16
Nov
07

A (really long) word on British desserts

syllabub-002.jpgvarious-001.jpg

OK, so British food gets a bad rap. British desserts, on the other hand–well, I challenge you to leave empty-handed from the dessert case at Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Marks & Spencer. There are simply too many temptations for dessert-lovers like us.

The array of individually-sized UK goodies like trifles, puddings, fools, etc. will make your head spin. Then there’s the French influence: floating islands (merengue floating in a “sea” of vanilla custard), mousses, creme brulees, pot de cremes, etc.

What I particularly like about desserts you find in the UK are:

(1) the names. Believe it or not, there’s a dessert called spotted dick (a delicious suet-based concoction with currants, not an STD. It’s usually served with hot custard)

(2) the use of real whipped cream, butter, custard and anything that will clot your veins/make me reach for my bottle of lactase. I mean, they actually sell a product called “clotted cream” (you can also find it here at Dean & Deluca) that’s a super heavy cream for spreading on scones and such.

Around the holidays, there’s an entirely new crop of desserts you can only get for a limited time. Like Christmas puddings, which are liquor-infused, heavy fruitcakes (not those bricks like the ones from Safeway) usually eaten with melted brandy butter or custard. Or flute-shaped butter cookies called brandy snaps that are meant to be filled with whipped cream. British cannolis, anyone? BTW just to clarify, what we call dessert the British call “pudding.” But they also refer to specific desserts as puddings: toffee puddings, Christmas pudding, etc.–spongy, heavy cake-like confections. So yeah, it gets confusing.

Here are a few of my personal attempts at making British desserts. The bottom photo is a pseudo-trifle I made for July 4th last year. Making an American flag out of fruit was out of the question, so it got the French flag treatment (sorry, America). It was layers of custard, sponge cake, fruit and whipped cream. You’re supposed to put it in a glass bowl to show off the layers, but I didn’t have one handy. Also, I opted not to include liquor or jello in it.

The thing in the wine glass is something I learned from Nigella Lawson’s Food Network show: Amaretto Syllabub. It’s easy–you just whip together Amaretto liquor, whipped cream, sugar & lemon juice. Then layer it in a glass with shaved chocolate flakes and crumbled cookies. Recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_77083,00.html. Nigella, my taste buds thank you but my cholesterol doesn’t.

Anyway, the next time you decide to rag on the British culinary tradition, just think of all the spotted dick we’d be missing out on.

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2 Responses to “A (really long) word on British desserts”


  1. December 23, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Well said. I would be happy to read anything else you might contribute on this subject.


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