This isn't strictly a pudding. That is, you don't steam this cake.
*insert scream here*
But wait? Is it a pudding, or is it a cake? It can't be both!
Well, I have news for you. I believe it is both. This puddake has a lot in common with the flavors of Christmas puddings we used to run across while shopping in Woolies in Sydney, but it has a lighter consistency--close to a cake, but not really. You'll see why.
I first had a slice of toffee date pudding with my friend Lindsey while dining at The Trout one fine evening with Michael Ward* (whose excellent book, Planet Narnia ... okay, so I couldn't resist. I'm an English major to the bone.). We were on a two-week study abroad attached to the class, "Myths and Epics of Northwestern Europe." We were Oxford for the week, and had already footed our way down every cobblestone alley you can imagine. Nathan had fallen asleep at the table, exhausted, and Mr. Ward thought it would be great fun to take a picture of him while he was sleeping. We never quite got around to it, seeing as how Nathan did eventually wake up, but we definitely enjoyed the pudding. It was such a memorable pudding, in truth, that we spent some time searching for a recipe by which to replicate it.
* NOTE: We ran across Mr. Ward a year later when he came to JBU to present his second (smaller) book (The Narnia Code) to the entire campus. He didn't recognize us, save for a vague recollection of our faces. I doubt very much he would remember our evening at The Trout and our intended prank on Nate.
This is quite a large recipe--I figure you could make a regular-sized cake with half a recipe. As it was, I made a large bundt cake and at least half a dozen muffin-sized cakes, and the amount was just perfect.
INGREDIENTS for the cake
1 pound dates, pitted and chopped
2 teaspoons baking soda
8 ounces butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
3 tablespoons baking powder
INGREDIENTS for the sauce
8 ounces butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream (or yogurt, as I do)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Butter and flour three 9-inch-round cake pans, two dozen muffin tins, or one large bundt cake pan and a half dozen muffin tins.
Place the chopped dates (I used almost two bags of the kind you buy for cheap in Aldis, and they worked perfectly) in a large saucepan with 3 and 1/2 cups water. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally to break up the dates. Simmer for a couple of minutes before removing the mixture--which will be looking a little lumpy and foamy--from the heat. Stir in the baking soda, and be prepared for the mixture to froth up rather violently.
Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and scrape down the sides of the bowl between each one. Add the vanilla extract and then the flour and salt and mix briefly to give a thick, lumpy dough.
Add the warm date mixture to the eggs and flour in two batches, scraping the sides of bowl in between batches. The dough will be quite watery at this point. Add the baking powder. There will be more bubbling and frothing.
Pour the batter evenly between the cake pans or muffin tins.
Bake for about 30 minutes for cake pans, 20 minutes for muffin tins, and 45 to 50 minutes for the bundt pan. Test to see if they are cooked through with a small knife or toothpick. It ought to come out clean if the cake(s) are done.
While the cakes are baking, start the sauce. Combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream (or yogurt), and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil--slowly!--and then reduce to simmer gently until thick and well blended, around 5 minutes.
While the cakes are cooling, poke little holes all over with toothpick. Pour the caramel sauce over the cake(s) while both are still warm and leave to soak until absorbed. I left mine overnight, and it came out perfectly even and moist.
Turn the puddake out upside-down onto a serving plate. I found I had to give my pan a good whack before the puddake came out--but when it did, what a beaut!
Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, if the fancy takes you. I like the delicate, complex flavor of this cake all on its own.
VERDICT: This is a delicious puddake. Next time, I might be even more adventurous and throw in some shredded coconut for added texture, or maybe some additional spices. I'm thinking a touch of molasses would kick the flavor profile up a notch--but I like my foods to be exorbitant in flavor. This was pretty near perfect anyway! A moist, fine crumb, with a delicate date taste complimented by all those spices (and, let's face it, some sugar).