Begin by putting the chopped dates in a bowl and pouring 6 fl oz (175 ml) boiling water over them.
Then add the vanilla extract, coffee essence and bicarbonate of soda and leave on one side. Next, in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, beating (preferably with an electric hand whisk) until the mixture is pale, light and fluffy.
Now gradually add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
After that, carefully and lightly fold in the sifted flour using a metal spoon, and then you can fold in the date mixture (including the liquid). You'll probably think at this stage that you've done something wrong, because the mixture will look very sloppy, but don't worry: that is perfectly correct and the slackness of the mixture is what makes the puddings so light.
Now divide the mixture equally among the eight containers, place them on a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes.
When they're cooked, leave them to cool for 5 minutes, then, using a cloth to protect your hands, slide a small palette knife around each pudding and turn it out. If they have risen too much you may have to slice a little off the tops so that they can sit evenly on the plate.
Now place the puddings on a shallow, Swiss-roll tin.
Next, make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a saucepan and heating very gently until the sugar has melted and all the crystals have dissolved.
To serve the puddings: pre-heat the grill to its highest setting, and pour the sauce evenly over the puddings. Place the tin under the grill, so the tops of the puddings are about 5 inches (13 cm) from the heat (knock off any nuts on the top to prevent them browning) and let them heat through for about 8 minutes.
What will happen is the tops will become brown and slightly crunchy and the sauce will be hot and bubbling.
Serve with chilled pouring cream or ice cream – and sit back to watch the looks of ecstasy on the faces of your guests.
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4, 350°F (180°C).
You will also need eight 6 oz (175 g) metal pudding basins or eight 3 inch (7.5 cm) ramekin dishes, lightly oiled with groundnut oil, a Swiss-roll tin, and a baking sheet.