A rich molasses-flavored sponge cake made with golden syrup and dates topped with a buttery toffee sauce, these easy sticky toffee pudding cakes are quintessentially British and absolutely delicious!
[August, 2020: I've reworked the recipe and updated this post with all new pictures. Enjoy!]
Why this recipe works
- Traditional British sticky toffee pudding cake is made with dates, molasses, and golden syrup giving the sponge cake a rich flavor
- Individual portions are easy to bake, freeze, and serve
- The toffee sauce comes together in a snap
And with British books, shows, and movies like Harry Potter and Outlander added to the mix, and we seem to seek out more traditional British recipes like Trifle, Treacle Tarts, Cranachan, and Butterbeer.
A traditional British Sticky Toffee Pudding cake made authentically with dates, molasses (aka black treacle in the UK), and golden syrup fits the bill nicely!
What is Sticky Toffee Pudding?
Oh yes, I forgot to explain...to an American, pudding is soft, squishy, extremely yummy creamy custard, with flavors like vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, etc. In the UK, British pudding is a broader term referring to any dessert (although you can have savory puddings as well...think Yorkshire pudding).
Here’s how pudding is defined by British Food: A History, "If you are British and trying to explain the word to a foreigner the answer is surprisingly difficult. In America, it is a simple answer: a dessert. ... The true puddings are those that are boiled or steamed. Christmas puddings, suet puddings and sponge puddings fit into this category. In fact, anything boiled or steamed in a basin, cloth or handy piece of intestinal tract is a pudding."
The site goes on that English Sticky Toffee Pudding isn’t really a true pudding (it's not boiled or steamed), blah, blah, blah…frankly my head started to hurt and really, does it matter?
What you need
To my American eye, the names of some of the ingredients you'd find in a traditional Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe (black treacle, bicarbonate of soda, stoned dates) seem exotic and precious. But tell me that those items are just molasses, baking soda, and pitted dates, and the picture becomes clearer. Maybe that’s just me.
Dates: Softened dates are a key feature of a Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe. They melt into the cake, adding an intense sugary sweetness.
Molasses: Another key feature of Sticky Toffee Pudding cake recipes, molasses adds its rich, sweet but slightly burnt flavor to the cake.
Brown sugar: Using dark brown sugar enhances the molasses flavor along with adding sweetness.
Golden syrup: An invert sugar product along the lines of honey, agave, or brown rice syrup, golden syrup has a flavor like melted brown sugar crossed with butter.
You can usually find golden syrup in major supermarkets where the British foods are displayed. If you can't find golden syrup, order it online or substitute with another invert sugar. Just be aware that these substitutions can affect the final flavor.
Flour: Needed for the cake's structure.
Butter: Along with adding richness and flavor, butter helps trap air in the cake batter, helping with the rise.
Leaveners: Both baking powder and baking soda are used in the sticky toffee pudding cake. The baking powder helps the cake to rise, while the baking soda softens the dates.
Eggs: Adds richness and flavor along with moisture to the cake.
Flavorings: Vanilla extract adds floral undertones to the filling, and salt helps balance out the sweetness.
The English Toffee Sauce only needs 4 ingredients, heavy cream, butter, brown sugar, and golden syrup, and takes about 5 minutes to make. Super simple!
How to make Sticky Toffee Pudding cake
Step 1: Soften the dates
Boil the roughly chopped pitted dates in some water for a couple of minutes, then add the baking soda (photo 1). This helps to keep them soft as they bake.
Step 2: Make the cake batter
Beat the butter, golden syrup, brown sugar, and molasses with a hand mixer until soft and creamy, then beat in the vanilla and eggs (photo 2).
Fold in the flour, baking powder, salt, and dates (with their liquid) and mix to a smooth consistency (photo 3).
Step 3: Bake the cakes
Pour into 6-ounce and/or 8-ounce ramekins that have been sprayed with baking spray (the 8-ounce ramekins serve two in our house). Bake the cakes at 350°F for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean (photo 4).
Remove the baking pan from the oven and place the ramekins onto a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes. Unmold them onto the wire rack and cool about 5 to 10 minutes more.
