sticky toffee pudding is quintessential warming winter dessert. here i’ve gone a bit of a different direction with a pudding that is all dark bitter notes and sharp rum and nutty whole wheat.
My parents’ dessert of choice at the neighbourhood pub they frequent is always the sticky toffee pudding. It sits in a warm bowl filled halfway up the sides with toffee sauce and drizzled with creme anglaise. I love it too, but we all agree that it is remarkably sweet!
Desserts are desserts so I have nothing against sweet and sugary desserts – it is a treat after all. But I also have nothing against lower sugar and lower sweetness desserts. It’s all a matter of personal preference, and my personal preference tends to sway to the side of lower sweetness desserts. In the end I often end up enjoying them more and I figure it doesn’t hurt if they have less sugar in them as well.
Here is my version of a sticky toffee pudding – made with a dark rum caramel and a whole wheat and prune sponge – and in the style of many of the desserts that I make, it tastes barely sweet. It’s a different sort of sticky toffee pudding – the flavour profile is a dark and burnt and bitter version of the usual with intense biting notes of burnt caramel and rum, plus all the nuttiness of prunes and whole wheat flour. I loved it – it’s just my type of pudding!
making a less sweet sticky toffee pudding:
(For some reason I decided that I would spend this post walking through my thought process in designing this recipe in excruciating detail – it’s quite needless, so skip down to the recipe if you prefer!).
I should specify that there are two separate, sometimes overlapping goals implied by making something less sweet:
- lower sweetness – how it tastes
- lower sugar – how much sugar it contains
I think it’s important to point out the distinction, particularly as the two goals often go together in a pair. After all, lower sweetness can sometimes, but not always, be accomplished by lower sugar. For example, we can cut sweetness by reducing the sugar, or we can cut it with a squeeze of lemon.
I do a bit of both here, but I primarily pay attention to the goal of lower sweetness. This version does have less sugar than usual sticky toffee pudding, there is also still plenty (a bit under 2 tbsp per individually sized pudding) so I do want to avoid misunderstandings and false advertisements – I wouldn’t call it a low sugar dessert per se… though I think calling it a lower sugar version would be accurate.
1. the pudding
I decided to take the same approach as a salt-topped cracker. Even if there’s not much salt in the cracker itself, by topping it with a sprinkle of salt more readily available to the taste buds, it doesn’t taste as lacking. And it can taste just as salty as a cracker which has more salt, but is more evenly spread throughout the dough.
Similarly, I find if I have enough upfront readily apparent sweetness, it makes the whole dessert taste sweet enough so I can get away with less total sugar than if I were to equally sweeten all components.
Sticky toffee pudding is certainly all about the sauce, and I knew it would also be the primary source of sweetness in the dessert. Consequently, I figured most of the sweetness in the pudding (i.e. the cake) would be redundant and unnecessary. Overall, I cut down on the sugar considerably from what would be half a cup to 3 tbsp for 4 cakes – and I would actually consider cutting it down to 2 tbsp. Normally sugar is important for texture and browning, but in this case, I didn’t find any appreciable consequences. As the pudding’s squidgy texture develops from sitting in the sauce, I was still able to obtain the desired texture. As well, the deep brown colour of the batter meant that I didn’t need to worry about the low sugar affecting the browning process either.
I chose to use prunes instead of dates because I am very much a prune fan – they also taste less sweet than dates to me, but would still provide moisture. Of course I saw this cake as a perfect time to use whole wheat flour – I think it adds so much to the flavour and melds so well with the combination of brown sugar, prunes, spices and burnt sugar.
2. the sauce
Usually sticky toffee pudding is made with a toffee sauce, where cream and butter and boiled together with brown sugar until thickened. This makes quite a sweet sauce with the caramel notes coming from the brown sugar and without bitterness from actually caramelizing (i.e. gently burning!) the sugar.
I decided I would go a different route and make a caramel instead as it the process gives you more control over the sweetness. I cooked the sugar down to a dark amber, actually to the point where it started to smell a bit like it was burning. Add in some butter and cream, and near the end, a good amount of dark rum as alcohol also helps to cut the sweetness. This made a bitter, rum-laced caramel that was in fact barely sweet. (I was ecstatic with the result actually – I’ll definitely be using this sauce again!)
