Sydney Morning Herald writer, David Dale, nominated Sticky Date Pudding as the signature dish of 1984. There’s no doubt the dessert was ubiquitous on a certain kind of Australian menu around then, but the origins of the dish hark back to England two decades earlier. The invention of what is known in the UK as Sticky Toffee Pudding is generally attributed to Francis Coulson of the Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel in England’s Lake District in 1960, although this has been challenged by writers from Scotland and Yorkshire.
Francis Coulson acquired the Sharrow Bay property in 1947, more or less inventing the concept of the country house hotel. He was joined in 1952 by Brian Sack, an ex-Spitfire pilot which, according to the official history (now sadly offline) ‘freed Mr Coulson to work in the kitchen’.
There are various stories about how Francis came upon the recipe for the sticky date pudding. One version suggests that Brian Sack had seen Canadian pilots using maple syrup during his time in the RAF, and this inspired the syrupy sauce.
Another story is that Coulson acquired the recipe from a Mrs Patricia Martin of The Old Rectory in Claughton, Lancashire and that she, in turn, had obtained the recipe from a Canadian friend. Mrs Martin evidently published her recipe in what later became The Good Food Guide Dinner Party Book. Either way, it seems there’s a Canadian connection.
All things considered, it appears that the Sharrow Bay team are the most likely candidates as the inventors of the dessert and hence of what we in Australia and New Zealand know as sticky date pudding. The recipe (which may or may not be how they do it at Sharrow Bay) is pretty simple, but not for the calorie-conscious:
200 g light soft brown sugar
100 double cream
150 g butter
50 g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
175 g dates, stoned and chopped
300 ml cold water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175 g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
175 g self-raising flour, sifted
Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C. Grease an 18cm square cake tin and set aside.
Put dates in a pan with the water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda and set aside.
Beat the butter until creamy, then beat in the sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, until smooth, then stir in vanilla extract. Sift in the flour and fold to combine. Fold in the dates and their liquid.
Pour the pudding batter into the tin and bake for 30 minutes or until firm and risen.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing all the sauce ingredients in a pan and bringing to the boil, stirring frequently. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Preheat the grill to high. Pour half of the sauce over the pudding to evenly coat it, then grill for 2-3 minutes or until it’s bubbling and just browned. Divide the pudding into 6 and serve with the remaining sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.