Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sticky Toffee Puddings

Having recently enjoyed a work trip to the Middle East I pondered what I could make to reflect the sights I had seen – how to capture the essence of my travels. If you have been to the Middle East you will very quickly pick up two themes on which a lot of the tourism and merchandise is focused – camels and dates. I didn’t fancy using any camel products – whilst out there I tried the camel’s milk rice pudding and can vow that it will never pass my lips again. Strange that the milk can actually taste camel-y.

So that left dates. And what better use of a date than sticky toffee pudding? Here is my packet of the plumpest, juiciest, biggest dates I have ever seen. These are from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but all the Emirates also seem to produce dates – I bought quite a selection.

Without a doubt, these are the biggest, most succulent dates I have ever had the good fortune to come across. Look at the size of them (missus!):

Sticky toffee pudding, to me, is up there as one of the greatest comfort foods; what I love about this recipe is that you get the sweetness but the little puddings are not stodgy – quite the opposite in fact. I think this is because they are baked rather than steamed.

The batter is lumpy and loose and that’s how it should be! Don’t panic.

While these can be made and served straight away, they are much better if left to stand for 1-2 days as they soak up the sauce and seem to get even more squidgy. There is no need to refrigerate them while they are maturing, covering the dish with foil is adequate.

I like to serve them warm with ice cream but purists may prefer custard. I defy you to eat one without smiling! And try not to think about the calories......

This photo captures the light spongy texture:

For the puddings:
225g stoned dates
175ml boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs, beaten
85g unsalted butter
140g Demerara sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
100ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)

Custard or ice cream to serve

For the toffee sauce:
175g light brown sugar
50g unsalted butter
225ml double cream
1 tablespoon black treacle

How to make:

- Chop the dates quite small and put them into a heatproof bowl. Pour over boiling water and leave to stand for 30 minutes until cool and soft. Mash lightly with a fork (leave some lumps as this gives a nice texture to the finished puds) and add the vanilla.
- Preheat oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/Gas mark 4 and grease 7 mini pudding tins. They should have a capacity of approx 200ml. Sit them on a baking sheet.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until well combined. Because the sugar is gritty you won’t be able to get the mixture smooth.
- Add the beaten egg gradually beating well between additions.
- Beat in the black treacle.
- Weigh out the flour and add the bicarbonate of soda to it.
- Measure out the milk.
- Using a metal spoon fold about a third of the flour into the butter and egg mix. Then fold in a third of the milk. Then a third of the flour etc until all the flour and milk has been added.
- Stir in the soaked dates, including any liquid in the bowl. The mixture will now be soft and lumpy.
- Spoon it into the pudding tins and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tins as, initially, the puddings are very soft and will tear if you try to handle them at this stage.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce. Put the sugar, butter and 125ml of the cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring all the time, until the sugar has dissolved. If you see grains on the back of the spoon the sugar has not dissolved.
- Stir in the black treacle and turn the heat up slightly. Let the sauce bubble for three minutes stirring occasionally to ensure nothing is sticking or burning. Take care as the sauce is very hot – it won’t spit or do anything nasty but you could hurt yourself if careless.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir in the remaining 100ml of cream.
- You can now assemble the puddings and sauce and serve now if you wish, but I recommend letting them mature for a couple of days.
- Pour half the sauce into a deep ovenproof dish, then stand the turned-out puddings on the sauce. I invert them for stability and look.
- Pour the rest of the sauce over the puddings and loosely cover the dish with foil. You don’t have to refrigerate them.
- When ready to use, warm the puddings in the oven 180°C/fan oven 160°C/Gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce bubbles. To keep them moist when re-heating, keep the dish covered with foil.
- Serve with ice cream, custard or cream.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

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