Sticky Toffee Pudding

by Katie Johnstonbaugh of:
1/2 (8 OZ.) package chopped dried dates
1/4 t. vanilla extract
1 T. espresso or strong coffee
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 c. boiling water
5 T. butter, softened 
2/3 c. sugar
2 eggs
3/4 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/8 t.salt
2 sticks butter 
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. heavy cream
Optional: 1/2 c. pecans
Vanilla ice cream 

Preheat oven to 350º. In food processor, add dates,vanilla extract, coffee, and baking soda. Pulse for a few seconds until slightly blended. Slowly drizzle in hot water, pulsing until completely blended (dates will still be chunky). In a separate bowl and with a mixer, add butter and sugar and mix until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Turn mixer to lowest speed. Add in flour and baking powder and salt and just mix until incorporated. Add in wet date mixture and just blend. Do not over-mix. Pour into sprayed muffin tins and bake for 12- 15 minutes, until the middles are fairly firm. Remove from muffin tin and cool a bit. 

 To make sauce, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir in brown sugar until it gets foamy, about 3-4 minutes. Add heavy cream and stir in nuts if using. Serve warm sauce over warm pudding muffins, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Drizzle more sauce over ice cream.