And regardless of whether you want a sweet pudding or a more bitter pudding, by making a caramel sauce you have control! A sweet caramel which can be easily accommodated by taking the caramel off the heat at a lighter stage and leaving out the rum as desired.
While burning the sugar degrades its structure and likely lowered the effective sugar content, I’m not sure by how much so the end result is still a caramel with quite a bit of sugar – this being the main reason why I think my goal of low sweetness did not totally coincide with lower sugar.
If you have the time, I soaked the puddings in the caramel sauce for a day before serving – I think it does wonders for the texture (and also removes any worry of a dry pudding if you accidentally overbake!) but it does mean that you use more sauce per pudding, which also increases the amount of sugar.
Before serving, I reheated the puddings in the oven and then served them with unsweetened heavy cream. The texture was soft, with a brownie-like squidginess, and dense with caramel. Warmed up, the caramel contrasted against the cold cream in the way of cold cream on a warm saucy pie or crumble.
I was worried about whether or not my parents would find it a complete travesty compared to their beloved pudding, but they enjoyed it (and seemed to surprise themselves with how much they enjoyed it). It has everything after all – the textures (amplified by soaking it in the sauce), all the flavours of spices and caramel, just with lower sweetness. Though it might be sacrilegious to say, without the ache of toffee I felt that I could enjoy the flavours of molasses and spice and prune in the cake even more.
prune sticky toffee pudding with rum caramel
- 67g (1/3 c) sugar
- 56g (1/4 c) butter at room temperature
- 140g (bit over 1/2 c) heavy cream, warmed until steaming
- generous 1/4 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- 1 tbsp dark rum or to taste
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
Place the sugar in a saucepan with enough water to dissolve it. Heat over medium-high until boiling and turn to medium, cooking until the caramel turns a deep amber and smells slightly burnt (I did this for a caramel that was mostly bitter – of course, cook the sugar to your own liking!). Swirl the pan during the process, but do not stir to avoid introducing a stray crystal and disrupting the supersaturated solution.
Things will start enthusiastically bubbling now so be careful! Remove from the head and add a third of the butter at a time, mixing until fully incorporated. If the caramel starts to clump, return to heat and warm until everything is melted and liquidy again. Then start adding the cream in a few additions, again whisking until fully incorporated and returning to heat as needed.
To thicken the sauce, boil for one to two minutes. It will appear to have body and viscosity when warm and will thicken a lot when cooled! Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, rum and vanilla.
whole wheat prune puddings
Makes 4 individual puddings.
- 84g prunes, cut into quarters
- 120g (1/2 c) water
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp soft butter
- 39g (3 packed tbsp) brown sugar – in retrospect, I would have reduced to 2 tbsp
- 1 tbsp dark molasses
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 75g (around 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour 4 1/2 cup (120mL) ramekins.
Heat the quartered prunes and water in a small saucepan until simmering, let simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Stir with a whisk until the prunes are broken up into a paste. Set aside.
Cream the butter and brown sugar in a bowl. Mix in the molasses and vanilla extract. Beat the egg in a small bowl, then add to the butter in a few additions, beating well with each addition of egg.
Whisk together the whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined. Add the prune paste, mixing until incorporated. Divide the batter amongst the four ramekins.
Bake until the puddings are firm to the touch with a slight spring or an inserted skewer is removed clean – this took 26 minutes for me, however as I was using a thick walled ramekin, start checking closer to 20 minutes.
Let cool for 5-10 minutes or so, then tip the puddings out of the ramekins. Wipe out the ramekins. Place a small square of parchment paper on the bottom of each ramekin to aid remove. Ladle a bit of sauce into the ramekins to coat the bottoms. Return the puddings and ladle more sauce overtop. Cover and let rest with the sauce for at least a little while or overnight.
Warm up the oven to 300F and return the puddings for 15 minutes to warm them through. Remove, unmold onto a plate and spoon any leftover sauce over the puddings. Serve with heavy cream, whipped or unwhipped.