It’s a cold day (-12C) in Prince Edward Island today. The après-Christmas period always leaves me still craving comfort foods that have spices.
One of my favorite wintertime desserts is Sticky Date Pudding, the recipe for which, locally, is often associated with the prestigious Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel located just inside the National Park in Dalvay, on Prince Edward Island’s North Shore.
The iconic Dalvay estate was built as a private summer seaside residence in 1895 for Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy businessman and one-time president of the Standard Oil Company. The estate was reportedly named after MacDonald’s boyhood home in Scotland. Dalvay was later sold to the government and private entrepreneurs now operate the hotel and restaurant seasonally. It has been operated as a hotel since 1959.
The exterior of this hotel was also portrayed as the “White Sands Hotel” in the famous “Road to Avonlea” TV series a number of years ago. In the summer of 2011, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel grounds were the setting for a large event during the visit of Prince William and Catherine Middleton to PEI.
Those who have dined at the hotel’s restaurant will, no doubt, know about the Dalvay’s signature dessert – Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce. There are many recipes to be found, each claiming to be the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Sticky Date Pudding recipe. The one I use is the one that the hotel provided to our local CBC supper hour news show on PEI — “Compass” — in their “Summer Eats – Signature Dishes” segment in August 2006
Now, Dalvay did not invent the pudding. Rather, it is believed that its origins can be traced back to England somewhere around the early 1900s when, reportedly, a landlady of a local inn invented it for sale in her pub. Regardless the inventor I, for one, am truly grateful for this cozy comfort food. I don’t know why but I always tend to associate this dessert as a wintertime food; however, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel only operates during the summer season so that’s when it is served there. The moral of the story is that Sticky Date Pudding is good any time of the year!
The interesting thing about Sticky Date Pudding is that its ingredients are simple and basic and don’t take any hard-to-find or expensive ingredients or those that most of us cooks would be unlikely to have as staples in our cupboards. As its name suggests, dates are the primary ingredient in the pudding. The only spice on the ingredient list is ground ginger and you can alter the amount to suit your own personal taste. I don’t use a full tablespoon of ginger, as the recipe calls for, when I make the pudding. It’s an easy dessert to make and the method of preparation is not difficult.
What keeps this pudding nice and moist is that it is baked in a hot water bath in the oven. The warmth and constant steady heat of the hot water against the baking pan containing the ingredients acts as an insulator for the pudding and prevents it from baking too quickly and drying out, cracking on the top, or burning on the bottom. Combined with the steam generated in the oven from the water, this provides just the right environment for the pudding to bake nicely and evenly.
While the recipe calls for the pudding to be baked in one pan, I often divide the batter into small ramekins and place them in a pan of hot water for baking. Puddings made in the small round dishes look especially nice for presentation when turned out onto a dessert plate and drizzled with the Toffee Sauce.
Serve the pudding warm and, if you wish, add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of your favourite vanilla ice cream. This pudding freezes well and is a staple in my freezer every winter. To reheat, I simply thaw the pudding and heat for a few seconds in the microwave and make a batch of the Toffee Sauce. Enjoy!