- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and grease an 8-inch (20 cm) square metal or ceramic pan.
- Place the dates in a large heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Stir in the baking soda and set aside until lukewarm.
- Cream the butter and sugar together by hand in a large mixing bowl—the mixture will be sandy, not smooth or creamy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in the flour, baking powder, salt and cloves and stir to combine.
- Add the date mixture (including all of the water) and stir well—the batter will be very pale and liquid. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let cool for at least 15 minutes on a wire rack.
- To serve, cut the pudding cake into individual squares and serve warm, topped with the toffee sauce, or pool the sauce on the plate and place the pudding on top.
You can store the baked pudding cake in the pan, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days. Warm in a 300°F (150°C) oven for 15 minutes (or microwave individual slices) to heat through before serving. The toffee sauce can also be made ahead, chilled in a bowl or jar and gently warmed over medium heat just before serving.
To serve this fragrant and appealing dessert at the table, bake it in an 8-cup (2 L) capacity ceramic dish. Pour the warm toffee sauce into a pitcher and let guests drizzle it over their pudding.
Recipe from Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson, Appetite by Random House, 2018