and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and then carefully invert the cake onto a plate, replacing any nuts that stick to the pan.
Make the toffee sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Off the heat, add the cream and stir to incorporate. Return the sauce to a boil and cook until slightly reduced, about 6 minutes. Stir in the salt and let cool slightly. Drizzle about half of the sauce over the cake and allow it to soak in for at least 20 minutes. Serve the cake, passing the rest of the sauce on the side.