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Will the real, authentic Sticky Toffee Pudding please stand up?

I've just come back from Christmas week in London and I have lovely memories of a fantastic new year's eve dinner at the venerable Rule's on Maiden Lane, and especially of their deliciously dense and rich "Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce," which was served with custard sauce genrously ladled over it all. It was heaven.

But now I want to make it myself, and the different varieties of recipes for it that I am finding online (including in Chowhound threads) are more confusing than elucudating.

Is the real, authentic sticky pudding baked, steamed, or baked in a bain marie?

Does the batter contain white sugar or demerara sugar?

Does the batter contain treacle or golden syrup, or not?

Does the sauce contain treacle or golden syrup, or not?

Is the sauce made with white sugar caramelized or brown sugar?

Is the sauce poured on the pudding and broiled until bubbly before serving, or just poured on the pudding?

Is the pudding served with custard sauce ladled over it, or with cream?

Is it Scottish in origin, or English?

Can I even make a reasonable facsimile in the U.S. using American ingredients? Cook's Illustrated came up with a recipe using American ingredients such a molasses; is the recipe any good?

All these issues raised by the different recipes make me want just to make Nigella Lawson's simple, pudding-cake version of it, which I have tried and find to be very delicious. However, the baker in me wants to be able to make the Real Thing.

At the risk of starting a war among stalwarts, please let me know what you think.

Thank you for your help!

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  1. I'm no expert but I've always wanted to make this. I'd always assumed I would make Delia Smith's as she seems quintessentially English, but her recipe seems to contain none of the goodies you mention. Maybe it's a different one from what I remember, but here's what my quick search kicked out:

    http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/li...

    2 Replies
    1. re: averill

      Yes, I saw this in my research. The coffee essence in the batter and pecan pieces are heterodox. I have seen coffee in a very few recipes, but never until Delia have I seen pecan in Sticky Toffee Pudding. Take out the coffee and pecan, and it's one of the simpler, baked recipes with fewer ingredients.

      Given that there are many more complex recipes for Sticky Toffee Pudding, when I see simple recipes like this using no ingredients not easily found in the U.S., I always wonder whether the Brit author has Americanized the ingredients and simplified the method for wider appeal.

      1. re: averill

        Don't trust the Delia!

        And please don't base your opinion of English food on her recipes.

      2. I think there are as many recipes for Sticky Toffee Pudding as there are counties in the UK. I've lived here 3 years, and it's definitely one of my favorite puds (as the Brits call dessert). One good source for recipes is the BBC Good Food site
        http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/

        I haven't checked it out for Sticky Toffee but it might be worth a try. Epicurious has one that seems well adapted for doing in the States. Dates are the most important ingredient and I think they're mostly steamed - even in a microwave.

        1 Reply
        1. re: zuriga1

          >>>Dates are the most important ingredient

          This is what I've heard as well (and, sorry, OP, I know that wasn't even on your list of questions!). NYT had a recipe for this sometime in the past 5(?) years or so that might be helpful for you. They claimed it was from the folks who 'originated' the STP. I don't have it, but you could try searching their site.

          Good luck!

        2. We've made STP after having becoming very fond of them at our local British pub (The Olde Ship, British owned & operated in Fullerton.

          They make their STP on premises w/pouring cream. My husband has made STP @ home; it's close to what they make @ TOS, but not exactly the same. So I'll take a stab @ answering your questions; I'm sure there will be others who can provide a more authoratative response.
          ------------------
          Is the real, authentic sticky pudding baked, steamed, or baked in a bain marie? --We baked.

          Does the batter contain white sugar or demerara sugar?
          --We used white sugar.

          Does the batter contain treacle or golden syrup, or not?
          --Neither in ours.

          Does the sauce contain treacle or golden syrup, or not?
          --Neither in ours.

          Is the sauce made with white sugar caramelized or brown sugar?
          --We used brown sugar.

          Is the sauce poured on the pudding and broiled until bubbly before serving, or just poured on the pudding?
          --We just poured on the pudding.

