Prohibition and sticky toffee desserts

When I last asked for questions about Britain or the U.S., Dan Antion wrote, “The last night I was in London, I had some kind of gooey toffee desert (sticky something). I wrote my friend in Ipswich and said, ‘why did you send us the Beatles and keep this a secret?’ but he never replied. This makes me think there’s a law against describing that dish. If you choose not to write about this or toffee, I’ll understand (but it will confirm my suspicion).”

Never one to be scared off by sensible considerations or petty legalities, I’ll tell you everything I know on the subject. And more. Much, much more.

Irrelevant photo: a volunteer cyclamen that planted itself by the back door

Irrelevant photo: a volunteer cyclamen that planted itself by the back door

It sounds to me like Dan stumbled into an underground club where sticky toffee pudding was being served on the sly. While he was on the pavement humming “Yellow Submarine” and wondering why colors seemed so vivid suddenly, his friend was whispering a secret word to the tough guy lingering by an unmarked door, who gestured them inside and closed the door behind them. They ate and Dan licked his spoon (desserts here come with a big honkin’ spoon) and wondered why the tastes were as vivid as the colors.

It was something to do with the Beatles.

I can’t promise to reproduce that experience, but through the magic of the internet I have gotten access to several highly encrypted recipes. Being so well hidden, there are, of course, problems.

  1. They’re mostly metric, but if you can decode them, you can make then. And if you can make them, you can eat them. I won’t try to convert them because I tried that once and–well, it was over a year ago and I’m still recovering. So you’ll need a kitchen scale to follow them. Sorry, you American cooks. This involves a smallish investment.
  2. Sticky toffee pudding seems to want self-raising flour, and I never used the stuff in the U.S. It’s sold in the southern states but is rare in the northern states and in Canada—or so the wise old internet informs me. It doesn’t like the cold, I guess, but with global warming its range may be expanding. Even where it’s available, though, it’s apparently formulated differently, so using it could make your recipe go all weird.
  3. British supermarkets sell more kinds of sugar than kinds of baked beans, and they lots of baked beans. Lots and lots of baked beans. Start with granulated, demerara, turbinado, muscovado, then go on for another line or two. Me, I ignore most of this and use either white (that’s called granulated) or brown. I may lose some subtle tastes, but it works. However, I do not now and never have substituted baked beans for sugar in any recipe, nor do I recommend that you try.

In case that isn’t complicated enough, I’m going to give you several recipe links:

Behind door one is one of the rare recipes that doesn’t use self-raising flour. It also doesn’t use dates, which makes me suspicious, because dates seem to be important here.

Behind door two is one that uses both dates and self-raising flour. Don’t rule it out, though, because you can make your own self-raising flour from plain ol’ flour by adding “2 teaspoons of baking powder to each cup (150g) of all-purpose (plain flour).”

Since the recipe calls for 175 grams of flour and since my math is shaky at best, I’d have to double that, then toss the extra—what would it be? 100 grams? 125 grams? a bunch?—over my shoulder and onto the kitchen floor and blame Nigella for the mess since it’s her recipe and her substitution suggestion. Or her team’s. She may no longer exist in person but have been replaced by a team of some sort.

The recipe calls for muscovado sugar. See above. Or see the web site that says, “Sugars like muscovado, demerara, and turbinado have flavor depths and aromatic heights that blow plain ol’ granulated sugar out of the water.” Muscovado has a “very moist texture and a strong molasses flavor.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Me, I wouldn’t put my granulated sugar in the water to start with, so muscovado would have to blow if out of the cupboard. You can get away with brown sugar. Or probably (gasp) white.

Behind door three lurks something scary: the possibility that we’re not looking for sticky toffee pudding at all but sticky toffee cake. But let’s be reckless and yank the thing open it anyway. I didn’t get where I am today by being cautious.

Remind me, would you? Where am I exactly?

Most of the recipes I found for this call for golden syrup, which as far as I know isn’t sold in the U.S. supermarkets, but one doesn’t. For reasons I can’t explain, it pops up behind a box that wants to divert you someplace else entirely, but if you work at it you can still read the recipe.

