I’ve been meaning to make some form of sticky toffee pudding for at least a few years, ever since a friend of mine first waxed lyrical about one she’d had at a pub near our offices called the Shakespeare. At that point, I’d never had sticky toffee pudding or, possibly, even heard of it, but her description alone had me sold–of a sticky, soft, eat-it-with-a-spoon cake, gooey with dates and draped in an abundance of caramel sauce, served warm and ideally with ice cream on top (which, in and of itself, is enough to get me on board with anything).
So I stocked up on dates, and set this pudding in my sights. But somehow the dates in my pantry made their way into cinnamon rolls and warm butter tarts instead, and before I knew it, my best intentions to sample the pudding at the Shakespeare were waylaid by a couple thousand miles when we moved to the West Coast. It wasn’t until this year, when I finally stumbled across Karen Mordechai’s version via Deb Perelman, that I found the chance to mend the error of my ways.
This version, granted, got a little confused along the way. Alongside my sticky toffee preoccupations, I’ve also had a hankering for a good gingerbread–the cake sort instead of the cookie, something like the tall, dark, and handsome one found in Samantha Seneviratne’s The New Sugar and Spice. The themes are similar, a sticky, flavorful, holiday-themed cake, but where the caramel-y sweet sticky toffee pudding stops, the gingerbread picks up with warm, dark molasses and spice.
So this has a bit of both: It has plenty of my favorite caramel-like dates, soaked in boiling water until soft and luxurious, but swaps out white sugar for both brown sugar and molasses for a deep, dark flavor and hue. It’s rich and warm and holiday-ready from a happy dose of ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and more, and cloaked under a butterscotch made with Vermont Creamery mascarpone for even more buttery, creamy redolence than the usual. It combines all that I wanted from both warm sticky toffee pudding and dense, rich gingerbread, with the sort of squidgy, comforting excess that is appropriate all of the time but especially at the holidays–because that’s a situation where, in my opinion, you should never have to choose between desserts. I hope there’s as much of this cake, flannel pajamas, and flickering fireplaces in your future as possible.
Thanks to Vermont Creamery for sponsoring this post! All opinions are, as usual, my own.
- For the cake:
- 3/4 pound (12 ounces, 340 grams or about 2 1/4 cups) dried Medjool dates, pitted and chopped (my favorite online source is Nuts.com; Costco also sells an organic brand that I like, though the name escapes me)
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup (150 grams) dark brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup molasses
- 2 large eggs
- 1 ⅔ cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2-3 teaspoons gingerbread spice or 1-2 teaspoons ground ginger, ½-1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, ⅛ teaspoon cloves, and ⅛ teaspoon allspice
- For the sauce:
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup (8 oz) Vermont Creamery mascarpone
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (215 grams) dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt (or more, if desired)
- To serve:
- Coarse sea salt
- More mascarpone, lightly sweetened whipped cream, or ice cream
- Combine the dates and the boiling water in a heatproof bowl and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper (or butter it, if you prefer).
- Blend the date-water mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stir in the baking soda and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, and molasses. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold in the flour, then the date puree. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Combine the butter, mascarpone, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a 2- or 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let cook for about 10-15 minutes, whisking, until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the salt, and set aside.
- Turn the cake out onto a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper, if using. While the cake is still warm, slice into desired portions and drape each slice with a generous amount of toffee sauce and a pinch of coarse sea salt, plus more mascarpone or whipped cream if desired. Enjoy!
For a cake that veers even more into that warm, rich holiday gingerbread territory, use the higher range of the spices listed below. You could even stir in a teaspoon or two of freshly grated ginger.