Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Sticky Toffee Puddings

Sticky toffee pudding was one of those decadent-sounding yet obscurely-named British desserts that I'd read a lot about, yet never come across in real life. It was high on my list of things to track down and try while in England, and sure enough I had no problem finding it on almost every pub menu. I guess I'm not the only American intrigued by the combination of toffee (which we don't often see in the US except in its crunchy candy form), stickiness (always desirable in a dessert), and pudding (which I know is what the English call any dessert, but which will always have a creamy, not sticky or crunchy, connotation in my colonial mind). Add the ever-welcome lashings of custard or caramel sauce, and it seems like an experience that couldn't go wrong.

Well, neither of the sticky toffee puddings I tried quite lived up to my expectations. The one pictured at the top, from the Dickens Tavern near Paddington in London, was the more flavorful - moist, nicely spiced, and swimming in creamy sauce. But it didn't have the toffee taste I expected, or quite the stickiness. The bottom picture, from the Duke's Cut in Oxford, definitely succeeded in the sticky-sweet categories, thanks to the pool of caramel sauce and ice cream lobbed on top. Unfortunately, inside was somewhat dry and lacking in any flavor at all - it was just a bland brown cake that was really nothing but a vehicle for the toppings. My ideal sticky toffee pudding (and of course, this is just based on what I've read rather than actual knowledge of what the "real" thing tastes like) would have a caramelized top and almost molten center, needing nothing but a pitcher of custard or cream to balance its deep sweetness. I have a feeling that I might have had more luck finding it if I'd looked somewhere other than pubs - but until I get another chance to visit England, I may have to experiment with the idea on my own.

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