Sticky toffee pudding

The past few years, R. and I have hosted a mini Thanksgiving at our place. I should clarify: mini as in few people, not a limited menu. We're never ones to skimp in the food department. After all, eliminate too many of the trimmings and what's left to distinguish Thanksgiving dinner from regular weekday fare?

Pie is tricky for three though, especially if leftover pumpkin pie holds little appeal. Since we're being honest, pumpkin pie's not really my thang period. So this year, I went with the still seasonally appropriate—but scalable—sticky toffee pudding.

I have to tell you, I may never go back. Top 5 desserts of all time (and I don't say that lightly).

Sticky Toffee Pudding

1 cup Guinness stout beer (foam not included)
1 teaspoon baking soda
170 grams dates, pitted
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Butterscotch Toffee Sauce:
1 cup dark brown sugar (demerara or muscovado)
1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

To make the pudding, put the pitted dates in a small heatproof bowl and set aside. Pour the beer into a small saucepan and bring it just to the boil. Remove from the heat, stir in the baking soda and watch the mixture fizz up. Pour the liquid over the dates and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, drain the dates, keeping the liquid close by. Place the dates, and a bit of liquid, in a food processor and blend until they form a paste. Add the rest of the liquid and process until very smooth. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and cover it until you're ready to use it.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and line 12 3/4-cup ramekins (or a 9-inch x 13-inch baking pan) with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the date paste and mix.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stopping to mix periodically just until the batter is uniform in colour.

Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins (or baking pan). Place the ramekins (if using) on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate, then bake for another 10-15 minute or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

While the pudding is baking, make the sauce. Place the brown sugar in a small saucepan. If you're using a vanilla bean, split the bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the sugar and set the empty pod aside. Rub the seeds into the sugar with your fingertips. If you're using vanilla extract, simply mix it into the sugar. Add the butter to the sugar/vanilla and stir.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream, lemon juice, salt and vanilla pod (if using). The mixture may be grainy, but will become smooth as it cools. Set aside, reheating (if necessary) and removing the vanilla pod before serving.

Remove the baked pudding(s) from the oven and let cool in the ramekins (or pan) for 10 minutes before inverting onto plates (or a serving platter).

To serve, pour several generous spoonfuls of the warm butterscotch toffee sauce over individual portions of the hot pudding. Optional: Top with vanilla ice cream, or crème fraîche, and toasted pecans.

Notes: I halved the recipe and used 6 ramekins.

Source: Sticky Toffee Pudding in Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum, pp. 71-74. One of my favourite cake cookbooks of all time.