It’s never been considered the most aesthetically pleasing after-dinner treat, but sticky date pudding (or sticky toffee pudding, depending on your geography) has graced menus and captured tastebuds since it earned the title of the signature dish of 1984, courtesy of “Sydney Morning Herald” writer David Dale.
Today, this simple yet flavourful dessert finds a new home at Matt Moran‘s latest establishment in Central West NSW, The Rockley Pub. An opportunity to revitalise Rockley and introduce a one-of-a-kind experience to the Central West region captured Moran’s attention. His farm, a short 10-minute drive down the road, adds to the personal significance of this venture. The Australian chef and media personality’s family history in the region stretches back generations, dating to 1883 when his great-grandfather exchanged vows at the historic Rockley church.
Located in a historic building in the town, just over a three-hour drive from Sydney, the kitchen at The Rockley Pub is under the skilled direction of head chef Simon Borghesi. He recently sat down with T Australia to discuss his journey to the Central West and generously shared his recipe for the classic Sticky Date Pudding.
On becoming a chef…
My culinary career began with a stint as a dishwasher at a Jacques Reymond restaurant in Prahran, Melbourne. I was interested in cooking but had only done a basic culinary course after finishing school in the UK, which had me playing around in the kitchen and cooking for friends at university residence on my return to Australia.
I was a decent cook but was hungry to learn more. After some time building my skills in the fast paced dish pit, I started being handed more and more prep jobs; peeling beans, rolling croquettes, de-seeding tomatoes. Eventually, I was offered a position in the kitchen, which meant I had to decide between staying at university or jumping into a full throttle apprenticeship – I took the kitchen job. From there I climbed the ranks and moved around the sections, and after one intense year I was running the pass. Here, I developed a foundation for cleanliness, organisation and urgency, which are vital qualities in this industry.
On maintaining drive…
Growing up, I was lucky to be exposed to many different cuisines from around the world. This gave me a great appreciation for good food and, naturally, the more interested you are in something, the more you practice and the better you get. I pivoted to cooking after deciding a desk job in a research facility was not for me, and although it was a controversial decision at the time, I can safely say that chasing my passion was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love the way cooking can take you all around the world, and I wanted to work in an industry where I play a part in creating great times and special memories for people. There’s nothing like seeing the satisfaction on someone’s face when they bite into something you’ve worked hard to create from scratch.
On unwinding after service…
When I was in the city, this would usually be an answer of going out for a few drinks on Chapel Street. As any cook knows, there’s a residual adrenaline rush that sticks with you after a good busy service so for many of us we would let out a bit of steam at one of the many bars from South Yarra to Windsor – a decision we would often come to regret in the morning! Now that I’m in the country, life is much quieter and I am thankful to have a more realistic sleep schedule. The pool room at the pub here is a big hit, and it’s safe to say I’m becoming a much better pool player with some of the locals around here providing a hell of a challenge.
On cooking at home…
Recently, I have been loving cooking with super fresh veg. My partner, Sophie, is a horticulturalist and has put lots of love and care into our garden space at home. A home cooked meal is already satisfying – when you can use home grown veggies, there’s really nothing like it.
The produce grown in and around the Central Tablelands is outstanding and the closer you can get to the time of harvest, the better. I was recently blown away when tasting a freshly picked homegrown squash, it completely re-introduced this vegetable to me like I’d never had before. When you have the chance to eat produce this fresh, the best way to prepare it is to intervene as little as possible and allow the produce to shine in all its natural glory.
One of our favourite home meals is a good, hearty, homemade ramen. Maybe it was all the Asian influence in Melbourne, but very quickly this became one of my all-time favourite meals living there. The versatility of ramen is unmatched and during Taralga’s cold winters, nothing else quite hits the spot. Tathra Place Farm is just out of town and their ducks are incredible for this dish, making the best broth. Chuck in some Gochujang eggplant, lightly pickled mushrooms, a sous vide egg and bok choy from our home garden… there’s a lot going on in this dish, but it all comes together so well.
On the venues that excite him at the moment…
I’m very excited about the scene that is developing in Taralga, the town I currently live in. It seems to be by chance a very heavy ‘foodie town’ with so many people excited about what small businesses are popping up around the corner (food or not). In the four years that I’ve been there I’ve even seen it develop so much; it’s a real hidden gem, blended between city and country. In other scenes around these parts, restaurant 9inety 2wo in Bathurst will be relocating soon to a larger space. I met the head chef/owner there (Brett Melhuish) who spoke to me about his plans on getting a big Death Grill smoker and hosting open fire events in the garden space they will soon have. Judging by his skill and what they made of their prior location I’d say this will be something to look forward to.
Sticky Date Pudding
Ingredients for Pudding
100g butter (softened)
300g brown sugar
365g medjool dates (pits removed)
1 tsp bi-carb soda
1 Tbsp malt extract
400ml boiling water
300g plain Flour
2 tsp bi-carb soda
Ingredients for Butterscotch Sauce
300g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp malt extract
Preheat oven to 180C.
In a stand mixer add butter and brown sugar, using the paddle attachment, beat well until the butter and sugar “cream” and become lighter in colour.
In a large mixing bowl add the dates, 1 tsp of bi-carb soda, malt extract and boiling water. The bi-carb soda and water will soften the dates making them easier to process. Use a stick blender to gently blend together.
Slow the mixer down and add the eggs one at a time until all combined. Add the flour and remaining bi-carb soda to the bowl along with the blended date mix. Mix well to form a batter.
Spray a non stick muffin tray with canola oil. Coat all sides well so they pop out without breaking once cooked. Fill each cavity three-quarters of the way up and bake for 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
To prepare the butterscotch sauce, in a saucepan add brown sugar, cream, butter, vanilla and malt extract and bring to a boil. Allow it to boil for a minute then remove from the heat. In a flat wide tray pour a thin layer of the sauce. Remove the cakes from the oven and drop them straight out into the butterscotch sauce in the tray.
Add a little more sauce and carefully roll the cakes around to coat them fully, this will allow them to soak up some of the butterscotch and give them a more “sticky” texture.
Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a drizzle of butterscotch sauce and a walnut praline for a bit of crunch.