Sticky fingers

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THERE’S a shop in the picturesque village of Cartmel in Cumbria that attracts visitors from all over the country. For in this little village outpost, over 2,000 sticky toffee puddings are made every week. This is pudding nirvana - a nirvana only the British would ever understand.

We are surely the only country to get so excited about the sight of a steaming hot pudding drowning in vats of custard. From spotted dick and jam roly poly to rhubarb crumble or Eve’s pudding, these dishes have inspired odes of joy over the centuries and are still capable of making strong men and women weak at the knees. Although sticky toffee pudding is not one of our most ancient dishes, it is certainly a contender for the most delicious.

Sticky toffee pudding has a colorful history: the Udny Arms in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire claims to be the "spiritual home" of the pudding after it was first served there in the late 1960s, inspired by an antique local cookbook. In one of my own tattered old tomes, the 1913 Huntly Cookery Book, there is a recipe for a date pudding similar to the classic, but steamed not baked, and instead of the usual toffee sauce it suggests serving with "a sweet sauce". But the Sharrow Bay Restaurant on Lake Ullswater also lays claim to being sticky toffee pudding’s home, for it has been served there since the 1960s. On the menu at Sharrow Bay it is heralded as "Francis Coulson’s Famous and Original Icky Sticky Toffee Sponge" and indeed, is more sponge-like and lighter than the dense, rich puddings we are more familiar with.

Whatever its origins, sticky toffee pudding is decidedly British and is certainly a treat worth making properly. The puddings from the Cartmel Village shop include butter not margarine, only free-range eggs and local double cream to ensure a truly special pud.

Another great pudding is banoffee pie, which is often wrongly presumed to be American in origin. It was ‘invented’ at the Hungry Monk Restaurant in East Sussex 30 years ago. I know people boiled up cans of milk long before that to make a toffee pie but it is Nigel Mackenzie, owner of the Hungry Monk, whose recipe is now used (and, sadly, abused) all over the UK. Mackenzie’s recipe uses a shortcrust - never biscuit - base and it has a coffee-flavoured cream on top. He says the actual name banoffee was only ever intended to be temporary, but it stuck. Rather like the toffee to your teeth.

Sticky toffee pudding

serves 6 - 8

Adding lime zest and juice is my personal preference: the tangy edge balances an otherwise sweetish pud

175g stoned dates, chopped

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

175g butter, softened

150g light muscovado sugar

the grated zest of 1 lime

1tbsp black treacle

2 large free-range eggs

175g self-raising flour, sifted


100g butter

200g light muscovado sugar

200ml double cream

1tbsp lime juice

Place the chopped dates in a bowl with the bicarbonate of soda and cover with 300 ml boiling water. Leave to cool.

Cream the butter, sugar and lime zest together with the treacle until fluffy then gradually beat in the eggs. Fold in the flour alternately with the date mixture (and its liquid). Tip into a deep ovenproof dish and bake at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 40-45 minutes. Check it is cooked by inserting cocktail stick to centre.

For the sauce, bring everything slowly to the boil then bubble away for 3-4 minutes. Once the pudding is done, pour most of the sauce over the top, leaving about a cupful to hand round separately. Place the dish under a preheated grill for about 2 minutes, until bubbling and sticky. (Or return to the oven for 4-5 minutes). Serve with pouring cream and extra sauce.

Banoffee Pie

serves 6 - 8

Instead of using boiled condensed milk for the toffee, you can use Argentinian dulce de leche (available under the Merchant Gourmet label) - you will need about 11/2 jars.

Use a shortcrust pastry base if you prefer.

200g digestive biscuits, crumbed

75g butter, melted

2 x 400g cans of condensed milk

3 large bananas, peeled, thinly sliced

450 ml double cream

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

a little freshly ground coffee

Combine the biscuits and butter, press into the base and sides of a 24cm flan tin. Chill.

Place the cans of milk in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer, covered, for 3 hours, checking and topping up water regularly.

Remove and cool completely.

Open cold tins, spread the toffee carefully over base then top with bananas.

Whip the cream with the vanilla to soft peaks, pile over then sprinkle with coffee. Chill before serving.

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