          Is the pudding served with custard sauce ladled over it, or with cream?
          --We like ours with cream.

          Again, that's how we made it; it may or may not be authentic.

          1. LOL whenever I see it called STP! In the US, STP is a brand name for fuel additives and oil additives, often advertised as used in NASCAR auto racing. Do Brits actually call the pudding "STP," or is this just an abbreviation used here to avoid typing it all out, which does get a bit tedious?

            1 Reply
            1. re: browniebaker

              I'm married to a British husband and neither of us think anyone here calls it STP for short. Of course, we also have something called Spotted Dick but I never tried that! Since I'm an American, the shortcuts are fine with me.. and a lot easier. :-)

            2. I'm out here in Southern California, so I'm familiar w/STP...I was just too lazy to type out the whole thing!

                1. To muddy the waters even more, the recipe I have used and recommend highly is from The Arab Table by May Bsisu (from Leitesculinia):

                  http://leitesculinaria.com/recipes/co...

                  I see that the website has just posted a recipe from Cook's Illustrated:

                  http://leitesculinaria.com/recipes/co...

                  1. Thank you for all the suggested recipes and the links to them. I have seen all of these in the exhaustive research I have been doing. I can see that these recipes differ as to ingredients, method, flavor, and texture. But the question remains: what is the traditional pudding supposed to be like, supposed to be made?

                    Some say it is a traditional pudding, and then some say the recipe originated in a particular inn or hotel in -- some say the Lake district of England, and then some say the Udny hotel in Scotland. Maybe the origin is what would have to be resolved first, to answer all my other questions. Food historians, where are you?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: browniebaker

                      The NYT article I read cited the hotel the in the Lake District theory. Regardless, I think this may be a bit like corn bread and other American treats--I don't think there is 'one' answer to the question, 'what is the traditional pudding supposed to be like?'

                      Perhaps you're best off making a pudding that recreates best what you liked while you were on holiday?

                      1. re: Smokey

                        Yes, I'd really like to recreate the Rules version. Rules' STP is very dense like a plum pudding, and I think it is steamed or at least baked in a bain marie. The toffee sauce is only poured over, not broiled on top. But I could probably do without the custard sauce ladled on top, preferring the simplicity of cream instead.

                        I guess I should just pick a recipe and start. Applying Occam's razor, I'll start with one of the simpler recipes and see whether it will give me the result I want, but I'll steam the pudding in any case.

                    2. According to Wikipedia, this dessert was created in 1907.
                      Here is the link:
                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticky_t...

                      For what it's worth, in Los Angeles, I used to work for a British restauranteur who served Toffee Pudding on the Sunday Brunch menu. The difference is that the pudding was made with Apricots, not dates. Still fantastic and memorable. If I ever come across the recipe I'll post it.

                      1. I did find the recipe for Apricot Sticky Toffee Pudding. Here it is!

                        Apricot Sticky Toffee Pudding

                        Pudding base :
                        - 200 g dried apricots, pitted and quartered
                        - 1 tsp baking soda
                        - 1 C boiling water
                        - 2 Tbsp (30 g) butter
                        - 1 C (200 g) brown sugar
                        - 2 eggs
                        - 1 1/2 C (180g) flour
                        - 2 tsp baking powder
                        - 1/2 tsp salt

                        Toffee sauce :
                        - 1 C (200 g) brown sugar
                        - 3/4 C (20 cl) whipping cream
                        - 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
                        - 2Tbsp (30 g) butter

                        (Serves 8.)

                        Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F), and lightly butter a 7'' (18 cm) square or round cake pan.

                        Combine the apricots and the baking soda in a heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water, stir, and leave to stand.

                        In a food processor (Jill does it by hand), mix a cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition. Add in the flour (sifted if you're hand-mixing), baking powder and salt, mix well. Add the apricots and their water, and mix again thoroughly.

                        Pour the batter into the cake pan, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until puffed and golden. Jill recommends using a skewer to test the cake for doneness (it is ready when the skewer comes out clean), but my wooden skewer still came out with moist crumbs after 40 minutes, and the result was fine.

