Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Valentine's Day Date Cake (aka Sticky Toffee Pudding)

When I think of Valentine's Day, I think of having a "date night."  Perhaps it is a dinner at a really great restaurant followed by an amazing dessert I probably wouldn't have normally or a quiet dinner at home cooking with my husband.   I figure if you are going to indulge, why not just once on Valentine's Day?  This is an indulgent dessert.  Not low fat.  Not low sugar.  It is pure decadence.   If you choose to indulge, I have the perfect dessert for you and I call it the Valentine's Day Date Cake otherwise known as Sticky Toffee Pudding.  

A few years back I was sent abroad for a business meeting and training with a retailer in London.  This was my first time in Europe and I couldn't be more excited.  My boss said if there was one thing I must do in London, it was to have sticky toffee pudding.  This sounded a little gross at first.  Who would want pudding that had sticky toffee in it?  Little did I know that in England "pudding" means "cake."  I visited Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge and had lunch on the rooftop.  Following the most amazing crayfish salad, the waiter brought me the sticky toffee pudding.  I remember sitting with our other employee and being completely speechless after I took a bite.  It was almost as if all went quiet and I could hear the heavens open up and sing "you have arrived to dessert heaven."  Upon returning home, I found Whole Foods had it however it did not compare to that delectable dessert in London.  I hadn't had this dessert in over 2 1/2 years because of my gluten intolerance.

On a recent trip to visit a friend in New York I just happened to be in Martha Stewart's neck of the woods.  Rumor has it she shops at a particular food market and of course I just had to go in. On the counter sat the most beautiful dates and I remembered I did find a recipe in December's Everyday Food by Martha Stewart that could be used to set the framework for the recipe.  So I snatched up those dates and as soon as I was home I began baking.  It turned out perfect the first time and even better the second time I made it.  I must give credit to the Grand Duchess of everything domestic: Martha Stewart for the original recipe.  I've adapted this recipe to be gluten-free and made a couple of tweaks along the way and I think you will love it!

This dessert is sweet and is perfect for your sweetheart this Valentine's Day.  You can even bake it in a heart shaped cake pan like I did or bake it in a regular 9X9 square pan.  Also, you can use pre-chopped dates that are packaged however I highly recommend you go with fresh dates as they are not as dry and will make your cake more moist.  

Behold literally the best dessert you may ever have...

Valentine's Day "Date" Cake 
(aka Sticky Toffee Pudding) 

6 TBSP unsalted butter plus more for baking pan
2 cups chopped, pitted dates 
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/3 cups Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground all spice
1/2 tsp coarse salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
toffee sauce (recipe below) 

1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9x9 cake pan or a 9" heart shaped pan.  In a small saucepan bring dates and 1 cup of water up to boil on medium-high heat. Add baking soda and stir until thickened (1-2 min) and set aside.

2)  In a medium bowl mix together flour, baking powder, all spice, and coarse salt.  In a large bowl cream together the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract (about 3-5 minutes).  Beat until light and fluffy.  

3)  With mixer on low, begin adding alternately the dry mixture and the date mixture (beginning and ending with the flour mixture).   Then increase speed to medium and beat to combine.  Pour batter into greased pan and bake until a skewer or toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs attached (about 45 minutes).  Meanwhile, begin making toffee sauce.

4)  Set baking pan on a wire rack and poke holes over the top of the cake with a wooden skewer.  Then pour 1/2 cup toffee sauce directly over.  The toffee will dip down into those holes and make the cake even more delicious.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting into.  

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and drizzle with remaining toffee sauce.  Store at room temperature for 3 days (We all know it won't last that long!)    

The recipe I listed above includes ingredients that are readily available in most supermarkets.  If you want to get adventurous or kick it up a notch, perhaps replace the light brown sugar with molasses and organic cane sugar?  Or use half date sugar/ half brown sugar?  Try substituting the flour mix with your favorite mixture?  (Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour really works very well though!)  Maybe consider swapping out the butter in the cake to coconut oil and honey for sugar for a healthier version?  Or go crazy and try to make it vegan with egg replacer & soy milk - that's on my list to try!

On to the toffee sauce...

Toffee Sauce 

This recipe is straight from Martha - I wouldn't mess with it :-)   It's perfect.  Here is her toffee sauce recipe

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
6 TBSP unsalted butter cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of coarse salt
2 tsp whiskey

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, butter, cream and salt.  Cook over medium high heat stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved completely and mixture boils.  Reduce to a simmer and cook without stirring for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in whiskey. 

Hope you have a delicious Valentine's Day & enjoy this amazing gluten free dessert!  


  1. sounds REALLY delicious!! What pretty pictures! That heart cake is just beautiful!! :-) Great post for Valentine's day!!

  2. I just made this cake for some blizzard relief. Because of said blizzard, I had to make a lot of substitutions (flax for eggs, no vanilla, coconut milk for heavy cream, rum for whiskey). It turned out delicious, so I can imagine it's amazing as written. Also, it's apparently not a very finicky recipe. I do have one question though: When I mixed the baking soda into the dates, the entire mixture bubbled up and turned bright yellow, then blackish-green. is that to be expected, or did I somehow create an unusual chemical reaction? Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Hi Sara!

    I am glad to hear with all of the substitutions you did, it worked out! It is a very easy recipe. It almost reminds me of making banana bread.

    When you add the baking soda into the dates the mixture is supposed to bubble and it can change color - (I thought something went wrong the first time I did it to). Not to worry - there is a chemical reaction that takes place that helps with the baking process and allows the cake to rise and stay fluffy. I found that as soon as you add the baking soda, you really only need to stir it and keep it on the burner for about 45 seconds and then take it off the burner. It will darken in color as it cools.

    So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thanks for your feedback.

  4. Beautiful!! That is now on my list of goodies to make, yummy.