Baking challenge: the definition of a signature sticky toffee pudding

The signature pudding challenge. As my grandmother says every time I visit her: “The English! They call everything pudding! They only thing we call pudding is…pudding!” By which she means, of course, the cornstarch-thickened custardy stovetop mixture (chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, etc), most likely to be concocted with the help of a packet, a bit like jelly. Not something I grew up with – I’m not sure if my mother is a pudding fan, but based on the evidence I doubt it.

For the British, puddings can be baked or steamed sweet sponge confections served with custard, or they can be rice puddings, or they can be savoury batter puddings like the Yorkshire. Traditionally, the sweet kind of pudding is made with suet. Pudding can also mean the sweet course served after the main meal – not the cake you eat for tea, nor the biscuit you have at elevenses (if you are Bilbo Baggins, anyway). But for pudding week of the Great British Bake-off, it is the first (British) definition which applied – except that they could only be baked, not steamed. This isn’t too problematic, really, since steaming puddings comes out of a time before owning domestic ovens was commonplace. Many people today seem to feel that the even, dry heat of an oven works better in cooking traditional sponge puddings than steaming (incidentally, a number of South-East Asian desserts are steamed instead of baked, as well, which I assume is similarly due to the absence of ovens and unavailability or expense of fuel).

Sticky toffee puddle with cream

So the challenge for the signature bake was to produce a traditional British pudding with a twist (baked, not steamed, as above). This posed a problem for me since I’d never eaten a traditional British baked pudding (apart from a crumble, I guess), let alone made one: not a sticky toffee, not a syrup sponge, not a jam roly-poly (until last week, anyway). So I threw the twist out of the window and just went with a very classic sticky toffee pudding. This turned out to be an excellent way of using up a huge bag of dates bought at the Holland and Barrett penny sale, so it was a win-win!

Sticky toffee pudding is pretty amazing, by the way, but definitely easier to eat with lots of cream, which also makes it less brown. I thought the sponge was a little dry on its own, though this hardly seems to matter since you basically drown it in creamy buttery toffee sauce. My friends and I ate this following a day of overeating while watching movies – after two batches of popcorn, nacho baked potatoes and a few other things I have forgotten, we still managed to choke down a few bites of this. I needed about 24 hours to recover and regain my usual girlish figure, though.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Barely adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s recipe.

For the sponge
  • 175g dates, chopped
  • 1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g butter
  • pinch salt
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 75g light brown sugar
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 175g plain flour
  • 1 and ¾ tsps baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • butter, for greasing
For the sticky toffee topping
  • 250ml double cream
  • 80g butter
  • 80g molasses sugar
For the extra sauce
  • 300ml whipping cream
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 50g butter
  • Large pinch salt
  • double cream, to serve
    1. Preheat the oven to 180C
    2. Pour 275ml boiling water into a large mixing bowl and add the dates. Stir and set aside until lukewarm. Once lukewarm, add all the other sponge ingredients and add them to the date-water mixture. Stir to mix (the original recipe says mix until well combined, but since you just put it in a food processor I don’t see this as crucial…
    3. Blend the date mixture in a food processor until nearly smooth, but with a few specks of date still visible.
    4. Generously butter a baking dish (you have to grill the pudding later so don’t use Pyrex – stoneware is best) on all surfaces and pour in the sponge batter. Bake for 40 minutes, or until just firm to the touch.
    5. Once the sponge is baked, preheat the grill to medium.
    6. Meanwhile, make both the topping and the extra sauce by heating the ingredients for each sauce together gently in separate pans, whisking regularly, until they come to the boil. Remove from the heat. Pour the topping over the cooked pudding.
    7. Place the sticky toffee pudding under a moderate grill until bubbling.
    8. To serve, spoon the pudding into individual bowls and pour around the extra sauce. Splosh over some lightly whipped, but not sweetened, double cream. Hibernate.

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