This sticky toffee pudding tray bake is a perfect dessert in every way! It has a moist cake base filled with pureed dates, a warm toffee sauce with notes of caramel, and a side of fresh whipped cream to balance any lingering sweetness. Instead of individual puddings, I like to streamline the process by baking the cake in a large pan for extra ease and efficiency.
Sticky toffee/sticky date pudding is a classic British dessert featuring a date sponge cake (pudding) with toffee sauce. This recipe was adapted from Francis Coulson, often credited as the dish's inventor; however, like many recipes, its origins are disputed. It's been featured and popularized in food media, from the Great British Bake-Off to Nigella Lawson.
It's an absolutely delicious cake, especially if you're a fan of dates. I like to serve it with whipped cream, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream or crème anglaise would be so, so good, too! It's a lovely dessert served around Christmas, especially alongside my brioche cinnamon rolls, fudgy greek yogurt brownies, or mini basque cheesecake.
- Pitted dates: Dates are an essential ingredient in this recipe, creating additional moisture and flavor in the cake. I recommend Medjool dates, as they have a softer texture than some other date varieties. Make sure the dates are pitted before proceeding with the recipe!
- Brown sugar: I have used both light and dark brown sugar with success here; use dark brown sugar for a stronger, richer molasses flavor.
- Cream: Heavy cream, heavy whipping cream, and double cream will all work here.
- Powdered sugar: Powdered sugar or icing sugar adds a bit of sweetness to the whipped cream.
- Flaky salt: This is optional, but I feel a bit of flaky salt in the toffee sauce helps balance the sweetness of the dish.
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card.
The recipe calls for an 8-inch (20cm) by 8-inch (20cm) square tin or cake pan, but I’ve had success with a 9-inch cake pan as well (you’ll just have a thinner cake and a faster bake time). Make sure it's broiler safe!
How to Make This Sticky Toffee Traybake
Step 1: Make the date puree - In a small saucepan, add the pitted dates and water, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, and cover the pot with a lid to let the dates steam for 10 minutes. Blend the dates and water into a smooth paste, and let cool slightly (Image 1).
TIP: Steaming the dates in boiling water helps soften them so that they can blend into a smooth puree. You can use an immersion blender or a regular blender (just make sure to remove the funnel cap and place a kitchen towel over the hole to allow steam from the hot liquid to escape).
Step 2: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and set aside (Image 2).
Step 3: Cream the butter and sugar - Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the softened butter and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Mix in the remaining wet ingredients (the mixture may appear curdled; that's fine!) (Image 3).
Step 4: Stir in the date mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is smooth and well-incorporated (Image 4).
Step 5: Add the dry ingredients - Fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix (Image 5).
Step 6: Transfer the cake mixture to the traybake tin, smoothing out the top with an offset spatula or butter knife (Image 6).
Step 7: Bake - Bake the cake in a preheated oven for 25 - 30 minutes, or until a toothpick prodded into the center of the cake yields just a few crumbs. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes while you prepare the cream.
Step 8: Whip the cream with powdered sugar and vanilla extract to medium peaks, and chill in the fridge (Image 8).
Step 9: Make the toffee sauce - Add the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until melted and bubbly (Image 9). Mix in the cream, vanilla, and salt, and continue simmering until bubbly and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 2 - 3 minutes (Image 10)
Step 10: Broil - Using a fork, poke a few holes on the top of the cake, and pour ¾ of the toffee sauce over the surface (Image 11). Broil the baking dish for 1 - 2 minutes, just until the sauce seeps in and caramelizes on the top (Image 12). If desired, garnish the cake with a little flaky salt.
Step 11: Assemble and Serve - Serve the cake in individual slices, top with a little extra warmed toffee sauce, and serve with a side of whipped cream. I prefer to serve the cake warm, but it's also fine at room temperature.
Make-Ahead and Reheating Instructions
To make the pudding ahead of time, you can prepare each component separately. This is a great option for a dinner party, where you might have several other dishes you need to work on at the same time.
- You can bake the cake, make the toffee sauce, and broil it in the oven. Then, let the cake cool completely and wrap tightly in cling film or plastic wrap; keep in the fridge for up to 2 days. The toffee sauce can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
- To reheat the pudding, remove the plastic wrap and cover with aluminum foil. Reheat in the oven at 350°F/177°C for 5 minutes, then remove the cover, and reheat for an additional few minutes until warmed through.
- Make the whipped cream while the cake rewarms in the oven.
This method can create a slightly denser, drier cake, but is still very delicious! This is also a great way to reheat leftover pieces of cake.
