Sticky Date Pudding: Comfort in Classics

I am somewhat of a classicist. I love a classic! Be that in music, architecture, design, fashion or food. Classic doesn’t necessarily mean old, just tried and tested, beloved by many, and not in need of “updating” to stay relevant. To me a classic is something that manages to be relevant no matter how old or young it is. So even though I have seen various updates to, and “twists” on the classic sticky date (or sticky toffee if you’re a Brit) pudding, I have honestly never once felt compelled in any way to vary from the original. The perfect balance of sweet and salt and texture in the original recipe, is why it joins the ranks of sugar hit “classics”.

It’s funny that in the UK they do call this Sticky Toffee Pudding, even though their recipes all have dates in them. Are we more honest in the southern hemisphere? Or just more blunt? I don’t know. Call a date a date, I say. Some people do have a weirdness about dried fruit, so maybe that’s what they’re trying to avoid. I say to you this; if you are, or you know someone who is funny about dried fruit, this is a great place to start. For one thing, the dates are wazzed up into the batter of the pudding, adding great natural sweetness and super luscious texture, to the untrained eye you would hardly know they’re there. Secondly, I am evangelical on the topic of dates. They are the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” of the fruit world. They taste of caramel to me, purely and simply. Sweet sticky dark coloured caramel, and they look like it too. So they add even more caramel scent to a cake batter destined to be baked in a pool of caramel anyway.

On the topic of caramel, you know me, I am only too pleased to share my surprise and delight at how easy it is to master: I’m going to jinx myself here and say that I have never ever had a caramel crystallize on me.Anyway, the sauce accompanying a sticky date is more of a butterscotch sauce in my eyes, as there is no burning of sugar involved. The brown sugar used is caramelly enough to hold it’s own, even better if you can find some muscovado sugar (available in Brisbane at Zone Fresh, the Clayfield Markets or the James St Markets).

Add copious amounts of butter and cream to brown sugar, boil it up and you’re laughing, you have an infinitely adaptable sauce. So many easy desserts can be had, like a butterscotch sundae with vanilla ice cream and salted nuts, or a tropical fruit ‘70s fondue-style dipping sauce. May I suggest butterscotch sauce on a crumpet? Strange but good – why do I feel like I’m describing myself? The sauce alone is enough to elevate anything to the realm of a kitchen regular, and coupled with the complex depth of flavour luscious texture of the date sponge, you have, what I’m calling a classic. Note: this dish is best enjoyed in a pair of classic Katherine Hepburn style silk pyjamas, with a classic book in one hand, on a classically cold and windy day.

Sticky Date Puddings, adapted from Breakfast Lunch Tea, by Rose Carrarini
NOTE: If you have a favourite Sticky date recipe already, this method is adaptable to almost any version.

Makes 12 puddings
1 cup (heaping) dark brown sugar
110g unsalted butter
160ml cream
1 ½ cups dried dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ¼ cups boiling water
110g unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
sea salt

Grease a twelve bun muffin tin. Preheat the oven to 180C, and place a shallow tray on the bottom rack, large enough to hold the muffin tin, filled with warm or hot water. The aim here is to create a steamy oven.
Chop the dates, and place them in the bowl of a food processor with the bicarb and boiling water, leave to steep, and soften.
In a medium saucepan, place all of the sauce ingredients and cook over a medium heat until they come to a boil (be careful not to let it boil over!), and set aside to cool.
Place the remaining butter, sugar, vanilla and egg into the processor with the now cool dates, and blitz until smooth and fluffy. Add all the remaining ingredients and process until just combined.
Place 1 tbsp of the butterscotch sauce into each muffin tin, followed by about 3 tbsp of the cake mixture. be careful to fill only two thirds up, as these rise quite a bit. You will have butterscotch left over to serve with the puddings.
Place in the middle rack of  the oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until they spring back when pressed lightly on the top. Once out of the oven, leave to cool for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a platter or board. Just place it right on top of the muffin tin, and flip it over. Drizzle with extra sauce and devour.

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