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Alright, this has to be one of the most addictive, unctuous and decacent desserts that a pastry chef has ever breathed life into. Its origins are a little obscure, but apparently it first appeared, in a similar guise, in an upmarket British food magazine sometime in the late 1980’s, under the name of "icky sticky toffee pudding". A well known Sydney chef put it on her dessert menu around the same time and the rest is history. It was an instant hit and it still remains on some good menus around town to this day. As an indicator of how popular this dessert is, a diner ordered our semolina and toffee pudding last weekend and expressed disappointment that it wasn’t "that toffee pudding"

So what makes it so good? Is it the dates? Everyone seems to love these sugar laden treats of the palm. But it could be the rich and dense texture of the pudding itself, which just sticks to your ribs, screaming sweet goodness. Or perhaps it is the heady toffee sauce that is poured, hot and bubbling, over the steaming pudding. My guess is it is a combination of the three.

Hungry yet? Well good, because not only is this pudding quasi-legendary, but it is easy enough for the keen kitchen novice to make, you don’t even need to separate the eggs. Trust me, make this pudding once and you will be hooked for life.

Ingredients

Pudding
  • 250 gm (1/2 lb) pitted, dried dates, roughly chopped
  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) water
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100 gm (3 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 250 gm (1/2 lb) caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 250 gm (1/2 lb) self raising flour (or 250 gm all purpose flour, mixed with 1 tsp baking powder)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Toffee Sauce
  • 375 gm (3/4 lb) unsalted butter, diced
  • 500 gm (1 lb) soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 450 ml (1 3/4 cups) thickened (whipping) cream (35 % butterfat)
  • Method

    For the pudding, mix together the butter, sugar and vanilla, then beat until it is pale and creamy. This is best done in an electric mixmaster, but if you have a strong arm, go ahead. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well after adding each egg. Gently fold in the flour until well incorporated. Bring the water to the boil and add the dates. Add the bicarbonate of soda and immediately remove from the heat. Cool slightly, then add to the pudding mix. Combine well. Grease an 8 x 10 inch cake tin and pour in the pudding mix. Place in a pre-heated 180 °C (360 °F) oven for 40 minutes. Test with a skewer, it will come out clean when cooked

    To make the toffee sauce, add all the ingredients to a saucepan and heat gently. Stir well as it heats, as it can separate easily. Once the sauce has melted and looks smooth, it is done – don’t over heat, or else it will split on you.

    Remove the pudding from the cake tin and cut into large squares. Pour over the warm toffee sauce, then garnish with some softly whipped cream, Try not to think of your cardiologist, trust me.

    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.

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