Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Reluctant Foodie: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Photo courtesy of Sarah Bishop-Stone. Note Moosewood Cookbook display stand.

Most of my friends are at least semi-foodies--they work in the restaurant industry, they love to cook and talk about restaurants, or they just live in New York, which pretty much qualifies regardless of other factors. The yearly gift exchanges put on by my theater company tend to resemble bridal showers, with all manner of woks and wine glasses and serving bowls and cake stands being passed back and forth. We did have one half-holdout, though, a girl who demanded that her pyrex casserole dishes be accompanied by some big earrings, at least.

While I'm sure she maintains a similar gift-related stance, I think we've finally won Miriam entirely over to the dark side.* Not only did she just admit to watching an NYTimes video about beets, she has baked at least four times in the last month. "People were just so excited to get the cookies," she said, at which I nodded sagely and pointed out that this was a largeish part of my motivation. I'm happy to say that she's taken inspiration from this blog, and two out of four have been World Peace Cookies and Salted Oatmeal Cookies.

For her birthday, Miriam attempted her most ambitious project to date, Sticky Toffee Pudding, and requested to detail her triumph in a guest post. Here she is:

"I spent Passover of 2006 in London, visiting my then-boyfriend's family, which favored lengthy and delicious meals, and kept a fairly loose version of kosher-for-Passover. One day, at a riverside inn an hour outside the city, whose location had something to do with "The Wind in the Willows," I ordered a sticky toffee pudding for dessert, thinking that "pudding" was a safe bet for something flourless. It wasn't until I was halfway through with one of the most extreme desserts I've ever had that I even realized that what I was eating had clearly been leavened and baked, and by that point I was too engrossed to care.

When we got home, Katya was convinced to make a sticky toffee pudding for us, and since then I've had it in the back of my mind as something complicated but not completely impossible to make at home--so my 29th birthday seemed like the right occasion to try. The dates and molasses required advance planning (cf. the delis in New Haven don't sell any food), and I had to sub in half-and-half for one of the cups of cream (there seemed to be one 8-oz carton of heavy cream in all Connecticut), but it was delightful and impressive for my birthday guests. This recipe is something I would never have attempted a year ago.

I hereby give you my adaptation of David Lebovitz's recipe for sticky toffee pudding, with the following notes: 1) half-and-half worked just fine in the toffee sauce, 2) I used regular dark brown sugar and no ginger, 3) I would make extra sauce next time, since I ran out of it before I ran out of pudding, and 4) I was initially worried because the sauce didn't seem to be thickening in the pan, the way he describes, but once I took it off the heat it thickened right up. Definitely serve warm and with vanilla ice cream." - Miriam

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Adapted in turn from Sweet! (Da Capo) by Mani Niall

For the toffee sauce:
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (120g) demerara or muscovado sugar (or another dark brown sugar)
2 1/2 tablespoons golden syrup or molasses
pinch of salt

For the pudding:
6 ounces (180g) pitted dates, snipped or chopped
1 cup (250ml) water
1 teaspoon baking soda
optional: 1/3 cup (40g) candied ginger, chopped
1 1/4 cups (175g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons (55g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (190C) and butter an 8 1/2-inch baking dish.

2. Make the toffee sauce-bring the cream, demerara or turbinado sugar, golden syrup (or molasses) and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring often.

3. Lower heat and simmer, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and coats the spoon. Pour half the sauce into the prepared baking dish and place the mold in the freezer, and reserve the other half for serving.

4. To make the pudding, in a medium saucepan, heat the dates and water. Once the water begins to boil, remove from heat and stir in the baking soda. Add the ginger, if using, then set aside, but keep it slightly warm.

5. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

6. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, heat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. (Don't be alarmed if the mixture looks a bit curdled.)

7. Stir in half of the flour mixture, then the date mixture, then add the remaining flour mixture until just mixed. Don't overbeat the batter.

8. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached.

9. Remove the pudding from the oven, and let cool slightly before serving.

Serving: Spoon portions of the cake into serving bowls and douse with additional warm toffee sauce. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream are good accompaniments, although I enjoy it just as it is.

Note: To make the pudding in advance, bake the cake without the toffee in the bottom. Let cool, then cover until close to serving time. Poke the cake about fifteen times with a chopstick. Distribute half of the sauce over the top, as shown in the photo, cover with foil, then re-warm in a 300F (150C) oven, for 30 minutes.

*To be clear, Miriam has always cooked, and loved food, she just lacked grocery stores and all cooking implements for a little while there, and so the obsession couldn't take hold with the same rigor.

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