Sticky Toffee Pudding is one of the staples of all sweet menus. People who try it become immediately addicted and seem to order it whenever they get the chance. I have experienced similar things to sneff, whereby it is nearly impossible to take it off the menu. Customers would write letters complaining if we removed it, and it was always they best-selling dish when it was on. For a pastry chef trying to put interesting new things on the menu, it could become disheartening to have 50% of orders be for the old STP. It could be, if the dish wasn't so totally delicious. I liked to keep it on just so I could eat it myself. A perfect breakfast for a hungover chef before everyone else arrived, and I even used to let myself in to the restaurant at 4am when struck by the munchies after a night out, to sample some of its treacly goodness.
This calorific depth charge has become such a classic that it is hard to believe it was invented relatively recently.
Although it is hard to say if his was the first, the source of all current sticky toffee pudding recipes can be traced to one man. Francis Coulson was owner of The Sharrow Bay Hotel in Ullswater, Cumbria in the English Lake District for 50 years until his death in 1998. It was in the 1960s that he first put this delicious pudding on the menu.
A whole generation of cooks have come to Sharrow Bay to eat and pay homage in the restaurant. As they came, they tried its most famous dish and took it away and spread the word by putting it on their own menus. Coulson never seemed shy about giving out the recipe, which has therefore remained remarkably unchanged as its fame has spread. The recipe that I use is substantially identical to the one given by sneff, and despite some attempts by 'imaginative' chefs to put their own mark on it, the original remains unsurpassed. Part of the reason for this consistency is the fact that no-one had to reverse engineer the recipe, but also because the recipe is not too tolerant of variation.
One of those who helped the dish achieve its fame was chef John Tovey, who used to work at Sharrow Bay. He has published it several times as well as featuring it on some of his television shows. Simon Hopkinson, acclaimed head chef of Bibendum in London, as well as the author of some of my favourite cookery books, picked up the recipe on a visit to the Lake District. Perhaps the most important fan of it though, and certainly the one who showed it to the widest audience, is the world's best-selling food writer Delia Smith. Her audience of millions was shown how easy it is to make, and were hooked.
Many chefs proudly proclaim that they are using the Francis Coulson recipe when they put sticky toffee pudding on the menu. While people are buying their pre-packed microwave sticky toffee puds from the supermarket, they may be interested to know the source of their gooey sweetness was a small country house hotel, on the shores of Lake Ullswater.