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Without edge

caramel self-saucing walnut puddings

There is a quiet gentleness to the word pudding, or even better its diminutive form, pud. I’m considering it in its larger scope, the loosely-defined notion of desserts in general, not the narrow view of custard alone.

Pudding has a welcoming, nursery-school comfort to its sound. Placing the phrase “Caramel Self-Saucing” as a prefix only serves to amplify that quality.

However, for all their soothing reputation, these petite darlings gave me a world of trouble.  Well, not these ones, as these ones right here are the ones that were made after the hair pulling. After the whispered mutterings punctuated by half-swallowed curses. These ones were the ones that reminded me when made well, a proper pud is your bestest bud on an autumn afternoon. These are the ones that made me do a happy dance in my kitchen, right there by the stove.

What was it that caused all my trouble? Only this - I wanted these cakes to be darned special for all their humbleness. I wanted them pleasantly solid and touched with caramel, and perfectly spoonable. 

Before I get into the account of my failure, it would be remiss to jaunt merrily ahead when I've not given Self-Saucing Puddings the introduction they're due.

To make this miraculous invention, you stir together a simple batter that's spooned into a buttered baking dish. Then your pour a watery syrup, in this instance a caramel one, over top the uncooked cake. Yes, over top. It looks a right mess, and you're thinking you've ruined the whole recipe, because who is going to want to eat something that looks like a sludge-covered bog, and gracious, will your friends ever even want to come over again after you serve them swamp pudding? Steel yourself and pop that dish in the oven.

Take a deep breath and uncross your fingers. You needn't worry. Promise.

The cake will take care of itself. As it bakes, the modest batter grows, rising above the murky darkness of the liquid. And that syrup, so unceremoniously displaced, will sink and ooze its way down, around and through the cake, ending up as a thickened puddle at the bottom of the dish.

And, as someone smart recently said to me, "what could be better than finding warm caramel on the bottom of a yummy cake?" Good question.

Now suitably lulled by that blissful notion, here is the story of my failures. 

My first go gave me a cake that was perfectly serviceable. Its top had a light sugar glaze that was crystalized and pretty - a sugared crust created by the syrup as it sank. But the caramel was where it faltered - I'd pulled muscovado from the pantry, craving its burnt-toffee sweetness and the suggestion of treacle. What I ended up with was far more than a suggestion, it was a manifesto yelled from the depths of my bowl. It was so sugary it hurt.

I tried again. This time with dark brown sugar and a greater ratio of water to sugar and less syrup on the whole.

Then the cake. Serviceable wasn't enough. I was going for better than that. I'd put roasted walnuts in the first try, which gave a rough crumb that reminded me of tweed coats and cable knit sweaters. This time around, as I was melting the butter, it hit me - let it brown. So I did, watching with far more glee than is probably normal for one to feel over a saucepan of bubbling butter, as it went from buttercup to deeper golden, and finally touched with umber.

The aromatic butter was transformative. The cake was given voice against the caramel, in harmonious tandem. 

The third try was a minor tweak - seeds from a vanilla bean. It is a sleepy spice, with a murmured warmth that is without edge. It's the accent of a hushed baritone. The duet turned a trio and was improved by the collaboration.

That was the charm, as they say. For here was the pud I'd wanted, one that lived up to its name. 


Caramel Self-Saucing Walnut Puddings


For the syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the cake
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces walnuts, toasted and ground into meal with a food processor
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup milk
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
4-6 small fresh figs, sliced (optional)

Lightly-whipped cream to serve

Start with the syrup. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Once liquid, stir in the brown sugar to combine along with the salt. Pour in the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 325°F (160°C).

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the 6 tablespoons butter. Cook until the butter begins to brown and smell toasty, around 5 minutes. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally - it will continue to darken as it sits. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, stir together the browned butter, walnut meal, eggs, brown sugar, milk and seeds from the vanilla bean. Once combined, stir in the dry ingredients until just blended. Do not overmix.

Divide the pudding mixture between 6 x 1-cup capacity greased oven-safe dishes. Top with sliced figs. 

