Episode 6, GBBO 2012, Signature Bake

Sponge Puddings

So we’re going from American pie last week to British puddings this week. Any American who’s watched The Great British Baking Show for a season or more realizes that what the British mean by pudding isn’t what Americans call pudding. What we in the U.S. usually consider pudding is generally referred to as custard on the other side of the pond. But to define what the British mean when they use the word pudding is a lot more complicated and often depends on context.

Evolution of Pudding

The simplest way to define it would be that pudding means dessert. But then there are so many exceptions, like Yorkshire pudding (a popover-style dinner roll) and black pudding (a.k.a. blood sausage), which are savory. If you really want to get into the etymology of the word, you can look at this or this.

But if I had to explain it, it would go something like this: Pudding most likely derived from the French word boudin, which means sausage (thus, black pudding), then morphed into anything wrapped in a casing and boiled. (Think of James’ clootie dumplings entry for this episode.) Cooking methods have evolved over the years such that puddings that may have traditionally been boiled (like old-fashioned Christmas puddings) are now steamed, and those that started out being steamed (e.g., jam roly-poly) are now usually baked. The word has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that it often simply means “the dessert course.” (While this usage may have class associations, we’ll leave that for another post.)

For this Signature Challenge, the bakers had to make two kinds of sponge puddings. (Sponge is another word that means something different in Britain than America, but that was covered in my post about my first GBBO bake.) They could be baked, boiled or steamed, but they had to be individually portioned (six of each), and each had to be served with its own accompaniment (such as a sauce or other topping). The sponge can be self-saucing or topped off before serving. Mary Berry wanted to make sure they’re not gooey in the middle (underbaked) or dry (overbaked).

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Several of the bakers chose to make Sticky Toffee Pudding. Though touted as a British classic, this cake-like dessert served with a thick caramel sauce actually hearkens back only to the ‘70s, when it was “invented” by a hotelier in Cumbria, but it seems he may have had some help from a certain Mrs. Martin in Lancashire, who claims to have been given the recipe by a friend from Canada.

Recipes for this pudding can vary quite a bit, but the one common denominator is dates. The dried fruits are generally boiled and either chopped or pureed before being added to the batter, giving the sponge its characteristic dark brown color and an extra sweetness that is only enhanced by the sauce, which is sometimes baked in, sometimes poured on liberally before serving.

I decided to make a traditional sticky toffee pudding, mostly because I’d never tried one before and I wanted to know how it tasted. So I found what looked like a typical recipe on foodandwine.com that is baked in six individual ramekins, but I chose to use the sauce from a different sticky toffee pudding recipe I found on tworedbowls.com, partly because it uses mascarpone instead of cream, and I needed to use up the mascarpone I bought for last week’s bake.

This sticky toffee sauce is enriched with mascarpone cheese, making it extra thick and gooey!

The one change I made to the main recipe is that I didn’t add the sauce to the sponges mid-bake but waited until just before serving. This is because I was afraid they would turn out too sweet if I sauced them in the baking dish, and I wanted everyone to be able to add as much or as little extra sweetness as they liked.

Rhubarb Steamed Pudding

For my other pudding, I chose a simple rhubarb steamed pudding in order to use some of the rhubarb that’s been growing like wildfire in my side yard. I only have one hill, but I have trouble keeping up with it in the spring and usually end up freezing some for later use, but then later never happens and it languishes in the back of my freezer.

I found a couple of recipes on bbcgoodfood.com and borrowed a little from this one and this one. For the sauce, I improvised, using some of the leftover raspberry coulis I made for my layered meringue dessert and kept in the freezer, adding some of the syrup from cooking the rhubarb and some candied ginger, and reducing it on the stove.

These were not difficult bakes, but I ran into difficulties with the steamed pudding. Although I followed the directions for individual puddings that were attached to this recipe, baking them in a bain-marie for nearly 35 minutes until my inserted toothpick came out clean, two of my puddings collapsed when turned out of the pans. (I felt much like Danny when she had to serve her Jubilee Chocolate Fondants to Paul and Mary in this episode of GBBO, even though two of them fell on the floor.)

My sticky toffee sponges came out beautifully, but when I turned out my rhubarb puddings, two of them collapsed into mush!

Even the ones that held together seemed a bit mushy and underdone when biting into them. My only explanation is that the rhubarb added too much moisture and retarded the rise. But also, my oven may have baked them unevenly because I turned off the convection fan so that the foil I covered them with wouldn’t blow off.

