Dates make this moist, cake-like steamed pudding “sticky,” and a final drizzle of silken butterscotch sauce makes it utterly irresistible. When our ovens are filled to capacity for holiday entertaining, we turn to this comforting slow cooker dessert for its luscious flavor as much for its convenience. This is from cookbook writer and dear friend Peggy Fallon.
1Using lightly oiled kitchen scissors, cut each date into 3 or 4 pieces; set aside. Select a 2 1/2-quart pudding mold with a lid, ceramic soufflé dish, heatproof bowl, small slow cooker crock, or other ceramic baking dish, that fits comfortably inside your crock with at least 1 inch of clearance all around to allow steam to circulate freely. Generously coat the inside of the mold and lid or baking dish with the softened butter.
2In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until lightly beaten. Whisk in the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, oil, orange zest, and vanilla extract. Stir in the dates. Gradually stir in the flour mixture just until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared mold, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. If using a dish without a cover, cover the dish tightly with a double layer of aluminum foil; tie a string around the rim of the bowl to hold the foil in place. Gently lower the mold into the crock.
3Carefully add hot water until it comes up to about 2 inches high on the side of the mold. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, taking care not to let the water boil off; add a bit more hot water if needed. Check the pudding; it should feel set to the touch, yet slightly moist. A cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
4Leave the mold in the cooker, uncovered, for 10 minutes to cool slightly, then carefully remove the mold to a rack. Remove the cover or foil from the mold. Allow the pudding to cool for 10 minutes, then turn it upside down onto the rack to let the pudding slide out. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges and topped with the butterscotch sauce and/or whipped cream. Store leftovers, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.