Sharon Hearne Smith's favourite slow cooker dessert is... sticky pudding with caramel and custard.

Ingredients

Note: A slow cooker is a very handy piece of kitchen kit and not just for savoury food. These mini puddings can be safely cooked unattended over a long period of time, making them perfect no-fuss dinnertime treats.

If they have been cooked ahead of time (up to 24 hours) they can be warmed through briefly in a microwave. Alternatively, these can be cooked in a steamer for 40 minutes.

Makes: 6

  • 200g pitted dates 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 250ml boiling water 100g unsalted butter + extra for greasing 6 tbsp maple syrup 125g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs 150g self-raising flour 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon 1⁄2 tsp mixed spice 1 large ripe pear 350ml Caramel Sauce (see recipe below) 300ml Vanilla Custard (see recipe below or shop-bought)
  • 25g pecans, chopped, to serve

ESSENTIAL KIT:

  • Slow cooker 6 × 175ml dariole moulds or mini pudding basins Food processor

Caramel Sauce
Just lick this from a spoon (once cool enough!) to find out exactly why it’s called heavenly. But be warned: it’s so moreish you might have to make double the quantity if you also plan to use it in a recipe.

Makes: 250ml

  • 75g caster sugar
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75ml double cream

1. Place the caster sugar in a large, heavy-based, stainless-steel (so you can see the colour) saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring occasionally.

2. Reduce the heat and simmer, without stirring, for 6-8 minutes until amber in colour. Remove from the heat and add the brown sugar, butter and cream. The mixture will bubble, spit and become lumpy but just stir vigorously until it dies down.

3. Return to the heat, turn it up and allow to bubble for a further 2 minutes, continuing to stir until it forms a smooth thick sauce. Remove from the heat and serve either warm or at room temperature. Once cool, this will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Vanilla Custard
You really can’t beat homemade custard! It is fairly simple to make, and mostly involves standing around stirring, during which time you can daydream about your favourite no-bake bakes.

It’s important to stir constantly to avoid the egg cooking into lumps. If you are unfortunate enough for this to happen then be sure to pass the custard through a sieve.

Homemade custard is slightly thinner than its shop-bought counterpart but you will love how wonderfully smooth and silky it is.

Makes: 600ml

  • 250ml whole milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod + the pod
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tsp cornflour

Method

Puddings

  1. Set the slow cooker to heat up as per manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Place the dates and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl and cover with the boiling water. Leave aside for about 5 minutes while you prepare the moulds.
  3. Butter the insides of the moulds or basins really well. Add a tablespoon of maple syrup into the bottom of each and set aside.
  4. Drain the dates well and blend them to a smooth purée in a food processor. Add the butter and sugar and blend everything until fairly smooth. Add the eggs, flour, cinnamon and mixed spice and blitz again to combine.
  5. Peel, core and finely chop the pear and divide it between the moulds. Ladle the cake mix over, dividing it evenly between them. Sit the puddings in the slow cooker, pop the lid on and leave to slow cook for about 8 hours or until the tip of a knife inserted in the centre of a pudding comes out clean.
  6. Make the pecan caramel sauce and custard within the last hour of cooking, if you haven’t done so already. Otherwise, simply warm them through on a low heat just before serving.
  7. When cooked, remove the puddings from the slow cooker and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Turn each one out onto the centre of a serving plate to reveal the sticky pear topping. Serve at once with custard and pecan caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce: 

  1. Place the caster sugar in a large, heavy-based, stainless-steel (so you can see the colour) saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. Reduce the heat and simmer, without stirring, for 6-8 minutes until amber in colour. Remove from the heat and add the brown sugar, butter and cream. The mixture will bubble, spit and become lumpy but just stir vigorously until it dies down.
  3. Return to the heat, turn it up and allow to bubble for a further 2 minutes, continuing to stir until it forms a smooth thick sauce. Remove from the heat and serve either warm or at room temperature. Once cool, this will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Vanilla custard

  1. Place the milk, cream and vanilla pod and seeds in a medium saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. When it reaches boiling point, immediately remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Beat the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a large bowl until smooth. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk mixture and pour the milk into the egg mixture, stirring all the time.
  3. Pour everything back into the pan and return to a medium heat. While stirring continuously, allow the custard to simmer for 6-8 minutes until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Pass through a fine sieve into a warm jug to serve. If making ahead of time, press cling film down all over the actual surface of the custard (to prevent a skin forming) and leave to cool completely. When required, warm it through on a low heat, stirring constantly, and without allowing it to boil.