Greetings from the ice rink which is still Atlanta. I'm happy to report that both Henry and I remain alive, having not yet killed each other after two days trapped in the house together. (Notice I say "not yet.") We've had a few skirmishes (inevitable) but we're hanging in fairly well. Of course, all bets are off if we lose power (due to the ice weighing down the thousands of trees in our neighborhood). Prayers that it doesn't happen would be appreciated!
It's pretty amazing though, when the highlight of your day is a walk (slide, actually) halfway down the hill which is our street.
So if you are me, you will define a cooking project for yourself and head to the kitchen. Calories be damned!
In perusing my recipe files (in lieu of a newspaper this morning; they can't get around the city to deliver them),
I came across recipes for sticky toffee pudding from two restaurants here in Atlanta: 4th and Swift and Holeman and Finch. "Great," I thought, "I'll make both of them and decide which one is better." A restaurant showdown, of sorts.
The good news is I have a fully stocked pantry. Need chocolate? I have tons of it. Flour? Sugar? No problem. I even have pitted dates. Guess my survivalist instincts are serving me well right now. I'm a little low on heavy cream, but there are plenty of eggs and a gallon of milk in my fridge. Dessert anyone? No problem ... even when smack in the middle of Snowmageddon.
Long story short, I embarked upon the Sticky Toffee Project. Made both recipes and began to draw my conclusions. Until......
Oh, hell. I know way too much about the Atlanta restaurant scene. I suddenly recalled that the pastry chef from Holeman and Finch (Chrysta Umberger) had migrated to 4th and Swift. Obviously her recipe went with her. Well, duh! So much for my little restaurant war.
Nonetheless, the two recipes were slightly different. The 4th and Swift version (recently voted by the local paper as one of the best dishes in the city) was straightforward and unpretentious. The Holeman and Finch adaptation had a few more layers of flavor due to the addition of rum in the batter and rum, dark brown sugar and a handful of chocolate chips in the sauce.
The winner? Well......... I liked the "cake" part from the Holeman and Finch recipe best, but I didn't care for the chocolate in the sauce. As for the 4th and Swift variation, I liked the sauce better, but still thought it needed a little more punch. I consulted with my son Andy, whose food instincts and palate I trust implicitly.
Here is our winning result.
For the cake:
8 oz. pitted, chopped dates
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg (I used extra-large)
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch rectangular pan. Line bottom with parchment paper and grease that as well. Set aside.
Place dates and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla extract. Let cool for 15 - 20 minutes or until just lukewarm.
In electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl several times. Add the egg and rum and beat until just combined. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the cooled date mixture and combine gently. Add to butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Do not overbeat.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden and sides pull slightly away from the pan, 20 - 25 minutes.
For the sauce:
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper (ground)
Place brown sugar, butter, cream and rum in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly and large bubbles appear. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract, salt and cayenne.
Use a skewer or toothpick to poke holes all over top of cake. Spoon 1/2 of the sauce over, allowing it to soak into cake. Return cake to oven for 5 minutes or until sauce starts to bubble and cake is heated through. Let cool briefly, then serve with remaining sauce and freshly whipped cream, if desired.
Serves 10 - 12
* This is a wonderful ooey-gooey dessert, perfect for those times when you are stuck in the house for an extended period and have nothing better to do than stuff yourself repeatedly and watch your thighs expand by the minute.
* Don't let the dates deter you from trying this recipe. You won't even know they are in there. When combined with the hot water and baking soda, they just dissolve into kind of a "mush" which gives the finished dish texture and a depth of flavor.
* Looks like we are in for another 2 to 3 days of this ridiculous captivity. I could be in big trouble......size 18X, here I come!