Thursday 22 September 2011

Sticky date cake with butterscotch swiss meringue buttercream & labours of love

"If a man loves the labour of his trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called him" ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Labours of love.  We've all done 'em.  Those little side projects that you pour your heart into for no reward other than a job well done at the end of the day.  You know those ones? You do it because you love it or because you believe it's a good and noble cause.  A labour of love can be hugely satisfying, incredibly fulfilling, and emotionally and spiritually rewarding.

They can also eat your life.

My all consuming labour of love for the last little bit has been helping put together the 2011 Med School Yearbook/Magazine.  Rachel (our visionary editor in chief), Clark (graphic designer extraordinaire), and I (deputy editor/grammar police) have been like Siamese triplets for the last couple of months: slaving away on all-nighter after all-nighter, sucking down litres of coffee, umming and ahhing over articles/backgrounds/layouts, and battling through funding fiascos; to put together our beautiful, almost full-colour, totally badass magazine which is going to print Monday.

We love it like it's our first born.  Our first born who we poured our blood, sweat, and tears into.  Our first born who has grown up, graduated, and should really be moving out of home now.

So mucho soz for the big gaps in posting.  It's because I've been consumed by this new amazing project, this current labour of love (and also coz managed to stuff my back but that's a story for another day).  I don't think I've ever laughed so much, slept so little, worked so hard, and learnt so many new fandangled words. And I got to know and love two of the most creative and talented people I've ever had the privilege to work with.  It's been incredible.

{spot the terrible segue}
You know what else is incredible: sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce - my favourite pudding.  Before these last stages of manic craziness for the magazine fully set in, I was up in Auckland for a week on study break. I always bake like a banshee every time I go home and this time I made an adaptation of my fav pud as a birthday cake for a family friend: Sticky Date Cake with Butterscotch Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Butterscotch Sauce.

Sticky date pudding or sticky toffee pudding is a traditional British dessert which consists of a moist sponge cake (usually steamed) made with chopped dates served with toffee/butterscotch sauce.  It's rich and decadent and since it has dates in it, lets you delude yourself into thinking it's kinda healthy since it has dried fruit.  Nevermind the slathering of sauce you pour over it that's made of butter, cream, and sugar.

Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

This pud has a lot going for it: moist spongy date pudding with salty sweet toffee sauce - a smokey caramelly bonanza without being too sickly sweet.  However, its triumph is also its Achilles heel. Trying to maintain that gorgeous buttery salty-sweet balance was the biggest roadblock to converting the pudding into a successful cake.

How to get that creamy butterscotch flavour into a frosting?  If you just added the butterscotch sauce to a traditional buttercream recipe with all that icing sugar that would go into it, you would have a cake so sweet people would get diabetes just looking at it.  And simply pouring the sauce over the cake just won't do.

Dilemma, dilemma.

My eureka moment came when I racked my brain for not too sweet frostings I know and swiss meringue buttercream immediately leaped to mind.  Swiss meringue buttercream is a total mission to make and will use practically every pan you own, but the process of heating and whipping the egg whites allows you to make a silky-smooth fluffy frosting without adding heaps of sugar.  I put two and two together and boom! Butterscotch Swiss Meringue Buttercream was born.

The sauce itself is delicious.  The recipe makes enough sauce for adding to the frosting and to drizzle over the top of the cake.  I had originally thought I'd just eat the rest of the sauce over ice cream (or with a spoon) rather than drizzling it over the cake but once I had frosted it, I felt like the cake needed something else.  Drizzling the sauce over and letting it ooze down the sides totally pimped the cake out.  I mean, who can resist oozy butterscotch sauce? 

The transformation of the sticky date pudding into a cake worked out beautifully. The cakes turned out really moist thanks to the dried dates and has this deep smokey carameliness to it, almost a golden syrup flavour even though there isn't any golden syrup in the recipe.  Structurally though, it had some minor issues: my cakes sagged a little when they had cooled.  Not sure if this was a recipe thing, user error, or whether it was because my baking powder was old, so I think I will just have to make this cake again just to check.  Oh and then I'll have to eat it.  Life is hard.

Sticky Date Cake with Butterscotch Swiss Meringue Buttercream & Butterscotch Sauce

Sticky Date Cake

A Jo Seagar recipe slightly tweaked

2 1/2 cups pitted dates, chopped
2 1/2  cups boiling water
2 tsp baking soda
120g butter, chopped
1 1/2 cup soft brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 180oC.  Line 2 x 22 cm round spring-form pans with baking paper.  Place chopped dates in bowl.  Pour over boiling water then add baking soda.  The baking soda will start fizzing.  Mix together and leave for 5 mins.  Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

2. In the meantime, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy.

3. In a food processor or with a hand held blender whizz the date mixture till liquid but still a bit chunky.

4.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat till just combined.  Then add 1/2 of the date mixture to the butter mix and beat till just combined.  Add 1/3 of the flour mix, beat.  Then 1/2 date mixture, beat.   Add the last of the flour mixture and beat until just combined.

5. Divide cake batter evenly between the two cake tins and bake for 45-50 mins at 180oC until a skewer comes out clean.  If the tops are getting too brown, cover with a piece of tin foil.  Cool for a little in the tins before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack.

