“He made it really his trademark kind of pudding,” she says. It’s the skillful combination of cake and sauce that is the secret to the perfect pudding, says Simon Johns, who runs the California-based English Pudding Co. “We make the cake, let it go cold, make the sauce, let that cool, then pour the sauce over the cake” before reheating a final time to serve, says Johns, whose parents run the Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding Co. Ltd. in Cumbria, England. On the heavier side is Christmas pudding, also known as plum pudding. And the alcohol in the sauce is key. “Traditionally, it would come to the table lit,” says Irish food historian Regina Sexton. “You get that lovely blue flame from burning alcohol.” Unlike sticky toffee pudding, Christmas pudding has a traceable history dating to the Middle Ages. It was predated by a porridge of meat, vegetables and fruits that evolved into pudding as cooking styles and technology advanced. The meat and vegetables gradually disappeared – though many Christmas puddings still call for beef suet – as people focused more on luxury ingredients, such as dried fruit. Sexton said the popularity of the pudding as a Christmas dish soared during the 19th century, when holiday festivities became more defined by popular culture influences, such as the novels of Charles Dickens. Many families still use recipes from that era, handed down from generation to generation. And despite the availability of commercially produced puddings, Sexton says families still feel drawn to make their own Christmas pudding. The baking process also is reassuringly old-fashioned. After the batter – eggs, butter, sugar, flour, breadcrumbs, liquor, fruits and spices – is mixed, it is boiled for up to eight hours, then hung in a sack to marinate for weeks. “I try to make them as early as I possibly can so the flavors will develop,” says Kay Lanigan-Ryan, the pastry chef at the Killarney Park Hotel in Killarney, Co. Kerry. The pudding then is boiled for another hour before serving, and it is topped with a brandy sauce. Some people still include coins or trinkets in the served pudding, a centuries-old tradition meant to bring luck to the diners who discover them. Another good-fortune custom centers around the mixing. Relatives would take turns stirring the mixture, making a wish with each turn. It’s a practice still followed by chefs such as Lanigan-Ryan. “All my chefs or staff that are in the kitchen, they all stir it and make a wish for the year ahead,” she said. — Recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding This decadent dessert is the perfect finish to any holiday meal. For a variation, mix chocolate chips, cocoa powder or instant coffee powder into the batter just before baking. STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING Start to finish: 45 minutes Servings: 8 For the cake: 1 cup chopped dried dates 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup boiling water 5 tablespoons butter 3/4 cup brown sugar 2 eggs 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ginger 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon rum extract For the sauce: 1 cup packed brown sugar 1/2 cup heavy cream 1 stick butter 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon rum extract Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat eight ramekins with cooking spray and arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine the dates and baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the dates and set aside. In a food processor, combine the butter and sugar and process until thoroughly incorporated. With the processor running, add the eggs one at a time and process until smooth. If needed, stop the processor and scrape down the sides. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger into the mixture, then use a spoon or silicone spatula to gently fold in the dry ingredients. Stir in the date mixture, and vanilla and rum extracts. Spoon the batter into the ramekins and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. When the cakes are done, if the tops of the cakes have domed during cooking (expanded above the rim of the ramekin) use a serrated knife to trim and discard the dome, making the cakes level with the rim of the ramekin. To serve, pool a bit of toffee sauce in the center of each serving plate. Overturn a cake into the center of each pool (the cakes should release easily from the ramekins). Drizzle the top of the cake with additional sauce. Serve warm.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat Kings“It’s the kind of pudding you make when you want to spoil people,” says food historian Sara Paston-Williams, who recently wrote the book “Good Old-Fashioned Puddings” for Britain’s National Trust. “You’ve got a sweet base pudding, and then you put more sweetness on the top of it,” she says. The dessert certainly isn’t one of Britain’s oldest puddings, despite its iconic standing on the pastry scale. Its history is debated, with several hotels claiming to have invented the recipe. But Paston-Williams says a number of caramel-type puddings were popular in the 1930s, when it was en vogue for British chefs to recreate Victorian recipes. So sticky toffee pudding’s origins probably trace back to the mid-1800s. Paston-Williams credits chef Francis Coulson, however, for the pudding’s current popularity. He reportedly developed the delicacy in its current form at the Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel in Britain’s lake district in 1960. When it comes to classic British and Irish desserts, the proof is in the pudding – literally. Forget those smooth, gelatin-like convenience foods found in American supermarket snack packs and quick-mix aisles; these puddings are cakey, thick and rich. And they are a staple of the holidays. Reigning supreme among puddings are sticky toffee pudding (a spongy cake studded with dates and smothered in toffee sauce) and the seasonally ubiquitous Christmas pudding (a heavy, moist fruitcake topped with a liquor sauce). While Christmas pudding rarely appears outside the run-up to the winter holidays, sticky toffee pudding is a quintessentially British dessert that is a favorite throughout the year.