Here's Sara Kate's original recipe so you can follow along:
Anatomy of This Recipe
One of the first things that jumped out at us about this recipe is the proportion of baking powder and baking soda to flour. In general, only 1 teaspoon of baking powder or 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda is needed to leaven 1 cup of flour. In this case, we think the batter is being intentionally over-leavened to compensate for the heaviness of the dried fruit. Over-leavening will also cause the cakes to rise rapidly and then collapse like a souffle, as Sara Kate mentions, giving the baked cakelets their dense, moist texture.
It might also be a surprise to see salt in the ingredients for a dessert recipe. As in savory dishes, a little salt actually helps to brighten the flavors. Without it, desserts taste strangely bland and flat, even if they're chock full of delicious sugary ingredients.
When creaming the butter and sugar together, make sure the butter is pliable, but not completely soft or melted. Ideal is when you can press your finger into the butter and feel some resistance. Luckily, with only two tablespoons of butter, it's easy to let the pats sit on the counter a few minutes to soften!
Creaming butter and sugar together incorporates air into the batter, which helps give the cakes a spongy, uniform texture. Cream them as much as possible before adding the egg.
But once you add the flour, do the opposite and mix as little as possible - just until you can't see any more dry flour. Too much mixing will start to form gluten in the batter and you'll wind up with tense, tough hockey pucks.
Ways to Modify This Recipe
One of our favorite ways to modify this recipe is simply by using different dried fruits. Dried figs and raisins have a very similar texture to dates, but you can also feel free to use whatever dried fruits you happen to like. Cherries, cranberries, and even tropical fruits like mango or papaya would make fun variations! Just stick to 1/2 cup of total dried fruit.
We've also thought about adding some toasted nuts to both the batter and the sauce. Don't toasted pecans sound like they'd go wonderfully? Or walnuts?! Again, we'd stick to no more than 1/2 cup of combined fruits and nuts for the batter.
Think about adding some spices! Nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger would all work well here and turn this into the perfect autumn treat! For this amount of batter, we'd recommend starting with a teaspoon of total dry spices and working from there. (Add them along with the other dry ingredients)
The size of the ramekin you use is also flexible. Use whatever ramekins you have and fill them between 1/2 and 3/4 full. You could even bake sticky toffee cupcakes in a muffin tin!
Have you made these cakelets? What suggestions do you have?
(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)