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Comforting Food

Sticky Toffee Pudding Recipe

No matter where you go you will see the famous Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding for sale, from the most prestigious department stores in central London to the smallest of farm shops in the remotest corner of Scotland; and every time it makes me smile.

I think by now readers of my column will be perhaps more than slightly aware of my love and pride for this county, which is something that I struggled with during my time living away in Scotland. I was constantly homesick, which led to a slightly embarrassing tearing up after hearing the awful Westlife cover version of ‘Home’, something my wife still likes to give me stick about to this day! But there was always a portion sticky toffee pudding there to comfort me and remind me of this great county.

I think the thing that makes it most special for me is that it was something I always made in my parent’s pub. I always used Gary Rhodes’ recipe from ‘Rhodes around Britain’, my favourite cookery program and chef cookbook of all time. In it Gary credited Francis Coulson, chef and owner of Sharrow Bay on the shores of Ullswater for the recipe and the invention of the dessert. This has always led me to believe that for all awards and accolades that you can achieve as a chef the truest measure of success must be the legacy you leave behind, and this must surely make Francis Coulson the greatest chef Cumbria has ever seen.

With this in mind and the strong influence the county has on the menu we serve at the restaurant, I have tried many times to include it. We used to have a macaron inspired by it and I attempted to devise a modern version, which involved making a traditional pudding then dehydrated the whole thing, then blitzing it to a powder, then caramelised it in sugar, blitzed it again, then baked the powder to make a sugar tuile, which tasted just like the pudding but with a different texture. Finally we finished it with a toffee gel. Sadly, it just didn’t work and never left the kitchen. Last year we tried to make a perfect version of the sponge and reheated it in the toffee sauce, so it was super sticky, this one was really good but not unique so only lasted for a few days on the menu.

This year I was going to move on and give up, but then I found myself near Ullswater, at a farm on the opposite side of the lake to Sharrow Bay, which I could see quite clearly across the water. It was quite upsetting to see possibly one of the most famous country house hotels closed up and no longer open. I thought to myself perhaps that’s just a sign of the times? Afterall the famous ‘Michael’s Nook’ has been gone for years, and Miller Howe, I believe, is being turned into a private home. Perhaps that’s helpless sense of inevitability whilst looking across the water at Sharrow sparked something in me, whatever it was I found myself thinking, let’s try again.

A week later it came to me on the way home in my car; the dish and the recipe. So, as soon as I got home, I placed an order for dates and a few other bits and bobs, the next day when I got in Will my Sous Chef was in the process of returning it all to the suppliers, thinking there had been a mistake. Later in the day after prep was done and were setting up for lunch service I found I had a spare 10 minutes and that was all I needed to try the idea out and this time it worked!

The next day it went on the menu and I’m confident that the Sticky Toffee Pudding souffle will be on the menu now for a while to come. Better still and to top it off I’ve been told that Sharrow Bay might still yet survive, and a great Cumbrian Chef may yet return to the famous stoves, which I deeply hope happens and the rumours are true!

For this recipe I’m not going to give you the souffle recipe - I want to keep that to myself for a little longer. The recipe I’m going to give you is the original recipe I used when I was younger and our toffee sauce that we have given a twist with Jeffersons’ rum. As a last note whilst researching this recipe I came across a story that Francis shared in later life. He admitted that the recipe was given to him by Mrs Martin from Lancashire; he just renamed it. Later after the death of Mrs Martin her son added to the mystery by saying that she had been given the recipe by a Canadian friend. No matter what the truth of the origin, sticky toffee pudding will always be Cumbrian to me and take me home no matter where I am in the world.

Ingredients for the pudding:

50g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to butter the dish 175g dates, chopped 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 175g caster sugar 2 eggs 175g self-raising flour 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the sauce:

115ml double cream 125g muscovado sugar 80g butter

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon Jefferson’s Rum


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a baking tin about 20 cm x 13 cm (8 x 5 inches).

Boil the dates in 300ml water until soft, then remove the pan from the heat and drain any liquid. Add the bicarbonate of soda to the dates.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the eggs and beat well. Mix in the flour, date mixture and vanilla extract and pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 30–40 minutes, until just firm to the touch.

To make the sauce, boil the cream, butter and sugar together, add a pinch of salt and Jefferson’s Rum to taste.

Cut the sponge into squares, serve with the sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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