Loosely adapted from Nigella Lawson's Sticky Toffee Pudding dessert from her cookbook, Nigella Bites, this sheet-pan version is one of my favorite things to make for guests during the colder months. I love this cake because it's one of those things I'm able to throw together when it seems I have nothing in my pantry and fridge. All it needs are the usual suspects, things like brown sugar, butter, flour, eggs, and milk—plus chopped dates. I often make this without the dates, but they're the ingredient that gives the dessert its signature flavor and squidge.
The important thing is to trust in Nigella's technique (it's a quirky one!): Once you spread the very simple batter out onto the sheet pan, you dot the cake with brown sugar, blobs of butter, and *pour* hot water (yes, hot water) all over the top. As this water-filled pan bakes in the oven, the liquid mixes with the butter and sugar and amalgamates into a luscious sauce. The sauce also inverts with the cake, so the batter bakes up into a tender sponge on top, while sticky toffee ends up on bottom. It's a very satisfying thing to watch happen, but requires a little faith. —Eric Kim
Preheat the oven to 375°F and butter an 18x13-inch half sheet pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Dump in the flour, baking powder, salt, and milk, and stir until smooth. Fold in the chopped dates. Spread batter out onto the buttered sheet pan.
For the “sauce,” sprinkle over the 2 cups of brown sugar and dot with the 1/2 stick of butter. Pour the boiling water all over the top of the cake (trust me!) and carefully transfer to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until caramelized on top. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Eric Kim is a senior editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.