                        To make the sauce, combine the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan, large enough to allow the mixture to rise when it boils. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for five minutes, without stirring, until thick and golden brown. Set aside, and reheat just before serving.

                        The pudding and the sauce should be served warm. Glaze the whole pudding with the sauce, or cut the pudding into slices or squares and pour the sauce over each serving. I am told sticky toffee pudding is often served with custard, fresh cream, ice-cream or yogurt, but it's also fine as is, washed down with a cup of good tea.

                        Note: At the restaurant, we glazed the entire pan of pudding with the toffee sauce and served the dish with whipped cream upon request.

                        1. It can be so hard to find the PERFECT recipe that is closest to something you had that was dreamy. We all have different ideas of what is delicious and there are gazillion recipes out there, not to mention, you are not really sure what the ingredients were in the Sticky Toffee Pudding that you loved at Rules. I guess I am saying that I agree with your idea to just pick a recipe that seems close enough and start from there. This can become your baseline from which you can modify or change ingredients, or you can pick another recipe and start again. It sounds like you have done an indepth analysis, which is great, but as some point, I would just dive in and get baking.

                          1. Well, here's my offering.

                            From Rose Bakery (a Parisian bakery run by an Englishwoman) = dried apricots, dark brown sugar, cream, superfine sugar, cream, vanilla, bicarb soda, baking powder, flour and creme anglaise on top. No nuts, no dates. I've made 5 recipes from this book and they've all been unusual and great.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: oakjoan

                              Although the Rose Bakery version uses apricots, this is a deliberately unorthodox move, just to vary the original a bit. The 'authentic' version must include dates. Dates are what distinguish the sticky toffee pudding from a regular toffee/sweet sponge pudding.

                            2. As far as I am concerned sticky toffee pudding doesn't contain any fruit or nuts - at least it never did in my parents or grandparents houses. Yes, steam it, you get the best texture by steaming (I think). When I bother to steam puddings I do like to take the pudding out and if I need to to 'reduce' the syrup mix that was on the bottom of the bowl. I can't remember the STP (never... but I can't be bothered to type it again!) recipe that was used because we all prefer syrup pudding which has golden syrup in the bowl then the mixture on top which is far more blond. I'm not sure I can even find it but I will try, I can't vouch for it's authenticity or similarity to the one you ate but it will be an English recipe from an English book!

                              1. Well, tell that to Ms. Rose Bakery. Although her name is Italian, she was born and raised and had a bakery in GB until she moved it to Paris.

                                I think there are always many ways to do something that some feel has only one proper recipe with only x, y, and z as ingredients.

                                In New Zealand, sticky date pudding is sticky toffee puddingesque. It's wonderfully deelish.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: oakjoan

                                  I got hooked in NZ - must have dates - they just melt right into the cake -
                                  here's my recipe - don't know where i got this and I'm sure I've made some changes, and it may not be traditional - but it tastes great!!
                                  Sticky Toffee Pudding

                                  Cake

                                  2 oz ( ¼ c) unsalted butter (room temp)
                                  6 oz (1 c lightly packed) coarsely chopped pitted dates (Medjool if available)
                                  1 tsp baking soda
                                  6 oz ( ¾ c plue 2 tbls) golden super fine sugar (or white superfine sugar)
                                  actually, I think that any granulated sugar would be fine here
                                  1 tsp vanilla extract
                                  2 large eggs
                                  6 oz (1 ¼ c plus 1 tbls) self rising flour sifted

                                  Heat oven to 350F. Butter an 11x7 inch non-stick baking pan (I used a spring form pan), that’s at least 1 inch deep. If the pan is not non-stick, butter bottom and sides and line completely with parchment paper.

                                  Put the dates in a small sauce pan with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Set mixture aside. The mixture will foam and take on a greenish color; this is normal.

                                  Combine the butter and golden sugar in a bowl. Beat with a hand mixer on hight pseed until the mixture is well combined and lighter in color, about four minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

                                  With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and then stir in the date mixture. The batter will be sloppy.

