Dates have always been a special occasion treat for me. (I’m talking about food, not my social life, just to clarify.) When I was a kid, I used to go crazy for the Betty Crocker Date Bar mix, which we could only seem to find around Christmastime. They were kind of a pain to make, with the crumbly bottom crust always getting stuck in the sticky date puree as you tried to spread it out, but the payoff was well worth it. Crispy, chewy, and redolent with brown sugar, I could easily have polished off an entire pan of these at one sitting, though I don’t think I ever actually did. I first tasted a fresh date when I was 25, working in the kitchen of a soon-to-be 5 star restaurant. (We were using it on a cheese plate with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.) I was blown away. It was everything I loved about the date bar – sweet, caramelly, and luscious – without the hassle (or the shame) of the boxed mix. Fresh dates, however, are difficult to find and can be expensive. Luckily, I soon realized that dried dates were nearly as good.
Given my love of dates, and caramel, it is shocking that I took so long to attempt a sticky toffee pudding. Traditionally it is a dense pudding-cake loaded with dates and drenched in toffee sauce. What’s not to love? But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I wanted a seasonal variation, something that would sate my annual hunger for pumpkin pie, and that was maybe a tad less sweet (all those dates can make for a toothache-inducing dessert, if you’re not careful). Since I was pretty sure I’d have more than enough Butternut squash to accompany the scallops, I set aside a little to use in my pudding.
When the time came, I whisked the Butternut purée with some brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and melted butter. I combined flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another bowl, then mixed the two together. Chopped dates and a bit of minced crystallized ginger were folded in, and I scooped the batter into my spiffy new silicone dome molds. In a makeshift water bath consisting of a round ceramic tart dish and a piece of tinfoil, I baked the puddings until they puffed up a bit. Meanwhile, I made the toffee sauce (see photo above), finishing it off with a wallop of scotch. “This is a pajama dessert,” I told Nick, so we got ourselves ready for bed while waiting for the puddings to cool. I served them as soon as they were cool enough to handle, with a full coat of toffee sauce poured over the top.
Delectably sweet, and oh-so-comforting with the homey flavors of the squash and spices mimicking pumpkin pie even better than I expected. This is definitely dessert you eat in your pajamas.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.