From a very young age, one of Neven's favourite pastimes was to shadow his mother in the kitchen, watching her cook; his pastime soon became ...
150 g butter (at room temperature, plus extra for greasing)
175 g stoned dates (preferably medjool)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175 g light muscovado sugar
175 g self-raising flour (plus extra for greasing)
2 eggs (beaten)
1 tsp vanilla extract
for the caramel sauce:
300 g caster sugar
250 ml cream
75 g unsalted butter
1 vanilla pod (split with seeds scraped out)
fresh mint sprigs, to decorate
whipped cream or toffee ice cream, to serve
I normally make individual puddings but you can also make one big one. This quantity will fill a 25 x 18cm (10 x 7in) buttered non-stick baking tin that is at least 2.5cm (1in) deep. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until well risen and firm to the touch. If you are worried about the puddings sticking to the dariole moulds, try lining the bottom of each one with a circle of non-stick baking parchment. This will guarantee perfect results every time.
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4) and lightly butter and flour 8 x 150ml (1/4 pint) dariole moulds.
Place the dates in a pan with 300ml (1/2 pint) water and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes until softened.
Remove from the heat and stir in the bicarbonate of soda until the mixture stops foaming.
Leave to cool a little, then tip into a food processor or liquidiser and blend for 2 minutes to a thick purée.
Place the butter and muscovado sugar in a bowl and cream together for a few minutes until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer.
Add one tablespoon of flour and then slowly add the beaten egg, beating well to combine.
Fold in the remaining flour with a metal spoon and finally fold in the date purée with the vanilla extract.
Divide the pudding mixture among the prepared dariole moulds and arrange on a baking tray.
Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch.
When the puddings are cooked, remove from the oven and, after 5 minutes turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the caramel sauce, place the caster sugar in a pan with 300ml (1/2 pint) of water.
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
Stir in the cream, butter and vanilla seeds until well combined, then continue to cook gently for another 8-10 minutes until shiny and thickened.
To serve, arrange the puddings on serving plates. Pour over some of the caramel sauce, then flash under a grill until bubbling, if liked.
Add a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream and serve the remainder of the caramel sauce separately, hot or cold.