Friday, July 23, 2010

Sticky Toffee Cake

This is absolutely my favorite thing that I've made this summer. At least thus far. As you can see from the picture, there were others who agreed with my assessment of this gooey, caramely, moist cake: can't get enough of it until it's gone.

It is called a "pudding" by the Brits, who have a pudding category of dessert that I think is still a tad foreign/unappealing to the American ear, so I am deeming it a cake. For so it is - a cake that has wonderful texture and nuanced flavor smothered in toffee sauce.

This was a dessert that was very amenable to adaptation in the Middle East, since it called for dates in the cake (which provide the extra je ne sais quoi both to the moist texture and to the flavor), and the toffee sauce worked extraordinarily well with honey instead of the molasses/golden syrup originally called for. Ironically, the day that I made this I went to a store that did NOT have fresh dates, but it did have this date paste that saved me work in the end. The pits of the dates were mixed in with the paste, so I had to dig them out as I scraped the paste out of the package, but other than that the paste worked very well. If you use honey in the sauce, just be aware that honey has a strong flavor and will be noticeable in the final product. And if you're in Jerusalem and want to use molasses or corn syrup, either can be obtained at Anise (imported goods store with multiple locations, including one on Palmach and one on Yafo).

I adore both the sauce and the cake of this recipe (need I mention that I practically drank a whole cup of the sauce on its own?). You've got the option of making the cake and the sauce separately the day before you serve it, and reheating the cake with the sauce spread over the top, or just making it the day that you will serve it, in which case you will make the sauce, pour half of it into the cake pan, followed by the cake batter, later to be served with the remaining sauce spooned over the top. I had to make it a day ahead, so the sauce was poured over the top of the cake and reheated, but I'm dying to try it with the cake baked in the sauce - I think the absorption factor would be fantastic. And who doesn't want toffee sauce on both sides of their cake??

On a side note, I have also found chocolate-covered dates in the supermarkets here, and they are to die for. Yet another sweet that I overate this week. There were packages of them with pecans, walnuts, or almonds replacing the pit, so of course I had to try more than one of the three options (pecan and almond, yum!). There was a magical connection between the flavor of the dates and the chocolate that melded into another flavor altogether, and they offered the most satisfyingly chewy experience that a classmate of mine delighted in dubbing a "fusion" with a new Hebrew vocabulary word of ours. I think I had an instinct that these chocolate-dipped goodies would be amazing after eating this cake, since it made me realize that while dates are good on their own, they are surprisingly versatile in their ability to boost the flavor profile of another sweet - toffee, in the case of this cake.

Sticky Toffee Cake

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

For the cake:
6 oz (180g) pitted dates, snipped or chopped, or date paste with pits removed
1 C (250ml) water
1 tsp baking soda
optional: 1/3 C (40g) candied ginger, chopped
1 1/4 C (175g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
4 T (55g) unsalted butter
3/4 C (150g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (190C) and butter an 8 1/2-inch (about 24cm) porcelain soufflé mold, or similar-sized baking dish.
2. Make the toffee sauce by bringing the cream, demerara or turbinado sugar, golden syrup (or molasses) and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring often to melt the sugar.
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 soufflé mold 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 (this will foam up, as pictured above). 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, beat 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 top with remaining warm toffee sauce. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream are optional toppings, but it's great on its own.

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, cover with foil, then re-warm in a 300F (150C) oven, for 30 minutes.

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