As for the taste, the sticky toffee pudding, while almost bland on its own, is easily overpowered by the sweetness of the sauce, although a sprinkling of sea salt on top helped to temper it a bit. I would love to experiment with the flavors, adding molasses and ginger to create a more gingerbread-like sponge, or coffee for a caramel latte flavor combination. 

The rhubarb steamed pudding was a good blend of sweet and tart, and the raspberry-rhubarb-ginger sauce really upped the flavor profile. Next time (in addition to baking them longer), I might try increasing the amount of candied ginger in the sponge, perhaps even mixing it into the dough rather than just combining it with the rhubarb topping. I recommend serving both of these puddings with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream on the side. 

I call this bake my Spring and Fall Puddings. Rhubarb is a quintessential flavor of spring, and the lighter sponge and fruity sauce make it ideal for warmer weather, while the sticky toffee reminds me of caramel apples and the comfort food we crave when the weather turns cold. I hope you’ll try them both!

Spring and Fall Puddings

Rhubarb-Ginger Steamed Pudding with Raspberry-Rhubarb Sauce

Adapted from BBCGoodFood.com for American bakers

For the pudding:

  • 3 c. rhubarb, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 c. superfine (baker’s) sugar, divided
  • 1 T. crystallized ginger, minced
  • 9 T. unsalted butter
  • few drops pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • ½ t. salt

For the sauce:

  • ¾ lb. fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 t. lemon juice
  • 1 T. crystallized ginger, minced
  • Liquid from cooked rhubarb


1. Cook the rhubarb with 1/3 cup of the sugar and 1 tablespoon minced candied ginger over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes until it just starts to soften. Remove from heat.
2. Heat the oven to 350°F, and put a kettle of water on to boil.
3. Put butter and remaining 1 1/3 cup of sugar in a mixer bowl and cream together. Stir in vanilla, then beaten eggs, a little at a time. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, and carefully fold into the mixture.
4. Strain the rhubarb topping, reserving the liquid. Divide the rhubarb among six lightly greased, 1-cup baking molds (I used my individual-sized bundt pans.), then top with the sponge mixture. Smooth over the surface, and loosely cover each pudding with some buttered foil, scrunching around the sides to give the sponge room to rise.
5. Place the molds in a deep roasting pan and pour boiling water into the pan until halfway up the sides of the molds. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the sponge has risen and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. If not using a convection oven, turn the pan a half turn halfway through the bake time. (Be very careful so the hot water doesn’t splash on you or into the baking molds!)
6. While sponge is baking, combine raspberries, 2 T. sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan, and over medium heat, cook and stir until berries break down, sugar dissolves and sauce is heated through, about 3-7 minutes. Remove from heat and press sauce through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds and pulp. Pour strained sauce back into pan, add 1 T. crystallized ginger and liquid from cooked rhubarb, and simmer over low-medium heat till reduced to about three-quarters of original volume.
7. When puddings have cooled slightly, turn out onto individual plates. Drizzle with sauce and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Credit for sponge: FoodAndWine.com
Credit for sauce: TwoRedBowls.com

For the sponge:

  • 6 oz. pitted dates, preferably Medjool
  • ¾ c. water
  • ¾ c. + 2 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • ¼ t. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ c. light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ t. pure vanilla extract

For the sauce:

  • 8 T. (½ c.) unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1 c. + 2 T. dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 t. sea salt, plus more for serving


1. In a small saucepan, simmer dates in the water over moderately low heat until the water is nearly absorbed and the dates are soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer dates and any liquid to a food processor and puree until very smooth.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter six ½-cup ramekins.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium mixing bowl, use electric mixer to beat the 4 T. butter with the light brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and ½ t. vanilla, then mix in the date puree. At low speed, mix in dry ingredients.
4. Spoon batter into the prepared ramekins and smooth the surface. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let puddings cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the inside of each ramekin and invert onto a dessert plate.
5. To make the toffee sauce, combine ½ c. butter, mascarpone, dark brown sugar and 2 t. vanilla in a 2- or 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 10-15 minutes, whisking, until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Stir in 1/8 t. salt and set aside.
6. To serve, place cakes on individual plates and pour sauce over each. Add a pinch of sea salt on top. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if desired.
Next week: Queen of Puddings

2 thoughts on “Sponge Puddings”

  1. I found the toffee sauce to be a nice compliment as well, but I only did a large spoonful on each pudding as to not overpower the flavor of the cake. Your puddings look delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: A Suet Pudding

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