Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding

photos by Summer Stetter
"One of these days, I'm gonna sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I've known..." is a Neil Young song that ran through my head as I mulled over all the friends I've had through the years who have in some indelible way shaped who I am as a person today. What is it that is said about friendship, that you can't put a price tag on it? Good thing because according to Facebook I have 218 friends. And while I value each and every one of those people I have known and the mark they made on my life, the reality is there are very few "lifers", the friends I'll be sitting and laughing with on a porch in 35 years. And every once in a while, you find a person who blurs the line between family and friend and find a sibling that you were separated from at birth. Freya is just such a friend.
Photo by Summer Stetter
We met at someone's graduation party late spring 1998 and have been through some very high highs as well as some low lows together. She's funny and passionate, interested, and sweet, and like any good sister, can be annoying as hell, although I can't remember any such instances just now. She has many lovely qualities but the thing I find so enduringly beautiful about her is her honesty, both of herself and with those around her, and her unwavering pursuit of truth. She's the kind of friend who won't fib when you ask her if your butt looks good in those jeans, but more importantly, the friend who will tell you when you are being a selfish ass. Everyone needs a Freya-friend.

This past November, she and another dear friend, Debbie, flew me out to Seattle for a weekend of rest and relaxation. The highlight of our time together was an amazing prix-fixe tasting meal at the Inn at Langley compliments of the amazing chef Matt Costello. My favorite course was a dessert of Sticky Toffee Pudding with Green Apple Sorbet and Toffee Sauce. Debbie commented that all three flavors together were reminiscent of a Caramel Apple, which was brilliant, if deliberate, since the night we ate there was Halloween.

Freya and I couldn't stop raving about the pudding so as soon as I returned home, I started searching for a good Sticky Toffee recipe and finally hit on a gem. The "sticky" comes from the cup and a half of dates, which carry a natural caramel flavor of their own. After doing some research, I'm still unsure as to the difference between toffee and caramel. In some definitions and recipes, it's the inclusion of cream that makes the caramelization of sugar "caramel", but other recipes claim the adverse to be true. There are those who will tell you toffee isn't toffee without nuts. It's a point I don't care to quibble about; I'd rather get my spoon in my mouth. You will want to as well. It's achingly good. The warm toffee enveloping the pudding with the sharp, tart, cold sorbet on the tongue feels the way my face does after a run in winter, blithering hot with a sting of cold. The warmth of the pudding is the perfect foil to this mid-winter high of 5 degrees, or even Seattle's balmy-by-comparison 35 degrees. It's meant to be shared with good friends, maybe with a finger of Scotch, or savored in bed with the hubby while watching "Spooks".

So without further ado, Freya, here's your recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding w/Apple Sorbet
1 3/4 cups packed pitted dates (I buy Deglet dates in the cold case at our co-op or Calmyra in Whole Foods Bulk Section)
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs

For Sauce:
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla (optional)

Grease and flour 8x8 baking pan. Preheat oven to 375. Coarsely chop the dates then put them in a saucepan, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then off the heat and add the baking soda. Mixture will foam, stir it well to mix, then let sit for 20 minutes.

While dates are sitting, cream the butter and sugar together. Sift dry ingredients together. Add eggs one at a time, then add flour mixture in thirds. Add dates and quickly fold in with wooden spoon.

Pour batter into pan, set pan into larger pan and fill the larger pan half-way up the side of smaller pan with boiling water. Place in middle of oven and bake for 45-55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Set on rack to cool.

To Make Sauce:
Melt butter in saucepan. Add brown sugar and mix together well. Bring to a boil, add cream and vanilla and simmer for at least 5 minutes, until mixture thickens.

For Sorbet (This can be made ahead a few days):
8oz. tart green apple puree
8oz. sparkling apple juice or cider
5oz. simple syrup (1 part water to 2 parts sugar, bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes)

Strain the puree then mix with other ingredients and freeze in ice cream maker.

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