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Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Lightly grease a deep 2-litre (about 28 x 20cm) oval baking dish. Tip the dates into a pan, pour over the milk and bring up to scalding point. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla essence and bicarbonate of soda, then leave to one side. Sift the flour and ginger into a bowl, then add the sugar, butter and eggs. Beat with an electric whisk for about 5 mins. Fold in the date mixture and stem ginger, then pour into the baking dish.
For the sauce, sprinkle the sugar over the pudding batter, then drizzle with the syrup. Pour 250ml boiling water over (do not stir), then bake for 40-45 mins until the pudding is firm to the touch. Serve spoonfuls of the pudding with a generous helping of syrupy sauce from the bottom of the dish. Great with vanilla ice cream or pouring cream.
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