                                  Pour the batter into the pan and bake until it’s risen, a deep golden brown and firm to the touch but still a bit spongy. This will take about 35 to 40 minutes.

                                  Sauce

                                  ½ c packed light or dark muscovado sugar (or light brown sugar)
                                  ¼ c honey
                                  4 oz ( ½ c) unsalted butter
                                  ¼ c heavy cream

                                  Put the sugar, honey and butter in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer and cook until it thickens and gets bubbly (2-3 minutes) Sir in the cream, let it bubble down , and then remove the pan from the heat.

                                  To Serve

                                  Cut the cake into squares, drench with sauce and serve with vanilla ice cream

                                  YUM!!!

                                2. There probably isn't a definitive recipe for that pudding, much like there isn't one for pecan pie - you probably want to find the recipe that tastes like the one you had at Rules, at least as a starting point. You could try writing to them and asking for it.

                                  You could go to the BBC food board and ask about the pudding: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbfood/F2670471 - though you have to go through a moderation period due to several troll incidents they had last year. I'd be happy to post the question for you over there if you would like, just let me know.

                                  All this is making me hanker for all those puddings from boarding school - golden syrup, treacle tart, bakewell - even the lumpy custard was good . . .

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Athena

                                    Chowhound rocks! I was just trying to work this out, I'm trying to find a good recipe for this, it seems to me that the brown sugar butterscotch is the important thing, for me it absolutely has to have dates in. Somehow apricots seem so wrong, but maybe they would be good...

                                    Thanks for all the interesting recipes!

                                  2. There's really only one serious claimant to be the inventor of Sticky Toffee Pudding.

                                    And that's Francis Coulson, the late owner of Sharrow Bay Hotel on Ullswater in Cumbria. I was at the hotel last week and can tell you that it was delicious. A light sponge with a totally rich caramel sauce. Available mail order in the UK.

                                    You come across other versions (such as the product from the Cartmel Village Shop) which are also very tasty but tend to have a different, much denser texture. The Cartmel version is readily available where I am and it's great - but it's much more like a traditional steamed pudding (similar to Christmas pudding in its cooking) than the Sharrow Bay sponge.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: Harters

                                      I have and have made the Francis Coulson/Sharrow Bay Recipe - its published (Im sure not the only time) in a Jane Garmey Cookbook. I will copy it out here when I get home andhave a chance to look at it. Its really a very simple recipe and produces a delicious result.

                                      You definitely need heavy cream for this one. I well remember our first Toffee Sticky pudding, in around 1986 in Cullen, up on he Moray Firth (Scotland) The delicious rich cake, the sauce and the wonderful whipped cream. Yikes that was heaven. Important not to bake the cake too much or it will get too dry.

                                      1. re: jen kalb

                                        I would be very interested, it sounds much more appealing than the heavy one (I like Christmas pudding as much as the next man, well maybe not the next man...) but we always had it with butterscotch sauce and sticky toffee pudding as it reads at least seems Christmas pud redux to me.

                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          Here is the recipe Jane Garmey published in her 1985 Great New British Cooking book. This book contains many recipes from the country house hotels at which British cuisine was being revived at the time. She states: "Francis Coulson of Sharrow Bay and Shawn Hill have very similar versions of this dessert" The book was published for the US market so ingredients measures etc are US therefore it will never be exactly the Coulson recipe and as I read the above she is not exactly claiming it is. So FWIW. We like this recipe, but as I said, its important not to overbake it. Ive dont that a couple times waiting for it to "set"

                                          For the sponge pudding
                                          4 T unsalted butter
                                          1 C sugar
                                          3 eggs
                                          2 C flour
                                          1 C pitted dates, coarsely chopped
                                          1-1/2 t baking soda

                                          for sauce:

                                          1-1/2 C heavy cream or condensed milk
                                          3/4 C dark brown sugar
                                          1 T molasses
                                          4 T unsalted butter

                                          Oven temp - 350 deg F, 9 in square pan, well greased

                                          cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs and fold in flour
                                          bring 1-1/2 C water to boil in pan, add dates; simmer for 2 min then take off heat and stir in soda. The add to batter, and pour mixture into pan. Bake for 30 min or until set.