And then there’s this one that not only doesn’t use golden syrup, it’s measured in cups and baked in Fahrenheit, which makes me think it’s from the U.S.

Sorry, Dan. I’d make this simple if I could but it wouldn’t be half as much fun to write about.


For those of you who are following the pet saga at our house, the Big Guy seems to moved on. He went out on Thursday night and hasn’t come back. I’ve put a notice on the village Facebook page, so people are keeping an eye out for him, but as J. wrote, he seems to have a touch of the wanderer in him. It’s been rainy and cold, but he’s good at letting people know what he needs–that’s how he came to us–so I hope he’s found himself a new home.

44 thoughts on “Prohibition and sticky toffee desserts

  1. Toffee pudding. Toffee cake. I’ve actually haven’t come across any of those. It really must be a British dessert. The only toffee dessert I had as a kid was a sweet – hardened toffee lollies that you suck on in your mouth. I loved those and they left my mouth with a buttery feeling. I also didn’t know there were various recipes for this golden syrup for the toffees. All along I assumed it was just sugary sauce.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They’re very British desserts. Like you, I never heard of toffee anything (until I moved here) except the stuff you describe sucking on as a kid. I did the same. I’m sure if I tried it now it would pull the fillings right out of my teeth.

      I’ve never found out what’s in Golden Syrup. It’s a commercial product used in baking and not sold in the U.S. The syrup that goes over the pudding may be golden but it’s not the Golden Syrup direct from the can (or tin, if I’m using British English)–it’s something that needs a recipe, and of course there are many variations. Sorry if I’m being confusing. My head starts to spin just writing about it.


      • I always thought sucking and chewing on hard toffee had the potential to pull out our biggest teeth… :D I guess we will never know about the Golden Syrup then. It’s a matter of trial and error to get it to taste just right, I suppose.

        Liked by 1 person

        • My suggestion would be to avoid recipes with Golden Syrup. A friend in the U.S. tried substituting something else for it–I can’t remember what–in a different recipe and it didn’t work well. It does mean sorting through the recipes, looking for one with ingredients you can get, but better that than putting a whole bunch of work (and food) into something that isn’t going to come out well.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. mmmmmm sticky toffee pudding!!

    as far as I am aware it doesn’t have dates in….

    I am prepared to be wrong…

    I have looked at the interweb and I am wrong…

    I have never noticed the dates in there…

    now I feel I need to do some direct research.

    I am not sure why I felt the need to put so many ellipses in todays comment…

    but I did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, I know. Then I remind myself that I survived a country that sells white, two kinds of brown, and confectioner’s, and even thought that was normal. So I can manage this. Especially if I don’t use all the extra ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for accepting the challenge, although I think I’m going to double down on the conspiracy theory. They don’t seem to want this secret stuff to escape the island nation. My wife does own a kitchen scale, and she has access to sources of baking supplies that never find their way to the supermarket shelf. This may have to wait until after the holidays, but I’m sending her a link to this in case she wants to do some research.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My first and only encounter with sticky toffee pudding so far was in the form of ice cream. Actually, it was probably the single best dish of ice cream I’ve ever had, which may have been partially due to where I was eating it. (Florean Fortescue’s in Diagon Alley)

    In the US toffee is mostly crunchy hard candy, and almost always comes with chocolate on it. We had to learn to make it after my daughter wanted toffee just plain, and it was not to be found. I’ll have to look into making sticky pudding.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I bought golden syrup here in the States. I live in a southern suburb of Washington DC, and Lyle’s Golden Syrup can be found at Wegmans and Giant. Sometimes it’s in the baking aisle and sometimes in the “International Foods” section.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Most of us did not have Sticky Toffee pudding at school as it is a modern classic. The first public serving was in Ullswater in 1960. It became popular in the 1970s and fell out of fashion – resurrecting itself in the 1990s. I have made every typical British pudding from Plum Duff to Spotted Dick. But as sticky toffee pudding is available cheaply in the supermarkets I just haven’t bothered. I feel I should now that you have written this article

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: How people find a blog, part 5ish | Notes from the U.K.

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.