From the Kitchen – Scents of the Season

by Joan Saunders | photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography – 

Certain scents pull me back to a specific time or place. When I smell cedar shavings, I am reminded immediately of my grandfather’s workshop. Lilac recalls a friend’s garden and cinnamon, ginger and sweet caramel always make me think of baking with my family over the holiday season.

This recipe fills the kitchen with cozy, festive, rich aromas and even though I didn’t grow up eating sticky toffee pudding, it’s become one of my favorite options to serve in the winter months. And I love making the individual puddings, as they look so gorgeous topped with a lavish serving of caramel sauce. In this case, more is the only way to go.

These are a generous treat for one person, so you could cut them in half after baking to serve more people, but it all depends on who is invited for dessert. Some of my friends would be affronted not to get the entire individual pudding even if I’ve seen them, after a hearty meal, falter as they face the final few bites. Who am I to deny them the challenge of just one more rich, caramelly mouthful?

Sugared cranberries and dried oranges round out the visual and taste experience of these puddings, but both are festive options for decorating other desserts throughout the season. Keeping some on hand gives you a quick, colourful way to augment the flavour and presentation of holiday recipes. And when you pull these puddings out of the oven, drizzle on the sauce, add some toppings and bring them to the table, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best gifts of the season: the joy of being with friends and family and the warm, satisfying scents and tastes of a sensational winter dessert.

Individual Sticky Toffee Puddings
Makes 6 servings

Pudding
6 dates, pitted, chopped
1/3 cup currants
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup boiling water
3 tbsp butter (room temperature)
1 cup packed golden brown sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger

Sauce
1 cup golden brown sugar
¾ cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease six eight-ounce souffle cups or mini non-stick pudding tins. Mix dates, currants, cranberries, baking soda in a heatproof bowl. Pour in boiling water, let stand 15 minutes. Beat 3 tbsp butter and 1 cup brown sugar until well combined. Beat in eggs. Beat in soaked fruit mixture, including liquid. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and spices in another bowl; gradually beat into wet mix. Spoon batter into prepared tins. Set cups/tins in a sided baking pan filled with an inch or so of hot water. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of a pudding pulls out clean.

Make sauce by combining all ingredients in small pot. Bring to boil, stirring; then reduce heat to its lowest setting, gently simmer for 5 minutes.

Cool puddings slightly before unmolding onto plates. Drizzle with caramel sauce; serve. Decorate, if desired, with sugared cranberries and/or dried orange slices.

Sugared Cranberries
2 ½ cups sugar, water & 3-4 cups cranberries (as desired)

Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar in saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mix starts to simmer around edges. Cool syrup to room temperature.

When syrup is cool, add cranberries; stir to coat. Work in batches if necessary. Let cranberries sit in syrup for a couple of minutes to soak. Remove cranberries with slotted spoon and place them on a cooling rack over a pan to drain. Let dry for about an hour. Can save syrup for cocktails or for another batch of cranberries.

Pour remaining 1 ½ cups sugar into shallow dish; roll cranberries, a few at a time, in sugar until well coated. Let dry completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

Dried Oranges
oranges, tea towel, metal cooling rack & baking tray

Slice oranges into thin rounds (about 1 cm/half inch). Pat dry with clean towel. Place orange slices on metal cooling rack (one that can go in the oven) over a baking tray so that air can circulate around easily. Put in low oven (120°) for about three hours, turning every half hour or so. Important: keep checking. The thinner they are, the quicker they will dry. Watch for burning. The oranges are ready when dry to touch. Will still be a bit sticky.

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