|Sticky Toffee Pudding
For the Sauce:
2 cups packed dark brown sugar (do not use the golden! You want that extra rich flavor)
½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons bourbon (if you don't have bourbon around, you can use dark rum or even brandy, but I have found that bourbon gives the best flavor)
For the Puddings:
1 ¼ cups roughly chopped pitted dates (you can find an 8oz package of dates in most mega marts. Just use the whole thing.)
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda (for those baking this at over 5,000 feet reduce this by half)
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 tablespoons ( ½ stick) butter at room temperature
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder (for those baking this at over 5,000 feet, reduce this by half)
Baking pans - 1 12 cup muffin tin. 1 sheet pan covered in parchment paper.
The first thing we want to do is get the dates squared away. Chop them into small pieces and place them and the cup of water in a small sauce pan. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil them for 3 minutes until they are soft.
Remove them from the heat and place in a bowl to cool, this includes any water that is still in the pan. Give them a stir every few minutes to help them cool. They should be cooled to room temperature in about 30 minutes or so.
While the dates as cooling it is time to make the sauce. We're working with boiling sugar here, so all the usually safety rules apply. Use a pan that is at the very least 3 quarts. Don't stir too vigorously and if it looks like the mixture is going to boil over, remove it from the heat for a minute or two. You do not want to get boiling sugar and fat on your skin, it is like napalm. So be safe, but don't be scared.
Measure the brown sugar into the pan and then cut the butter into roughly 1 table spoon chunks. Place it over medium heat and stir until the butter has all melted. It will be thick and grainy, don't worry, it is supposed to look like that. Whisk in the heavy cream. Yes, you do have to use a whisk. A spoon will not break up the brown sugar butter mix fast enough.
Allow the mixture to come to a boil and continue to cook, constantly whisking, until the toffee thickens and will thickly coat the back of a spoon. You will be able to tell when it reaches this stage, but it will take about 10-15 minutes of cooking, so be patient.
Remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to stand for about 5 minutes. Then whisk in the bourbon (or rum or brandy, as the case may be, but really you should try to use bourbon). Pour the sauce into a bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature. This can be made up to 2 days in advance. Just cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store in the chill chest.
By now your dates should be read so it is time to make the puddings!
Start by setting a rack in the lower third of your oven. We want to cook the puddings the cooler part of the oven because we don't want them to rise then fall (like so many cup cakes and muffins do). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Stir the vanilla and baking soda into the dates (I know, it is kind of odd but this is really the best way to do it) .
In your large mixing bowl or the work bowl of your stand mixer combine the sugar and butter and beat at high speed with electric beaters or the wire whip attachment for 3 minutes.
In a medium bowl, measure out the flour, salt and baking powder. Give them a quick whisk so they are mixed.
By now the butter and sugar will be a grainy mix. Add the egg and beat it completely into the butter and sugar.
We're going to add the flour and dates in alternating series, starting and ending with the flour. So add 1/3 of the flour to the butter and sugar mix. Beat until it is completely absorbed. Add ½ of the date mix and beat in. Be sure to stop and scrap down the sides of the bowl after each date mix. Add 1/3 of the flour beating it into the developing batter, then the remaining dates, then the remaining flour, beating each completely into the batter before adding the next.
Now it is time to prep your muffin tins. For this application I like to treat them like cake pans, so we'll be buttering and flouring 10 of the cups (there is not enough batter for 12 and who really needs 12 of these treats?)
Completely butter the bottom and sides of 10 of the depressions in your muffin pan. Then add about 1/8 of a teaspoon of flour to each. Shake it back and forth to cover the bottom then tip the pan so it is vertical to the floor and slowly rotate it so that the flour coats the sides of the muffin cups. For first time bakers, do this over the sink, you don't have to make a huge mess doing this, but the first time your try it you probably will.
Tap out any extra flour. Now it is time to fill the cups. Use a spoon and assure that you are going to get the same sized puddings by putting one heaping spoonful in each of the 10 depressions, then go back and do it again and again so that each depression has the same (roughly) amount of batter in them.
Slide the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. When the puddings are done they should be dark golden brown and a toothpick should come out clean when inserted in the center.
Remove the puddings from the oven and allow them to cool, in the muffin tin, on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn the puddings out onto your sheet pan covered with parchment paper (you absolutely, positively, must have parchment paper on the sheet pan or you will wind up with an unholy mess in the next step!).
Arrange the puddings so they are top side down on the sheet pan. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the toffee sauce over each of the puddings. Allow them to cool completely. Now you can either set them aside until after dinner or you can store them for up to 2 days in the refrigerator, covered in aluminum foil.
To serve the puddings, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the sheet pan in the oven and warm for 10 minutes. While the puddings are warming, reheat the toffee sauce.
Place each pudding on a plate or in a small bowl (if you are serving them with ice cream) and ladle over a couple of spoonfuls of warm toffee sauce. Add the ice cream or whipped cream and prepare for the eye-rolling and adulation that you guests will bestow upon you!
There you have it, an elegant and easy way to have a fabulous and very English treat anytime you like!
The flour is yours!