In a recent post I mentioned that almost every pub I have been to in the Lake District has sticky toffee pudding (STP) on the menu. This is a fact which makes me very happy indeed. Two years ago Martin and I walked the first half of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast and each evening we would arrive at a campsite hot (or wet) and tired, pitch our tent, shower and head to the pub where, over the course of the week, I set out on a one woman mission to test all the STP on offer and determine which was best.
A funny thing happened – every night I enjoyed a great pud but every night the quality was exactly the same. This might appear to be an amazing co-incidence but in reality I suspect it is because every pub served the same STP. When you have a great product made by hand from 100% natural ingredients right there on your doorstep you would be foolish not to use it.
I am talking about Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. This pudding has featured on our family holidays to the Lake District for around fifteen years and I can easily recognise the distinctive taste. Over the years I have tried other commercially made STPs but few come close and I have often been disappointed by other, supposedly quality products.
However, it occurred to me that, having repeatedly bought such a good product (always with an extra jar of toffee sauce) I have never actually made a sticky toffee pudding myself – so I set out to see if I could improve on the Cartmel product.
The first thing I noticed was that there are hundreds of different recipes out there and the initial challenge was to find one I liked. I started looking at chefs whose recipes I have tried and trusted in the past: James Martin’s recipe looked good but seemed to have twice as many ingredients as any other, Jamie Oliver used yoghurt and Ovaltine in his which didn’t seem quite right to me but Nigel Slater’s looked about right so I tried it. It was a complete disaster. The recipe called for roughly chopped dates and I found that they all sank to the bottom leaving the final pudding unbalanced and stodgy and it went straight in the bin. This may, of course, be my fault entirely and in someone else’s hands it could be perfect – just not, unfortunately, in mine.
Eventually, having read far too many recipes, I kind of followed my instincts and used a combination of them all (see below). This resulted in a well risen, light but rich, flavoursome pud which was transformed to sticky unctuousness when the toffee sauce was added.
But was it better than Cartmel? In the interests of fairness, and to enhance my social standing, I invited some friends round to a blind taste testing. Ok, so I completely accept that seven people, all arriving at different times does not constitute a proper scientific experiment but it was good enough for my purposes.
Almost everyone thought that my pudding looked best although one friend thought the “gooeyness” of the Cartmel pud gave it a better appearance. When it came to taste it was a different story – of the seven testers – two preferred my home made recipe, two could not decide (they could taste a difference but liked both equally) and three preferred the Cartmel pudding. I lost – but feel in this instance that there is no shame at all in losing.
Those who preferred my pudding liked the “treacly” flavour that the muscovado sugar gave it, those who liked the Cartmel STP liked that it was somehow richer and more gooey. The real point is that everyone loved both puddings.
If I was to work on improving my recipe I would probably put some sauce in the tin before adding the pudding batter and would try baking them together to see if it improves the texture and depth of flavour but, to be honest, I’ll probably just keep buying Cartmel.
Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding is now available in quality grocers across the country or by mail order from their website.
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