The Proof of the Pudding is in the Judging

When people joke that they’re jealous of my job, I remind them that’s it’s not always fun. Sometimes I have to eat things that are gross and unappetizing, and sometimes I get to eat stuff that, while delicious, can get to be overwhelming. Or sometimes it can be both gross and overwhelming – as in the case when I ate 7 different styles of haggis in one sitting. Betcha nobody wanted my job THAT day.

So while I got comments and looks of envy when I told people that I’d be judging a sticky toffee pudding contest, I don’t know that anybody would really have wanted to take my place. I did, after all, eat 4 portions of sticky toffee pudding, with a different beer for each one.

Okay, to be fair, I shared my portions with Greg and we didn’t finish them all, but still… we came home yesterday feeling a little ooky from all the sugar.

But it really was worth it. Most people think of sticky toffee pudding with a smile on their faces, but who could have known there was such diversity in what was being served in Toronto restaurants. Light to dark, fluffy to dense, the puds ran the gamut.

The participating restaurants were asked to provide servings of their puddings, and Adam Grant from The Monk’s Table, where the event took place, provided their choice of beer to pair with the puds. Along with Toronto Star beer writer Josh Rubin and beer expert Stephen Beaumont, I was charged with judging 3 categories. Best overall pudding, best pudding and beer combination, and best beer.

You might think that sticky toffee pudding and beer are not a common combination and you’d be right, although it can work if the beer is chosen to work with the elements of the dessert. It can turn out very well, but it can also go very, very wrong.

Pudding #1, above, (the puds were presented to us blind – we didn’t know where they were from) had a light fluffy crumb that was almost like banana bread, and was topped with a thick caramel sauce sprinkled with sea salt. It was paired with Southern Tier Choklat  Stout. While we collectively liked the pud, the beer was too heavy and sweet for so light a cake, and the dessert was quickly overpowered by the beer.

Pudding #2 (whoops, got into that one before we remembered to take a pic) was the most traditional of the puds, obviously steamed, full of dates, dense and dark in colour, with strong molasses flavour in both the cake and the sauce. Where the first pudding suffered from being paired with a beer that was too heavy, #2 suffered from a beer that was too light. The general rule when pairing beer with desserts is to try and match the sweetness evenly, or use a beer that is slightly sweeter, lest you make the dessert seem too sweet and the beer seem too sour. Beau’s Lug Tread, while a fantastic beer, really didn’t work with this pudding, making the dessert come across as cloying, while the sweetness and molasses of the dessert made the beer taste like Ovaltine. (We all commented that switching beers #1 and #2 would have made a huge difference in terms of the pairing results as the Choklat worked better with the heavy #2 pud, while the Beau’s worked much better with the lighter pud from #1.)

Pudding #3 was our favourite, both for cake and sauce. It was neither too dense or too fluffy, with a nice crumb and a flavour that was mildly spicy. With a sauce redolent with butter, it was really the perfect example of a sticky toffee pudding, and we happily proclaimed this to be the winning dessert. This was paired with Schneider Aventinus, a beer with notes of caramel and clove. 2nd best pairing overall.

Pudding #4 suffered from insecurity;  that is, the chef played around with things instead of sticking to the classic recipe the restaurant uses on a daily basis and things got a little weird. Like a piece of fudge baked into the centre. And deep-fried mint leaves as garnish. Left alone, it would have had a chance, as the pud itself was nicely balanced in terms of spices, although it appeared to have been baked instead of steamed. This pudding did win for best pud and beer pairing though, as the choice to pair it with Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw/Blue showed some forethought with regards to the flavour profiles of both the dessert and the beer.

The winners…

We choose the Gouden Carolus as the best overall beer. Note that I was outnumbered on this one, as I’m much more a fan of stouts, so the Choklat was my personal favourite.

For best pairing, we picked pudding and beer number 4, from Monk’s Table. While the pud wasn’t the best, this was the best combo.

And best pudding went to Kyle, Lorraine and Lily Deming, aka Sausage Partners. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Kyle has been the chef at Starfish and Ceili Cottage for many years, and their winning pud can be found at both restaurants.

Pudding #1, from Table 17, received an honourable mention for the best sauce – we all really dug that salted caramel sauce.

And pudding #2, from Queen & Beaver also received an honourable mention for being the most traditional pudding.

Thanks to Adam Grant of Monk’s Table for organizing the event. Monies raised from admission went to the Canadian Cancer Society, and Grant hopes to run the event every year, rotating it through other participating restaurants. So everyone that tweeted suggestions to me when I mentioned the pudding contest on Twitter – there will hopefully be another sticky toffee pudding smackdown next year.

Congratulations to all the participants and now you know – Ceili Cottage and Starfish *officially* have the best sticky toffee pudding in town!

3 thoughts on “The Proof of the Pudding is in the Judging”

  1. Having eaten the sticky toffee pudding at both Starfish and Ceili Cottage, I concur. It’s a winner! Delicious!

    1. I can believe it. I’ve had it a couple of times before, and it’s always been really good.

      I’ve also been told that, between the pud judging and requesting a different main at the Beau’s dinner last night, I’ve been barred from Queen & Beaver for being a trouble-maker. Chef was joking… I hope.

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