Recipe: Sticky Toffee Pudding Sundaes

Recipes from The Kitchn

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If you'd told me ten years ago that sticky toffee pudding was made with dates of all things, I would have told you I didn't like sticky toffee pudding, take it away. It took a few more years to figure out that toffee pudding doesn't actually taste like dates and even if it did, that dates are, in fact, quite amazing. Thank goodness my eyes (and stomach) saw the light: now the over-the-top English dessert remains at the top of my hedonistic hall of fame.

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Sticky toffee pudding, while considered a classic, is actually a more modern addition to the British culinary repertoire. Its exact date of origin is murky, but it became an English menu mainstay in the 1960's, and shortly after that it went global. Sticky toffee pudding is not a pudding in the American sense, but a rich sponge cake smothered in a blanket of caramel sauce. It is absolute comfort food, and not for the faint of heart.

The last restaurant I worked for served the most extraordinary version of toffee pudding. Despite knowing the caloric breakdown (our pastry chef was unapologetic about his passion for butter), I continued to overdose weekly on the decadent delight. It was so good, in fact, that upon trying to pull it from the menu to make room for new offerings, regular customers began to revolt. After a number of scathing emails it was returned to its proper place.

It's been a few years, but I finally decided to attempt the pudding myself. I didn't have the restaurant's recipe to go off of, but I had my memory, which was more than enough. The cake and caramel sauce are both pretty straight forward, although there are plenty of variations for those wanting to explore — dark brown sugar provides the sweetness and color for this recipe, but molasses, treacle, or Lyle's golden syrup would all make good, and perhaps more traditional, substitutes. Don't be afraid of the dates, as they add a delightful sticky sweetness — you won't even know they're there.

Since vanilla ice cream is, in my humble opinion, a nonnegotiable addition to sticky toffee pudding, I decided to revamp my recipe into delicious sundae form. First I tossed chunks of the warm toffee cake with the hot, buttery caramel sauce. Then I layered the cake with vanilla bean ice cream, more cake, even more caramel, and a topping of whipped cream, toasted pecans, and toffee bits. It's the ultimate winter dessert, whether serving it a dinner party or saving it all for yourself. I won't judge you either way.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding Sundaes

Makes 6 servings plus extra toffee cake

For the toffee cake:
8 ounces pitted dates, coarsely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups chopped)
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
10 ounces all-purpose flour (approximately 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coffee extract, such as Trablit (optional)

For the caramel sauce:
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon spiced rum or bourbon (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

For the sundaes:
Vanilla ice cream
Toasted, chopped pecans
Whipped cream
Toffee bits, such as Heath or Skor

Combine the chopped dates and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Stir in baking soda and let stand for a minimum of 20 minutes, or up to two hours. Transfer half of the mixture to the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until pureed. Return puree back to the date mixture and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Generously grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with butter or baking spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or with an electric mixer), cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate mixing bowl. On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients with the date mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the vanilla and coffee extract. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula.

Place the baking dish inside a larger casserole dish or roasting pan and transfer to the oven. Pour enough hot water to reach halfway up the side of the cake dish. Bake until a toothpick pricked into the middle comes out slightly moist, 35 to 40 minutes.

When the cake has about 10 minutes left of cooking time, make the caramel sauce. Combine butter, sugar, and cream and a heavy saucepan. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in rum (if using) and vanilla.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Prick the cake all over with a skewer or toothpick. Pour half the sauce over the warm cake and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

To assemble, break about half of the warm toffee cake into large crumbles and transfer to a mixing bowl. Drizzle a few tablespoons of caramel sauce over the crumbles and toss to coat. Place a handful of cake in 6 individual glasses, top with a large scoop of ice cream, followed by more cake. Top each sundae with additional caramel sauce followed by whipped cream, pecans, and toffee bits. Serve immediately.

To reheat toffee cake, cover cake with foil and transfer to a 300°F oven until warmed, 20 to 30 minutes. Reheat caramel sauce in a saucepan over low heat.

Recipe Notes

  • Fresh Medjool dates are best for this recipe if you can find them, but store-bought dates work fine, too.

(Image credits: Nealey Dozier)

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