Give the syrup a stir if needed, then carefully pour some over the back of a spoon onto each of the cakes, trying not to disturb the figs. The cakes will look a mess, but don't worry. Bake in the preheated oven until the cake is puffed and set, with a dry, glistening crust and you can see the syrup bubbling around the edge of the dishes, around 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving with the cream.

Makes 6.


Reader Comments (61)

This looks delicious, your photos and recipes are just gorgeous!
I really have to buy a couple of those small bowls. Making small cakes and souffle in coffee mugs works but doesn't look that good:-)

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrau Sonntag

Looks fabulous!

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCherine

This looks stupendous (and I don't even eat cakes or sweets!).
The process reminds me of a strange brownie recipe I got many years ago in which you had to drown some nutty chocolatey batter in a mixture of brown sugar, cooca and water. It took faith to start on that recipe: I had never encountered anything like that before. And yet the brownies came though, brownies-like and fairly demure at the top, turning to a rich chocolate cream at the bottom.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathalie

The things you do for us! I'm in the middle of trying to perfect a recipe too but I guess it's ok to eat the failures...until you get a bit sick of them ^_^

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSasa

Looks lovely ... adding the figs is a great idea. Thanks for the recipe - Susan

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Nye

so so pretty seriously. They sound incredible and something that could become my favorite! And oh your way of writing is amazing...thanks again.


October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmalia

Never tasted a recipe like this but it all sounds delicious. And figs... oh, I just love them this time of year.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertiina { sparkling ink }

Oh my...yum doesn't quite cut it here. Sounds like the perfect ending to a nice crisp fall day.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

These sound like the exact thing I'd like to have coming out of my oven on a cool Fall day!

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacqui

I recognized the figs right away so I had to continue reading. so it took you 3 tries. it really sounds delicious and I will have to bookmark this recipe, I still have fig butter in my fridge.

and your photos are amazing as well.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElisa

These have just been added to my to-do list for the weekend. Thank you for sharing the details of your recipe hiccups. I find it so helpful to my own cooking when I hear how others have faltered and adjusted.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Oh YUM!!!
I've always been fascinated by those self-saucing puds. The British are so fond of them. They are do simple to make, but seem like lots of work... perfect to impress any guest. Those figs are an illuminated addition Tara!

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDahlia

This looks like heaven in a bowl, especially because I love anything with figs, too. A cake that sauces itself is pure genius.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Jung

The cockles of my heart have been warmed just reading this.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Jo

You had me at pud. You had me at pud.

I haven't had a good and proper, honest to goodness pud since I left home for foreign shores. Now, I am fantasizing of pud poking out from a healthy warm serving of custard...ahh. Thanks thanks thanks! Will definitely be making this.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersaer { craven maven }

hilarious! the end result looks absolutely scrumptious. i'd come over for your "swamp pudding" any day! :)

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

OMG. I want that in my munching cave now.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJason | These Roving Eyes

Gorgeous! And I love that it's both a dessert and a science project...sort of!

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Rowdy Chowgirl

Oh god I love pudding. You're right, the word is so evocative and rich and textured. I think once, late at night, I was watching television reruns when Dharma from Dharma and Greg summed it up perfectly:

"Greg, nobody likes to be sad. That's why there are drugs, alcohol, ... pudding."
"You try crying when you eat pudding...I dare 'ya!" - Dharma and Greg

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAbigail Huston

That looks utterly wonderful.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

Oh goodness, I am weak at my knees for caramel! Looks amazing!

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfresh365

Hi! Truly happy that you all like these puddings - I hope there will be reports back if any of you give them a try!

Nathalie, those brownies of yours sound a lot like the method for this cake - it must have been delicious! Chocolate self-saucing puddings are my favourite. The caramel was a bit of a whim.

Abigail, I love that quote. So true.

Cheers all!

October 6, 2010 | Registered Commentertara o'brady

Third times the charm I suppose! I'm so glad you persevered even through all the four letter words and hair pulling because these look glorious. Just perfect.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

A proper pud, indeed! You've outdone yourself, Tara. As for your photos -- I wish I had smell-o-vision.

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Ohh no, I hate figs but there is NO WAY I won't try this. I'm super makin it ! =)

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterraiza

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