Step 4: Make the toffee sauce
While the sponge cakes are cooling, you can make the Toffee Sauce. Just combine the heavy cream, butter, brown sugar, and golden syrup into a saucepan and heat until the brown sugar is melted and the sauce is smooth (photo 5).
Pour the toffee sauce onto the warm cakes and serve.
You can make the cakes 2 days ahead of when you're planning to serve them. Let them cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature. For longer storage, wrap the cakes tightly with plastic wrap, place in a plastic ziplock bag, and store in the freezer for 2 to 3 months. Thaw them on the counter and reheat at 325˚F just until warm.
The toffee sauce will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 weeks. Reheat it gently in microwave at 30-second intervals or in a small saucepan over medium-low.
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions you might have...
Use golden syrup as you would corn syrup, maple syrup, or honey in recipes, like in Dark Chocolate Hot Fudge or even in Whisky Marshmallows. The flavor is a little deeper than honey, more like liquified brown sugar.
If you can't find golden syrup, you can substitute honey, agave syrup, or brown rice syrup. Just be aware that these substitutions can affect the flavor of the sponge cakes.
If you have pitted dates left over from this recipe, it's best to store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container. They will stay soft and fresh up to a year. At room temperature, pitted dates will stay fresh in an airtight container for 1 to 3 months.
Pro Tip: Choose your preferred cake presentation style
You can choose whether to make one large cake or individual portions. Having single serving ramekins helps with portion control. I use a combination of 6-ounce and 8-ounce ramekins, or sometimes a standard muffin pan.
If you prefer one large cake instead of individual portions, you can use a 9-inch round cake pan or a 9- x 9-inch baking pan that's been sprayed with baking spray and lined with parchment paper. Bake the sponge cake at 375˚F for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
One American's opinion of this British pudding
The final product? Absolutely wonderful!
Sticky Toffee Pudding has the deep flavor of a molasses cake or gingerbread, but sweeter. The dates melt into the cake, adding richness without being cloying. Truly, you won't know they're there.
The toffee sauce brings its own unique buttery flavor. It's also yummy poured over vanilla ice cream or eaten straight with a spoon (although I will not confirm nor deny having done that).
Since you can make and freeze the cakes, this easy traditional British Sticky Toffee Pudding belongs on your dessert table anytime. And for more sticky goodness, check out my Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding for a Fall flair of this dish!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
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British Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
- hand mixer
For the cake
- 1¼ cups dates, pitted, roughly chopped
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup golden syrup, see Recipe Notes
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses, unsulfured, not blackstrap
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the toffee sauce
- ⅔ cup heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup light brown sugar
- 4½ tablespoons golden syrup
- Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Spray your preferred combination of 6-ounce ramekins and 8-ounce ramekins with baking spray (the 8-ounce ramekins serve two in our house). Set aside.
- Put the dates into a saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. The mixture will foam up, so be prepared.
- In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter, golden syrup, brown sugar, and molasses with a hand mixer until light and creamy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the vanilla.
- Fold in the flour, baking powder, salt, and dates (with their liquid) and mix to a smooth consistency. Spoon into the prepared ramekins and place them onto a half sheet baking pan.
- Bake the cakes on the middle shelf for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Remove the baking pan from the oven and place the ramekins onto a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes. Unmold them onto the wire rack and cool about 5 to 10 minutes more.
- Make the toffee sauce: While the cakes are cooling, combine the heavy cream, butter, brown sugar, and syrup in a medium saucepan. Stir together over a low heat until the brown sugar has dissolved and the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Pour the toffee sauce onto the warm cakes and serve.
- Storage instructions: You can make the cakes 2 days ahead of when you're planning to serve them. Let them cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature. For longer storage, wrap the cakes tightly with plastic wrap, place in a plastic ziplock bag, and store in the freezer for 2 to 3 months. Thaw them on the counter and reheat at 325˚F just until warm.
- The toffee sauce will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 weeks. Reheat it gently in microwave at 30-second intervals or in a small saucepan over medium-low.