Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daring Bakers' Challenge #6: Sticky Toffee Puddings

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I grew up in India reading the very British books of Enid Blyton, and their puddings always sounded so exotic and delicious to me - Treacle sponge, Spotted Dick, you name it. I was excited to try my hand at one for the first time. Being vegetarian, though, I wasn't wild at the idea of using suet, even a veggie version, so I stuck to a butter-based version. I'm in the camp that firmly believes everything tastes better with butter!

I based my pudding recipe on one for Sticky Toffee Puddings from David Lebovitz's new book, Ready for Dessert. Yes he's American, but I've always had great results with his recipes. I used a bit more dates than he calls for, so that the puds would be nice and sticky, and reduced the amount of sugar. His version also uses kumquats for a tangy contrast to the sweet pudding, but I couldn't find any, so I made the recipe without them. Instead, I added some chopped crystallized ginger, and a bit of ground ginger, for some spicy undertones. I steamed mine in individual cups, and then poured a generous ladle of toffee sauce over the top and broiled them for five minutes.

I have a feeling the suet crust puddings may have been more of a challenge to make, but these were so delicious I'm not about to complain! This dessert really begs to be eaten warm, and it was just perfect for a chilly, rainy spring day. Gooey caramelized toffee with moist, buttery cake - what's not to like? The dates melt into the background, allowing the spicy zing of the ginger to shine through. The broiling really boosts the caramelized flavor as well. I would love to experiment with adding a boozy flavor, such as bourbon or cognac. This would be fabulous with some vanilla ice cream on the side, too, but sadly, I didn't have any on hand. Now that's an excuse to make these again!

Recipe: Sticky Toffee Puddings (Serves 6)
Adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

1/2 cup finely chopped dates
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup half-and-half (or heavy cream)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp molasses
Big pinch salt
Prepare 6 individual cups by oiling them lightly and get your steaming apparatus ready. You can also bake these puddings, in which case you could use a 6-cup muffin tin and preheat the oven to 350F(190C).
Combine the dates and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, add the baking soda and the chopped ginger and set aside for ten minutes. Mash up the mixture till it's almost fully smooth.
For the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Place about a tablespoon of sauce in each cup.
For the puddings, sift all the dry ingredients together. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Gently stir in half the dry ingredients, the date mixture, and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Divide the batter among the cups, secure the top with two layers of foil, and steam over boiling water until fully set, about 30 minutes. While the puddings are steaming, preheat the broiler with the oven rack set close to the top.
Invert the puddings on a baking sheet, pour a generous helping of the toffee sauce on top and broil for about 5 minutes, until the tops of the puddings and the edges of the sauce are dark and caramelized. Allow to cool briefly and serve warm with extra sauce and a sprinkling of extra chopped crystallized ginger.
If not serving immediately, allow the puddings to cool and then cover with foil. When ready to serve, reheat in a moderate oven (300F) and proceed with the broiling as above.