Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Pour 175ml of boiling water over the dates and set aside to soak and cool.
Sift the flour and soda together.
Add the essence to the milk.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs slowly, waiting until each addition has been incorporated each time, before adding more.
Fold the flour and milk alternately into the egg mixture. Lastly, pour in the dates.
The mix will be rather light and runnier than a cake batter.
Ladle into 6-8 greased individuals moulds and place on a baking sheet in the centre of the oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until the puddings are firm and starting to pull away from the side of the moulds.
Remove from the oven and turn out on to a wire rack to cool.
To make the butterscotch sauce, put the butter in a medium-sized pan over a medium-high heat.
When the butter is bubbling, add the sugar. Stir together for about three minutes, until the sugar has dissolved, and the whole mass is foaming, and bubbling.
Carefully pour in the cream, followed by the Irish Whiskey, and turn down the heat. Let it all come together and boil for another minute or two, and then remove from the heat. Add the vanilla. Allow to cool slightly.
To serve, place the puddings on warm plates and ladle a generous spoonful of the sauce over each one. Dollops of whipped cream will top them off perfectly. If wrapped in cling film, the puddings keep well for a couple of days. They can be reheated in just a minute or two in the microwave or covered in some of the sauce in a medium oven.
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