Sticky Toffee Pudding, Rum Ice Cream, Caramel

Sticky Toffee Pudding, a classic British dessert, has quickly become one of our favorite sweet dishes. The first time we tried it was at Feast restaurant in Houston where they make an outstanding version. It’s gooey, rich and sweet with deep mildly bitter toffee flavor. Feast’s version has become our gold standard and none we’ve tried have come close.

The recipe for the cakes is one I had seen in an old Food and Wine issue years ago. For some reason that recipe stuck with me and I finally got around to giving it a try. Basically Sticky Toffee Pudding consists of a cake made with lots of dates then the cake gets soaked in a rich toffee (caramel) sauce. I also like that the recipe from F&W uses no spices in the batter mix that could overpower the flavor of the dates and caramel. Options to how the cake is baked, in what pan and how the toffee is incorporated vary a bit. You could bake the cake in a baking dish and top it with toffee while warm. Another option is to introduce the sauce in the bowls only when serving the warm cake. The pudding can also be baked, un-molded and then somehow dipped in toffee, covered with it and returned to the pan.

My favorite option is the one where the puddings are individual cakes. This way you get a very nice serving that looks neat and more importantly it has a nice ratio of cake to toffee sauce. I used my dome shaped stainless steel molds to bake the cakes and I unfortunately filled them a bit too much it seems. So, the batter overflowed on most of them while baking. That’s mostly a shame since it wasted what could’ve been one more delicious dome-shaped cake. As far as aesthetics, the cakes needed to be trimmed anyways and those trimmings sure did not go to waste.

I made the toffee sauce while the cakes baked by simmering a load of butter, cream and sugar together  until the mixture caramelized. Then more cream is added in until you get a deep dark and insanely delicious caramel sauce. I made half the amount of sauce in the recipe and still ended up with an extra jar of toffee sauce that I saved and am using for ice cream topping, brownies or just to eat with a spoon.

This pudding is typically served with clotted cream, lightly sweetened cream or maybe even custard. I wanted to serve it with ice cream that would complement it perfectly. Something that is a bit sharp but that would work well with the flavors of caramel and dates. I’ve been using the recipes from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home book almost exclusively for a while now. Her flavors are great but more importantly her base recipe is simple, uses few ingredients and results in ice cream with a perfect texture right out of the freezer. I opened the book for ideas and found her recipe for Cognac Ice Cream. Bingo! Alcohol sounds great with this dessert, but instead of cognac I went with dark rum.

At service time, I cut the cakes in half horizontally and put a tablespoon of toffee sauce in each of the metal molds that I used to bake them in. I then layered the cakes back in the molds with toffee in between the layers and on top. These went back in the oven for a short while until they got bubbly and soaked up the toffee. I served them with a nice oval of ice cream, some more toffee sauce on the plate and a smear of store-bought Dulce de Leche (the lighter colored sauce). How did it compare to our favorite pudding from Feast? It is pretty much a perfect match. The taste and texture were just about perfect and the rum ice cream worked just as well as I imagined.

A Superb Pineapple Upside Down Cake

The saying “Tastes like Sunshine” has to be one of the most clichéd terms in the food writing and TV world and its pretty damn stupid. What does sunshine taste like anyways? Maybe I’ll ask the next food critic who puts it in their review of a restaurant and its cooking. So, I’ll avoid saying it but I’ll admit that this was the first thing that came to mind when I unmolded this fragrant cake out of its baking pan. Sunshine. It sure looks like sunshine.

It’s also a bit of a cliché to state that this is the ultimate example of its kind. However, in my opinion, it sure is. I have never tasted a better pineapple upside down cake. It’s not too sweet, has none of those shitty fake-tasting “Maraschino” cherries and just brims with the flavors of ripe fresh pineapple, a hint of rum and soft vanilla cake. It really amazed me how good it turned out, especially since making it was sort of an afterthought. I had a pineapple and needed some dessert for a dinner of pork chops and bbq chicken and I remembered seeing it in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book (that book has never disappointed yet). It came together in no time. Keller proves that to make the best pineapple cake all you need is fresh fruit and a handful of pantry staples. Canned sugary fruit be damned.

