Let’s face it, nobody ever went to war on a fruit salad..
What is the matter with Mary Jane?’ sighs A. A. Milne. His poem’s young subject won’t stop bawling, in spite (or because, although the thought never crosses his mind) of the fact that it’s ‘lovely rice pudding for dinner again’. To Milne’s way of thinking, anyone who can’t be jollied along by a bowl of nursery stodge must be in a very bad way indeed.
I’m with him on that one. But riddle me this: when is a pudding a proper pudding, like one of Milne’s, as opposed to anything else you might end a meal with?
It isn’t really a matter of ingredients a Snickers contains sugar and starch in roughly the same ratio as a syrup sponge. Nor is it a question of where you’re eating it. At The Goring, in London’s most tinklingly traditional hotel dining room, you can round things off with a pink grapefruit parfait, served with citrus meringue and a grapefruit gel. Delicious but most definitely a dessert, not a pudding.
The difference, really, is one of tone. Desserts whisper softly in your ear, but puddings bellow encouragement at you from the touchline. They’re substantial— not just in portion terms (that’s a given), but in spirit. Puddings strengthen your resolve and stiffen your upper lip. Nobody ever went to war on a fruit salad.
Pick a favourite? I really, truly couldn’t. But what I can do is round up the 20 that have found fame far beyond these shores the puddings, in other words, that we gave the world. Spoons at the ready…
The Terry-Thomas of the sweet trolley. Get past the fnar-fnar name, however, and you have a superlative steamed pudding that deserves to be taken seriously. As a vehicle for custard, it’s unbeatable. Best served piping hot, with a retired Colonel.
Legend has it that this one came about after somebody’s labrador sat on the strawberry pavlova they’d brought along to the Fourth of June picnic. This is, of course, a ridiculous story. The labrador would have eaten the pavlova.
Don’t let the Yankee-Doodle portmanteau fool you this is one of ours, first appearing on the menu at The Hungry Monk Restaurant in East Sussex. And when you think about it, what could be more English than boiling a tin of condensed milk for several hours?
Black Forest gâteau
Yes, there was an actual gâteau from Germany’s Black Forest (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte) long before we Britons went wild for layer cakes. But it’s our version three tiers of dense, dark, kirsch-soaked sponge, smothered in cream and curls of grated chocolate that’s gone the distance.
Is there anything that can’t be improved by the addition of a crumble topping? I think not. Pear and chocolate is very good (and very now), but, for me, nothing comes close to classic apple, liberally sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon.
Proof that, sometimes, more is more. When topping one, you should go hog wild with the flaked almonds, chocolate sprinkles and those funny little gold baubles that make your fillings hum. The only thing you must never use is aerosol cream.
As with most Yorkshire specialties, the making of this ginger-spiced sponge is a minefield. Leave out the lard and you’re a Southern softie who probably puts their heating on in September. Eating it straight from the tin, rather than leaving it to harden into something resembling asphalt, is the worst sin of all.
‘If you can get it off your teeth in less than 10 minutes, it’s too young’ is the general rule.
Enid Blyton in edible form. The thing to remember here is not to scrimp on the filling, unless you enjoy the sensation of chomping your way through an old mattress.
Much, much greater than the sum of its parts. Dollop some marmalade in between the slices of bread and you have what’s referred to in my house, anyway as Paddington pudding.
There was a time when you could hardly move in the Shires for these. They’ve fallen from grace somewhat, which is a shame, because they’re the very best way of using up a glut of berries. At the River Café, you can pay £10 for a slice of one that’s been drowned in Valpolicella, which seems to me to be entirely beside the point.
The reason cornflakes were invented. Nothing looks nicer on blue-and-white striped Cornishware, with a little jug of chilled pouring cream on the side.
Singlehandedly responsible for the Great Gastropub Boom of the early Noughties. Nowadays, it comes gussied up with ginger, banana, fig and chocolate, but the original, crammed with dates, will always reign supreme.
The lovechild of a Victoria sponge and some Bramley apples, this nursery favour-
ite is as blissfully undemanding as a re-run of Dad’s Army. You don’t even have
to chew, really.
On its own, this school-dinner favourite could do double duty lagging pipes, but, as an island in a sea of chocolate custard, it becomes the sublimest form of stodge known to man. Between the ages of 11 and 18, I ate little else.
Like trifle, this is a pudding that benefits from a kitchen-sink approach to ingredient selection. The one at Fortnum’s revamped restaurant, 45 Jermyn St., wears a magnificent hat of Italian meringue. More of this, please.
Queen of puddings
As championed by HRH Mary Berry on The Great British Bake Off. Covers all the major food groups: custard, cake, jam and meringue.
Not to be confused with pastel de nata, its wibbly Portuguese cousin, an English custard tart is an altogether stouter, sturdier thing. All that nutmeg on top is very hey nonny nonny—you can imagine Falstaff getting through a whole one.
Sussex pond pudding
The sort of thing Rudyard Kipling might have written affectionately about (in The Just Dough Stories, perhaps). Lemon, butter and sugar are transformed inside the crust into a sauce that puddles obligingly out onto the plate when spoon meets suet.
No, it isn’t a crème brûlée. Or, rather, it is but it’s our crème brûlée. Trinity creams have been cooked up by the head chef of Cambridge’s top college since Queen Victoria was on the throne. Stick that in your pipe, Monsieur Escoffier.
Just as die-hard Bob Dylan fans believe naysayers are only ever one song away from conversion (and will play Blood on the Tracks over and over again to this end), so rice pudding devotees will insist that you try just a smidgen of theirs, in the hope that it’ll win you over. If it’s oven-baked, with a nutmeg-freckled skin, it just might.