                                          while the pudding is baking, place all sauce ingredients into a pan, bring slowly to a boil, stirring. Pour a little of the sauce over the hot sponge and return to the oven for a few minutes for the sauce to soak in and bubble.

                                          to serve cut into squares and serve the sauce on the side
                                          (no mention of the freshly whipped cream I love and would serve with this.)

                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                            Good to read Shaun Hill getting a mention. One of the great (almost) unsung heroes of British cuisine. Not yet been to his latest restaurant but it was a great pleasure eating at the Merchant House in Ludlow. I presume that, at the time the book was written he will have been cooking at Gidleigh Park

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              It mentions he was cooking at the time at his own place, Hill's in Stratford upon Avon, previously at the Lygon Arms, as well as his participation in a group of young at the time chefs she calls the "Country Chefs Seven"

                                              Its been a while since I have travelled in the UK but I remember a real excitement around that time. Its amazing how it has flowered.

                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                Gawd...the Lygon Arms. That takes me back many years. I don't recall him cooking there but, for a while, it was one of THE places to eat. Now, unfortunately, very pretentious (perhaps it always was) - and Broadway has to be just about the most cutesy place in England. I'd hate to live there (not least because of the coachloads of foreign tourists who descend every day).

                                                Hill was then certainly one of the influential chefs who pioneered the modern British cuisine - simple ingredients, cooked well and without the French influence of previous decades. I wonder who the other six chefs were - the few internet refs all come back to her.

                                    2. This is the recipe I always make, which I begged for at an Irish country house where we stayed.
                                      STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING
                                      For the cake
                                      8 ounces (225g/generous 1 cup) chopped dates

                                      ½ pint (300ml/1¼ cups) brewed tea

                                      4 ozs. (110g/1 stick) unsalted butter
                                      
6 ozs. (170g/scant 1 cup) castor (superfine) sugar

                                      3 eggs

                                      8 ozs. (225g/scant 1½ cups) self-rising flour

                                      1 rounded teaspoon bread soda (baking soda)

                                      1 teaspoon vanilla essence

                                      1 teaspoon Espresso coffee or 2-3 teaspoons instant espresso

                                      Hot toffee sauce
                                      4 ozs. (100g/1 stick) butter
                                      
6 ozs. (170g/3/4 cup) dark brown sugar

                                      4 ozs. (110g/generous ½ cup) granulated sugar

                                      10 ozs (285g/3/4 cup) golden syrup

                                      8 fl. ozs. (225 ml/1 cup) heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
                                      8-inch (20.5cm) spring form tin with removable base
                                      Set the oven to 350 degrees.

                                      Soak the dates in hot tea for 15 minutes. Brush the cake tin with oil, flour, then put oiled parchment on the base.
                                      Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and then mix in the sifted flour. Add the baking soda, vanilla essence and coffee to the date tea and stir this into the flour mixture. Pour into prepared pan, and cook for 1-1½ hours or until a cake tester comes out clean.
                                      To make the sauce, put the butter, sugars and golden syrup into a heavy bottomed saucepan and melt gently on a low heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes, remove from heat, and gradually stir in the cream and vanilla. Put back on the heat for 2-3 minutes until the sauce is absolutely smooth.
                                      To serve, pour some hot sauce around the cake and pour some additional sauce over the top. Put the remainder in a sauceboat, and serve with the pudding as well as softly whipped cream.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: roxlet

                                        wow--why does this remind me so much of Tres Leches cake? Except it's an Uno Leche Cake. Oh, it's the cream sauce soaking into the warm sponge cake.

                                        Maybe it would be a Tres Leches with TWO sticks of buttah. gosh, no wonder it's good.

                                        1. re: toodie jane

                                          Lol, toodie jane. People who have had it at my house and have asked for the recipe blanch when they see it. But a little slice is enough.