6. To assemble the cake: spread some butterscotch frosting over the top of the bottom layer.  Drizzle over some butterscotch sauce.  Place the second layer on top.  Smooth a thin layer of frosting over the cake to act as a crumb layer.  Let the frosting set in the fridge (I just pottered around for about an hour running errands).  Then frost the outside with the rest of the butterscotch frosting and finally drizzle over the butterscotch sauce.

Butterscotch Sauce

1 cup soft brown sugar
3/4 cups cream
1/4 tsp salt (or 1/2 tsp sea salt)
50 g butter

1. In a small saucepan melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat stirring.

2. When melted, add cream and salt and heat until bubbling, stirring constantly.  Bubble to let it reduce a little then take off the heat and leave to cool.  The sauce will thicken on cooling.  This sauce is dangerous.  You will want to eat it all even before it makes it on the cake.  Exercise self restraint. 

Butterscotch Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I only had just enough of this frosting to cover the cake let alone doing any thing fancy with it so if I was making this again I would probably double the recipe of the buttercream (which would mean you would need more sauce also).

3 egg whites
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
200g unsalted butter, room temperature cut into cubes.
1/2 cup butterscotch sauce

Equipment: instant thermometer

1. In a large metal or pyrex bowl over a simmering saucepan of water, beat the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar until the mixture gets all foamy and bubbly and measures 150oF.  Take off the heat and beat on high until the mixture is shiny and glossy with stiff peaks.

2. Add in the butter a couple of cubes at a time, beating the whole time on medium speed.  The mixture will look like it's curdled for a bit, but have no fear, just keep on trucking and it will come right and get all silky and glossy.

3.  Beat in the butterscotch sauce.  Spread over cake and smooth (I used a pallet knife but a normal knife would work too).


  1. Whoa sounds freakin AMAZING cuz! Just recommended your glorious blog to a really cool 12 year old I met today. Lovin your work! xxx

  2. so scrumptious... this is one cake I'll have fun preparing with my kid. Love it so much.
    Feel free to stop by my site am giving away a free cupcake maker :)

  3. This unbelievably gorgeous cake surpassed all my expectations when I noticed that butterscotch sauce also found its place between the two layers of cake! Thanks for sharing the recipe and photos. :)

  4. Sticky date pudding is my favourite dessert ever - how genius of you to make it in cake form! And that buttercream icing sounds heavenly.

  5. Absolutely stunning cake and what a flavor bomb! Yum.

  6. Whoa. I thought the side project was going to be this cake. It looks incredible. Great buttercream inventing :)

  7. I am sooo glad you were able to make some time for this cake - it looks outstanding. I would love to have a team as dedicated as you and your friends putting together that yearbook on some of my projects! Not that I would want anyone to have a sleepless night and too much coffee, but that kind of dedication goes a long way!

  8. Oh. My Gawlllll. My teeth hurt just looking at it and I'd probably just dig in there with my hands if I had taste-o-vision. Seriously.

    I know how those projects can be. I think everyone understands if you're between posts! It's so hard to keep up a food blog. ;)

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. I made it for my husbands birthday yesterday and it turned out perfectly. I did as you suggested and doubled the sauce and frosting, had a little bit left of each but not much so glad I did. Other family members are already putting in requests for their birthdays :-)

  10. Oh wow how is it that I haven't replied to all these gorgeous comment! Soz lovelies!

    Anya: Thank you lovely cuz! So glad to be a blog that all ages can enjoy! :)

    my Fudo: You are awesome for giving away a cupcake maker - best prize ever! Thanks heaps for stopping by!

    Jennifer @ Raisin Questions: Everything is always better with more butterscotch no?! :) Thanks for your lovely comment.

    Danguole: Cheers Danguole!

    millemirepoix: It's totes my fav dessert too! Have always wished it was a cake but have been disappointed with previous attempts...until this recipe!! It's like all my christmases come at once :)

    Lora: Thanks Lora! Flavour bomb is totally going to be my new phrase du jour!

    timeforalittlesomething: hehe baking is always the main event never the side project!

    kita: the sleepless nights were actually kinda fun looking back - you know when you are all overtired, pumped on too much caffeine and ridiculously giggling at everything?

    The Little Foodie: hehe I too was seriously holding back not smashing my face into the cake to nom on it. Just something so sexy bout oozy butterscotch sauce. yum!

    Joy: Thanks Joy!

    Kath: YAY! So so stoked you liked the cake and thanks heaps for coming back and commenting! You are a super awesome wifey! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!! :)

  11. That looks so good. Dates are great, and butterscotch - WOW.

  12. OMG just made this cake for a birthday and it turned out AMAZING! I followed the recipe exactly and it worked so well. I doubled the butter cream and sauce which was lucky since I couldn't stop eating it! haha. Thank you so much I love this cake!

    1. YAY!!!!! You are so very welcome. So so stoked you liked the cake!! Honestly your message is one of the nicest messages EVER so thank you so much for coming back and commenting!! Lol I eat that sauce by the spoonful too. Often. :)

  13. My sister made me this cake for my birthday, last weekend and it is DIVINE!

    1. Oh yay! So glad you liked it! What a great sister :)

  14. Hi
    I would love to trial this as a possible wedding dessert but I'm wondering, did you use double quantities to add more layers in the photo of the assembled and iced cake? It looks so much taller than the bottom photo with just the two layers.
    Thanks :)



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