I first cut up the pineapple into wedges about a 1/4 inch thick and maybe 2 inches wide. Then I made a “shmear” from brown sugar, butter and rum. That gets spread in the bottom of a cake pan in an even layer with a sprinkling of salt. The pineapple pieces get shingled on top of the “shmear”. The cake portion is a straight forward vanilla cake made by creaming butter and sugar then adding eggs and flour. That gets spread on top of the fruit (I sprayed the pan with a little “Pam for Baking” before adding the batter since I was not using a silicone pan) and the pan gets baked (and smells great) until the cake is firm and light brown. After it rests for 20 minutes or so, you turn it over on a cake stand or plate and there it is: the most amazing Pineapple Upside Down Cake ever. It went so well with both kids and adults, that I barely was able to sneak a slice and save it for myself to taste it.

Orange Babas, Burnt Orange Marmalade and Buckwheat Streusel

 A good portion of the desserts I make are an excuse to make ice cream. Maybe not an excuse, but certainly they are based on and inspired by the ice cream. This one is no different. This one also falls in the category of desserts that still need some work, it’s missing something and I am just not sure what that is exactly. Some color would be nice for sure. On the plus side, it did taste great and my ice cream quenelles are getting much better! I’ve been wanting to make the “Burnt Orange Marmalade Ice Cream” from Frozen Desserts by Francisco Migoya for quiet some time now, and I finally got around to it. Frozen Desserts is an excellent book about the subject, but it is not really designed with a home-cook in mind. Instead it is geared for pastry professionals and restaurateurs. So this recipe in the book makes 5 Kilograms of ice cream base! That is way more than I need to make or can feasibly consume. So I had to reduce it down to a manageable amount and came up with the recipe at the end of the post. It worked very well and made a delicious and intense ice cream.

To make a plated dessert I remembered those Babas from Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake book and decided to serve them with the ice cream and some whipped cream. Babas are cakes made from a batter that is leavened with yeast and are usually soaked in a sugar syrup spiked with lots of rum (officially known as Baba au Rhum). The same batter is sometimes baked in a round tube pan called Savarin. The resulting rum syrup soaked cake is then called a Savarin au Rhum. I love this cake in all it’s variations due to no small part to the fact that it is one of the first cakes I remember tasting at my uncle’s pastry shop in Lebanon. Whenever I visit him now, I still always eat a Baba au Rhum.

Malgieri’s recipe for the Babas was good but I should’ve trusted my normal process and allowed the cakes to cool and dry overnight before soaking them in the syrup (sugar, water, vanilla seeds, lavender buds, orange zest, Grand Marnier and Rum). That would’ve given them a better texture. I also baked the batter in pans of different shapes. Half was baked in a dome mold and the other half was baked in Canele molds. I liked the smaller ones baked in the Canele molds a lot more. They looked great, soaked up more syrup and had a perfect size for one portion. I then reduced the soaking syrup to a sauce consistency to serve with the plated dessert.

 For a different flavor profile, to stand up to the sweetness and for textural contrast, I made the buckwheat streusel from this Alinea recipe. I love this stuff and I can eat it sprinkled on almost any ice cream. I bet it works great as a topping or a base for a spicy pumpkin dessert. Really, without the streusel the dish would’ve been too much of one thing -orange. It also would’ve been too sweet. The final garnish was plain unsweetened whipped cream.


Burnt Orange Marmalade Ice Cream

Burnt Orange Marmalade Base

  • 1000gr Navel Oranges, sliced 0.5 cm thick, ends removed
  • 1000gr Sugar
  • 1000gr Milk

Ice Cream Base

  • 700gr Milk infused with the Orange Marmalade
  • 158gr Heavy Cream
  • 120gr Egg Yolks
  • 300gr Burnt Orange Marmalade from infused milk

For the Marmalade Infusion: Blanch oranges in boiling water three times, changing the water between blanches. Weigh out the oranges and weigh an equal amount of sugar (about 1000gr).

Place both in a large pot and cook over low heat to 190C/380F. You will probably need to move the mixture into a smaller pot halfway through the cooking process to keep the thermometer properly submerged. Pour the mixture into a sheet pan and spread to cool. Once cooled it will harden and won’t be very smooth. That will dissolve though once the marmalade is infused in the milk. Break up and add the marmalade to the milk and allow to infuse for 2 hours.

For the Ice Cream Base:

Make a traditional cooked custard on stove top or sous Vide (82 C) using 772.5gr infused milk. Churn the ice cream base and stir in the 300gr of reserved Orange Marmalade.