Sticky date pudding is the name referred to the dessert in New Zealand and Australia, while sticky toffee pudding is the British name.
Toffee sauce is typically cooked to a lower temperature than caramel sauce, so it has a more liquid consistency. It also uses brown sugar instead of white sugar. Butterscotch sauce, on the other hand, uses very similar ingredients to toffee sauce but often has a lighter flavor.
I haven't experimented with reducing the level of sugar in the cake or the toffee sauce, but you can definitely leave out the sugar in the whipped cream or serve it with a scoop of ice cream (which tends to taste less sweet because of the colder temperature). And a generous topping of flaky salt also helps cut the sweetness!
For non-alcoholic drinks, I highly recommend glasses of ice cold milk (almond milk would be great!), coffee, or tea. For alcoholic beverages, I think whiskey, cognac, or brandy would be delicious; they're less sweet than, say, a dessert wine, but each have notes that would pair well with the toffee flavors.
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Sticky Toffee Pudding Tray Bake
For the date cake:
- Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray
- 6 ounces pitted Medjool dates, about 10 - 12 dates
- 177 ml water
- 188 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 56 grams unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 144 grams dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg, 57 grams with shell
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the whipped cream:
- 250 ml heavy cream, or whipping cream or double cream
- 16 grams powdered sugar, or icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the toffee sauce:
- 113 grams unsalted butter
- 144 grams dark brown sugar, packed
- 120 ml heavy cream, or whipping cream or double cream
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of flaky sea salt for topping, optional
Make the date cake:
- Position one baking rack in the bottom third of the oven and one in the top third of the oven, then preheat the oven to 350°F/177°C.
- Grease an 8-inch (20cm) x 8-inch (20cm) square cake pan with oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray
- Make the date puree: In a saucepan, add dates and water, and bring to a boil, then turn the heat off. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Blend date-water mixture to a smooth paste and set aside to cool slightly so that the puree isn't hot enough to curdle the eggs.6 ounces pitted Medjool dates, 177 ml water
- Mix dry ingredients: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and whisk until combined.188 grams all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Mix wet ingredients: In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the egg and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated and thick and ribbony (it may appear curdled; that's fine). Reduce speed to medium-low, and slowly add in the date puree and beat until combined.56 grams unsalted butter, 144 grams dark brown sugar, 1 large egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Finish the batter: Reduce the speed to low, and slowly add in the dry ingredients. Batter will be thick, like buttercream frosting. Do not overmix.
- Bake the cake: Pour into the cake pan and bake on the bottom-third rack for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs. Make the whipped cream and toffee sauce while the cake bakes (see below for instructions).Remove cake from the oven and immediately prick all over with a fork. Place on a wire rack to cool slightly until warm, but not hot.
Make the whipped cream:
- Wipe the bowl of the stand mixer clean, and add cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Using the whip attachment, whip at medium speed until mixture just begins to thicken (about 1 - 2 minutes). This prevents the cream from spraying everywhere. Note: Whipped cream whips better at colder temperatures. To achieve this, rinse the stand mixer bowl with very cold water and dry it before whipping.16 grams powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 250 ml heavy cream
- Taste and adjust powdered sugar if needed. Then, increase the speed to medium-high and whip for an additional 1 to 2 minutes until stiff peaks form. Keep chilled in the fridge, covered, until ready to serve.
Prepare the toffee sauce and finish the cake:
- In a small saucepan over low heat, add butter and whisk in brown sugar. Increase heat to medium, whisking frequently until butter melts. Once the mixture starts to bubble, add heavy cream, kosher salt, and vanilla extract. Let sauce bubble and simmer for 3 minutes until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with flaky salt if desired.113 grams unsalted butter, 144 grams dark brown sugar, 120 ml heavy cream, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract, Pinch of flaky sea salt for topping
- Turn the broiler on to 'HI'. Pour ¾ cup of the toffee sauce on top of the cake; reserve the remaining toffee sauce for pouring on top later. Broil on the top-third rack for anywhere from 1 - 3 minutes, until the toffee sauce begins to bubble and caramelize on top of the cake. Remove from the oven and cool slightly, about 5 minutes. You will want to serve the cake while it's still warm, but it should be cool enough to handle.
- Just before serving, re-warm the reserved toffee sauce. Cut the cake in individual slices, then transfer to individual dessert plates and pour additional toffee sauce and flaky salt on top, if desired. Serve with whipped cream on the side (if you dollop with whipped cream on top, the warm cake may cause the cream to melt).