Sticky Toffee Pudding – To Make or Buy?

bun scuffle sticky toffee pudding

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.

bun scuffle sticky toffee pudding recipe

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Sticky Toffee Pudding Recipe

Sticky toffee pudding is not the lightest of desserts but it is wonderfully rich and flavoursome. In this recipe the dates are blended to a smooth paste with hot water so that they flavour the pudding evenly.  The use of dark muscovado sugar in both the pudding and the sauce adds a treacly bitterness which counteracts the sweetness wonderfully.

The sauce already contains cream so strictly speaking it doesn’t really need any further addition but it does work wonderfully well served with a scoop of clotted cream or vanilla ice cream.  If you have any toffee sauce left it is perfect served hot, on its own, poured over vanilla ice cream.  In fact it is worth making especially for that purpose.


175g Medjool Dates (stoned)

1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

300ml boiling water

50g Softened Butter

80g Golden Caster Sugar

80g Dark Muscovado Sugar

2 Eggs (beaten)

175g Self Raising Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 Vanilla Pod

For the Sauce

200g/7oz butter

200g/7oz Light Muscovado Sugar

200g/7oz Dark Muscovado sugar

1 Vanilla Pod

250ml/9fl oz double cream


Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Butter a cake tin – 24cm x 24cm (8” x 8”).

To Make the Sauce

Split the vanilla pod and remove the seeds with the back of a knife. Put the vanilla seeds and the rest of the ingredients into a pan and heat slowly until the butter has melted. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Boil gently for a few minutes until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside but keep warm.

To Make the Pudding

Put the dates into a food processor and pulse until chopped. Stir the bicarbonate of soda into the boiling water, pour over the dates and blitz until blended.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then beat in the eggs, a little at a time. Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir until combined.

Split the vanilla pod and remove the seeds with the back of a knife. Scrape the seeds into the date and hot water mix and pulse once or twice to mix. Add this date mix to the bowl and stir well until completely combined.

Pour the pudding batter into the tin and place into the oven for 30 minutes until firm to the touch and then take out of the oven.

Prick the top of the pudding with a fork and pour over half of the sauce. Leave to stand for five minutes before serving with extra sauce and possibly some cream or vanilla ice cream.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to receive updates please “like” the bun scuffle Facebook Page or follow bun scuffle on Twitter using the links below. If you don’t use social Media you can email me and I will send you updates by email.