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in the kitchen with: marlena’s sticky toffee pudding

by Kristina Gill

Twitter reserves little surprises here and there if you pay close attention to whose tweets you read. That’s how I came across cookbook author and journalist Marlena Spieler. Originally from California, Marlena now lives in England. I hit her up for a traditional British recipe, the Sticky Toffee Pudding. She one-upped it and gave us Sticky Coffee-Toffee Pudding. You will notice it is only styled for one person. That’s because Marlena warns that if you taste this before serving it, you will not want to share it with anyone! I imagine the ways you can adapt this to fit your own palate are endless (rum, ginger, cinnamon, any number of spices). I have a few ideas in mind myself! If you’ve got your own version, let us know! — Kristina

About Marlena: Marlena is a food writer, and print and broadcast journalist who has divided her time between the UK and San Francisco, New York, Naples (Italy) and Paris (France) for the past 23 years. She is the author of the James Beard Award-Winning Roving Feast column in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, and Bon Appetit magazine. She is also the author of almost 70 cookbooks (only a few of which are still in print). She has won James Beard Awards for her book From Pantry to Table and Hot & Spicy; a World Gourmand award for her Jewish Heritage Cookbook and her Paris book in the Williams-Sonoma series; and a Guild of Food Writers Award for her broadcast work on the Food Programme. You can find her on Twitter or visit her website for more great food writing.

CLICK HERE for the full recipe after the jump!

Sticky Coffee-Toffee Pudding
Serves 4–6

For a classic sticky toffee pudding, you can vary the amounts of coffee or omit them altogether. Instead of a 1:1 ratio of coffee to cream, you can substitute whiskey for the coffee and a bit of the cream. If you prefer neither, just double the amount of cream.



  • 150 g/5 oz pitted dates, diced
  • 250 ml/1 cup hot but not boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 60 g/2 oz soft butter
  • 100 g/3 + 1/2 oz/1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 small pinches salt
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 175 g/6 oz/1 + 1/2 cups self rising flour

Coffee-Toffee Sauce

  • 125 g/4 oz/3/4 cup muscovado (dark brown) sugar
  • 250 ml/8 oz/1 cup granulated sugar
  • 125 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup strong coffee
  • 125 ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup double (whipping, heavy) cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • tiny pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence (extract)

1. Preheat oven to gas 4/180°C/ 375°F.

2. Prepare a cake pan — approximately 7 x 9 inches (10 x 17 cm) or an 8-inch (about 20-cm) square or round pan — by first buttering, then lightly flouring the inside of the tin.

Make the Sponge

1. Place dates and baking soda in a heatproof bowl and pour the hot water over them. Cover and leave to sit for at least 10 minutes.

2. Cream together the soft butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy, about 5 to 7 minutes, using electric beaters or very strong wooden-spoon action.

3. Slowly add the eggs, one at a time, beating in between until they are mixed in well.

4. Sift the flour together with the salt, or mix very well with a fork.  Using a wooden spoon, gradually add the flour and then the date mixture until it forms a thick batter.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until it is cooked through. I use a raw spaghetti strand to poke in and check for any remaining gooeyness. Remove from oven and set aside.

Make the Sauce

1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the muscovado (brown) sugar with the white sugar, coffee and cream.

2. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring gently until the sugars melt and continue cooking, adjusting the heat lower and higher as needed, for about 5 to 8 minutes. If mixture boils up, reduce heat; if it stops bubbling, raise it. Sauce should be dark and slightly thick. Don’t be tempted to sample it without cooling as the sugars are so hot they will burn your tongue.

3. Remove from heat and with a wooden spoon stir in the butter, salt and vanilla, stirring until the butter melts and the sauce is glossy. Let cool to a warm-hot temperature.

4. Using a paring knife, make slits all over the top of cake and pour about half the warm/hot sauce over it. Leave the cake to marinate in the sauce for several hours, then pour the rest of the sauce over it. To serve, cut into small pieces. Cream fraiche or lightly whipped creme Chantilly are good with this, but to be honest, it doesn’t need anything else.

Photography by Kristina Gill. Square baking pan by Williams-Sonoma; date-filled bowl by Karin Eriksson; coarse-linen napkin by Axlings, also available through Karin Eriksson; serving plate by Zara Home; spoons and saucer, vintage.

Why Marlena Chose This Recipe
I’ve long held that I don’t have a sweet tooth, and really despite living in the UK for 23 years now, was never all that fond of British puds.

And then, who knows what happened. Not only did I develop a sweet tooth, big time and oh so happily, but I started with one recipe and kept branching out: I found the British puddings so amenable to my hands, my tastes and twists on traditions, that without thinking about it, my kitchen is beginning to feel like the British Pudding Kitchen. The puddings came to ME. Easily.  And that endears me to them. British puddings have become part of my repertoire and I’m so happy to pass them along both as recipes and to guests at my table. October/November is a great month to enjoy this one especially, because we’re starting to feel the cold and really enjoy the warmth of wintery puddings.

Photo above: Marlena in Naples with Stanley Tucci. “It was such a jamon-licious night! Under the stars with Stanley, fighting over each morsel of ham!”

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  • Oooohhh, this looks delish! I”m so anxious to try this, I’m going to attempt making it while caring for a newborn. They sleep a lot, right:)

  • This does look fabulously delicious! I assume bicarbonate of soda is baking soda? Great holiday recipe!!

  • I LOVE Sticky Toffee Pudding….every time I make it for people who haven’t had it before they fall in love with it too….now I will have to try this version with the coffee addition and fall in love some more…thanks so much!! Happy Baking, Patricia

  • Great recipe, smells and tastes delicious. Three corrections: for the sponge, I added the salt and bicarb with the flour (not mentioned in the method), worked fine. And it’s 250g of sugar in the sauce, not ml.

  • I just finished baking the sponge and didn’t include baking soda or salt because the recipe never specified to add it and I forgot (whoops!). Hopefully it’ll be amazing anyway. So far, so good. The sauce is insane!

  • You know, it’s funny you guys mention that. I really honestly think I put the bicarb (baking soda) in with the dates, because I studied so many recipes before making this, I seem to remember that’s what I did. I will have Marlena let you guys know and address the omission in the text of the recipe!!! Sooo sorry!

  • I’ve fixed the recipe. The salt can be added with the flour or the dates. The baking soda is added in the water with the dates.