The first time I had sticky toffee pudding, at one of Gordon Ramsay’s Las Vegas restaurants, it blew me away. The warm, moist cake, the melty-cold ice cream, and the gooey topping come together to form pretty much the perfect dessert.
Last winter, Gustavo experimented with it a lot, determined to re-create that incredible dessert. His final product is actually better than what we ate in Vegas, if you ask me! The cake itself is modified from the New York Times version. (Which, oddly, doesn’t make enough batter for the pan size it calls for.) The topping is my own creation!
Why a sticky toffee pudding variation with rum?
To answer that, let me take you back more than half my life ago, to the first time I ever got tipsy. I was an innocent 16-year-old who had no interest at all in alcohol or drugs. In fact, while at a music and dancing camp over the summer, I turned down plenty of offers of alcohol.
One evening amid the redwoods, though, I realized that the concession stand had rum cake. Genuinely believing that the alcohol would have baked off, I bought a slice and ate it. It was so good that I got two more. (Shush. I was skinny enough back then that eating three slices of cake during summer vacation seemed perfectly reasonable.)
20 minutes later, I found myself staggering to a hidden redwood tree, as far out of sight as I could manage. I plopped down under it and squeezed my eyes shut, trying to force the world to stop spinning.
It turned out that most of the rum in that cake was actually in the sauce that drenched it after it baked. In other words, the cake was full of booze. Three slices of that was plenty given my absolute lack of tolerance. Whoops.
Despite the surprise of sudden intoxication, I loved that rum cake. No version that I’ve had or made since has quite compared. It wasn’t until I added rum to this sticky toffee pudding recipe that I found something that almost lived up to my memories of that first rum cake.
- 2 cups dates, pits removed
- 2 cups boiling water
- ⅔ cup dark rum (optional)
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 4 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup Demerara sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ¼ cup water
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ cup cream (Note: reduce to 1 cup if you want to use rum)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup dark rum (optional)
- High-quality French vanilla ice cream
Make the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-13” glass baking dish.
- Put the 2 cups of pitted dates into a heat-safe container and pour 2 cups of boiling water over them. Allow to soak for 5 minutes.
- Transfer the soaked dates into a food processor along with 1 cup of the soaking water (or 3/4 cup, if you want to use rum in your cake). Process until fairly smooth.
- Add the 2/3 cup of rum (optional), the 2 tablespoons of molasses, the 4 eggs, and the 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, and pulse a few times to mix. Add the chunks of the 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter gradually, pulsing each time.
- Separately, mix together the 2 teaspoons of baking soda, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the 1/2 cup of demerara sugar, the 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, and the 1 1/2 cups of flour. Add gradually to the food processor, pulsing as you add it, until you have a well-mixed batter.
- Pour the batter into your greased baking dish. (If you have a cake strip that fits, use it; the cake will be unevenly puffy in the center otherwise. If you don’t have one, don’t worry!)
- Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out mostly clean, around 25 minutes. (Be careful not to over-bake!)
Make your topping:
- When the cake has been in the oven for 5-10 minutes, put 1/2 cup water and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugar has dissolved.
- STOP STIRRING.
- Reduce the heat to medium and allow the mixture to cook, undisturbed, until it turns dark golden. Stirring it during this process can cause it to crystallize. Note: you can control how strong your sauce is by adjusting when you stop it from cooking. If you want a mild, sweeter sauce, go onto the next step sooner. If you want a very dark, bitter sauce, cook it a bit longer. Dark golden is my preference!
- Turn off the heat when your sauce reaches your preferred color. Slowly but steadily pour in the 1 1/4 cups cream (just 1 cup if you want to use rum) while whisking constantly. Don’t worry if the mixture bubbles up as you begin adding the cream. Avoid pouring the cream in too fast, or it can seize up the caramel.
- Once all the cream is whisked into the sauce, add the 3 tablespoons butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and (optional) 1/3 cup dark rum. Whisk until thoroughly blended.
Finish your cake:
- When the cake is done, remove it from the oven. Use a skewer to poke deep holes into it every 3/4 inch or so.
- Drizzle about half of the topping over the cake. As it runs toward the edges, use a spoon to scoop it up and try to get as much as possible down the holes.
- Put the cake in the broiler until the topping gets bubbly and just begins to caramelize more. This should take less than 2 minutes, but check it every 15 seconds (yes, really) because it goes from “almost ready” to “badly burned” very quickly.
- Allow the cake to cool slightly, but it’s best served while still warm! Cut a piece, top it with a generous scoop of high-quality French vanilla ice cream (this isn’t the time to use the cheap stuff), and drizzle with a spoon or two of the remaining topping.