Friday, June 28, 2013

English cuisine

No, this is not an oxymoron, I swear. Really, it’s not.

During the near-decade that we lived in Oxford, one of the questions I was most commonly asked about England by non-English people was, “How’s the food?” Usually accompanied by an anticipatory grimace, prompted by all the stories they’d heard about awful English food, or by memories of crummy meals they’d eaten themselves in tourist-trap London pubs.

My standard answer was not what they expected. I usually responded, “Expensive.”

Oxford is by far the most expensive place I have ever lived, and we spent our whole time there living on essentially one income. (First DP was a student and I worked full-time; then he worked full-time and I worked part-time and looked after Miss B.) Even grocery shopping was pricey, and eating out was an occasional luxury, usually involving a cheap-and-cheerful curry at our favorite Indian or burgers at one of the local pubs.

But once in a blue moon, we’d get the chance for a really nice meal out – visiting parents, work dos, or a splurge we’d saved up for. It was at one of these that I first discovered sticky toffee pudding. From then on, I sought it out whenever I went to a restaurant serving classic English food. It is far and away my favorite example of true English sweet cookery a sucker-punch of moist, rich, toffee-soaked deliciousness. It's the perfect end to a Sunday lunch on a cold winter day.

Sticky toffee pudding
Adapted from
Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey
My main adaptation of this recipe was to halve it, and even this makes for 6 serious servings. The original recipe suggests baking the cake in a muffin tin for ease of serving later; I use my dessert shell pan, which cooks the batter into 6 cakes, each with a bowl-shaped indentation in the top, the better to fill with toffee sauce and ice cream.

1 cup/6 oz/180 g chopped dates
.75 cup/6 oz/180 ml water
.75 tsp/4 g baking soda/bicarbonate of soda (divided)
1 cup/4 oz/120 g all-purpose/plain flour
pinch salt
.5 tsp/3 g baking powder
.75 stick/3 oz/90 g butter, at room temperature
.75 cup/6 oz/180 g firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp/5 ml vanilla

Toffee sauce
1 stick/4 oz/120 g butter
1.5 cup/12 oz/360 g firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup/8 oz/240 ml heavy cream
.5 tsp/3 ml vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C and grease baking pan.

Cake Combine dates and water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a boil. Let simmer, uncovered, until all the water is absorbed, 10-15 minutes, and the dates have softened. Remove pan from heat, stir in .5 tsp of the baking soda, set aside for about 15-20 minutes while you get on with the rest of the process.

Sift together flour, salt, remaining baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside. In a medium-large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Fold the dates into the batter, followed by the dry ingredients, until just combined.

Divide the cake mixture evenly among the 6 cups, then place pan in the oven. Bake until a tester comes out clean, 15-25 minutes.

Toffee sauce Combine butter and sugar in a medium-large saucepan over medium-low heat, and let them melt together, 5-10 minutes. Add the cream, vanilla, and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens, stirring often, for another 5-10 minutes.

Assembly Spoon 1 large tablespoon of warm sauce into each serving bowl, then place cake bowl on top. Drizzle another 2 tablespoons into each cake bowl and over the sides. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and serve warm.

Serves 6 generous portions.


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