First of all, this luscious British dessert is usually called Sticky Toffee Pudding, since “pudding” means “dessert” in the U.K. However, since I assume most of my readers are American, I didn’t want to call this “pudding” in case it brought up images of soupy Jell‑O pudding from childhood. And just to further clarify (or confuse) matters, what we call “pudding” here in the U.S. is called “custard” across the pond. Confusing, I know. They drive on the wrong side of car on the wrong side the road over there too, but let’s not get into that right now. Let’s just focus on this amazing dessert.
I discovered Sticky Toffee while traveling in England and have had it there several times. Only now, however, have I been able to recreate this spongy cake and decadent toffee (caramel) sauce here at home. Thank you, Fine Cooking magazine, for creating this recipe! The original recipe is here, but I have modified just slightly to use the most commonly available ingredients. Whether you call it cake, pudding, or dessert, you can call always call this fantastic!
Sticky Toffee Cake (British Sticky Toffee Pudding)
Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, December 1, 2004
For the cake:
½ stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature (4 T, or 2 oz)
1 C lightly packed fresh Medjool dates, pits removed, chopped (or use dried dates, found in the baking aisle) (6 oz)
1 t baking soda
¾ C + 2 T sugar, processed in a blender to make superfine sugar (NOT the same as powdered/Confectioners’ sugar) (6 oz)
1 t pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1¼ C + 1 T self-rising flour, sifted (6 oz) + ½ t baking powder
(or use instead: 1¼ C all-purpose flour + 3 t baking powder + ½ t salt) (6 oz)
For the sauce (this makes a double batch of sauce):
1 C packed light brown sugar
½ C honey
2 sticks unsalted butter (16 oz)
½ C heavy cream
¼-½ t salt (optional)
Heat the oven to 350°F and grease/butter an 11×7-inch nonstick baking pan that’s at least 2 inches deep.
Put the dates in a small saucepan with 1 C water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the baking soda, and set aside. The mixture will foam up and may take on a greenish color, but this is normal.
To make superfine sugar, blend regular sugar in a blender or food processor for 1 or 2 minutes to get a superfine texture. (Note that superfine sugar is NOT the same as powdered/Confectioners’ sugar.)
Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat with a hand mixer on high speed until the mixture is well combined and lighter in color, about 4 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and then add the date mixture and beat well. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour and baking powder and gently mix well. The batter will be sloppy.
Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes. The cake will be deep golden brown and firm to the touch but should spring back a little when pressed.
While the cake is baking, make the sauce. Put the brown sugar, honey and butter in a 2‑quart saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the butter is melted and mixed in. Bring to a simmer and cook until it gets thick and bubbly, several minutes. Stir in the cream, let it bubble down, and then remove the pan from the heat. Taste and add salt, if desired, to enhance the flavor.
When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Turn it out onto a cutting board and invert it onto a wire rack to cool slightly. Cut the warm cake into slices or squares, place on serving plates (along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired), and drench with the sauce.
Step by Step Details
For the most part, once you get the dates, this dessert can be made with standard ingredients that you probably already have on hand. A couple things you may not have are superfine sugar and self-rising flour, so make those first if you don’t have them.
While I was not sure that the superfine sugar is absolutely critical, I did make it in order to stick to the original recipe as best I could. It can be made by putting regular white sugar (I used just over 1 C of sugar) in a blender or food processor.
Blend on high for 1-2 minutes until it develops a finer texture. If you look very closely at the photo below, the superfine sugar on the left does appear a little finer – and duller – than the regular sugar on the right. It’s not a huge difference. However, I was just educated by a British friend who confirms that the finer texture really is important: it dissolves quicker when creaming the eggs and sugar, prevents “curdling” when adding the egg, and results in a better texture of cake.
Measure out as much superfine sugar as you need for the recipe and use any extra as you would use regular sugar (it’s great for dissolving in coffee or tea). NOTE: superfine sugar is NOT the same as powdered sugar, which contains corn starch and should NOT be used instead. Use the superfine.
The other ingredient you may not have is self-rising flour. If you want to make extra and keep some on hand, see my Quick Tip on how to make it with regular flour, baking powder, and salt. If you’d rather just make exactly what you need for the cake, just use 1¼ C all-purpose flour + 3 t baking powder + ½ t salt.
Make the cake
Heat the oven to 350° F and grease/butter an 11×7-inch nonstick baking pan (make sure it’s at least 2 inches deep, as this cake will rise).
If using fresh Medjool dates (which I recommend but didn’t use here), you’ll need about 12 dates. Remove the pits and coarsely chop them. Measure out one cup of chopped dates, loosely packed.
Place the dates in a saucepan with 1 C water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the baking soda, and set aside. When adding the baking soda, the mixture will foam up and may even turn a little green. Don’t panic – it’s just science in action, and it’s perfectly okay.
Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat with a hand mixer on high speed until the mixture is well combined and lighter in color, about 4 minutes, then beat in the vanilla. Be sure to beat for the full time, as this incorporates air into the batter that will help the cake rise later. It will be a wet, gloppy batter, so it needs all the help it can get!
Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. The batter will take on a much creamier consistency with the addition of each egg. After incorporating the last egg, add the date mixture and mix well.
Use a wooden spoon (not the mixer) to stir in the flour and baking powder (and salt, if using) and gently mix it together. The batter will be wet and sloppy. Really sloppy. And that’s okay.
Pour the batter into the greased pan.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the cake has risen and turns deep golden brown. It should be firm to the touch but still a bit spongy: it should spring back a little, but not entirely, when indented with a finger.
Make the toffee/caramel sauce
While the cake is baking, make the sauce. The recipe here has been doubled, as reviewers of the original all thought that it needed more. Personally, I think making too much sauce is always better than making too little, as any that’s left over can be frozen or used on other things, like ice cream. Try to use local honey instead of the supermarket stuff that comes in those cute little bear bottles. It’s just so much better for you.
Put the brown sugar, honey and butter in a 2‑quart saucepan and heat gently.
Stir until the sugar dissolves, and keep stirring until the butter melts and starts to blend with the sugar.
Bring to a simmer and cook until it gets thick and bubbly, several minutes.
When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Remove the cake from the pan to cool. To do this easily without breaking the cake into pieces, start by placing a cutting board on top of the cake and, holding both the cake and the board together, turn them upside down and carefully remove the cake from the pan so the cake is upside down on the cutting board. You may need to use a spatula to loosen the cake a little.
Next, place a baking rack on top of the upside-down cake. Holding both gently, turn them upside down so the cake is now right-side up on the rack, and allow it to cool slightly on the rack.
Serve the cake warm and cut into slices or squares, place on serving plates along with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired, and drench with the warm sauce.
When I serve this, I let my guests know that plate licking is both allowed and encouraged. And they usually take me up on it. Yes, it is THAT good. Enjoy!