Article: 25 British Desserts to End Dinner on a High Note: HowStuffWorks
25 British Desserts to End Dinner on a High Note
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There is a common misconception, gradually being dispelled over the last twenty years or so, that British food is not particularly good. This stems from the period after World War II, when British households were subject to rationing and thus little was possible with or expected of British cuisine. Indeed, with few notable spices native to the British Isles, Britain has historically had to rely on contact with other cultures for fresh injections of culinary delight. As citizens of a nation that sat at the head of a vast empire, British chefs have had access to some of the world's most exotic ingredients and some of the world's most interesting culinary cultures.
In the late 20th century, a movement in England to make food a point of pride changed the face of British cuisine. Today, between its history and its remarkable, creative contemporary chefs, Britain boasts some of the most delightful desserts anywhere. From Michelin Star restaurants in London to local pubs in the Outer Hebrides, and from 'The Great British Bake Off' to your gran's kitchen, there's a British dessert for every taste and appetite. Get ready to shop for larger trousers, because you'll need them after trying all 25 of the following desserts.
With a name derived from Sillery in the Champagne region of France, syllabub is a boozy British dessert. Syllabub has been around for centuries, then it faded for a while, but it has become more popular again since World War II. It features ingredients that only became available due to the transatlantic trade in sugar. Comprised of cream, brandy, sherry, lemon zest, sugar and nutmeg, syllabub is a bit like a milkshake with sherry and brandy.
Fruit fool goes back to the 1500s, when it must have been a revelation. The name probably derives from the French word "fouler", which means "to mash". A high-labour dessert for someone before the age of the food processor, a fruit fool is essentially some lightly sweetened fruit, pureed either by hand or in a food processor, and then folded into whipped cream unevenly, so as not to be too thoroughly mixed together. Today, some people substitute custard for the more traditional whipped cream.
Perhaps one of the most iconic British desserts, the knickerbocker glory is a sort of layered, fruity ice cream sundae containing clotted cream, whipped cream, chopped fruit, vanilla ice cream, fruit syrup, a sundae wafer and, at its best, chopped hazelnuts. The name is less straightforward than the recipe. The word 'knickerbocker' has connections to both old-fashioned trousers and Dietrich Knickerbocker, a fictional Washington Irving character. Dutch New Yorkers are sometimes called Knickerbockers.
The traditional Christmas cake is a distinctly British version of fruitcake. It is as complex as any British dessert, with a variety of spices, dried raisins, currants and cherries, brandy and the required binders of any fruitcake, but with the addition of a marzipan and royal icing topping. While not everyone loves fruitcake, this variety kicks things up a notch, making the dessert more interesting.
Jam roly-poly is a classic British dessert that is brilliant in its simplicity. This item is made by taking a layer of dough, spreading fruit jam on it, rolling it up, and then cooking it, either by boiling in muslin (traditional), baking or steaming. The roll is then sliced and served, perhaps with some custard alongside. What really sets this dessert apart is that it is made with suet dough, which includes the fat taken from around an animal's kidneys and loins.
Bread and Butter Pudding
The British have a long history of not wasting things. Such is the case with the constituent parts of bread and butter pudding. Consisting primarily of bread, butter, raisins, cinnamon, sugar and egg, this dessert came into being in the 1600s but didn't get the respect it deserved until the beginning of the 21st century, when celebrity chefs began to put their own spins on the dessert. New cookbooks and cooking shows encourage people to experiment with additional twists of their own.
A simple dessert made with meringue pieces, whipped cream and strawberries doesn't sound like something that should be controversial. Still, this wonderful dessert, named for its origins in Eton College, the premier boys' boarding school in the U.K., has a history as murky and with as many theories as the identity of Jack the Ripper. One story goes that a labrador attacked a picnic at Eton, another supposes that a pudding was dropped during a cricket match, and another says that a cook simply invented it in the 1930s.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Perhaps the greatest non-chocolate dessert ever created, sticky toffee pudding is a treat to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately. Deceptively simple, sticky toffee pudding's main constituent is the cake, which is made like any cake — with eggs, flour, sugar, etc. — but with the addition of dates. Finally, once baked and cut, the cake is topped with an appropriately sticky toffee syrup.
Scotland is responsible for some of the finest desserts in all of Britain, and cranachan is a Scottish delicacy with some history behind it. Once made with a soft cheese called crowdie, today it's made with honey, whisky, raspberries and cream in place of crowdie. Served in a glass and layered with oats, it's a dessert traditionally made during the harvest when raspberries are fresh and freely available. It's as Scottish as Irn-Bru.
Deep-Fried Mars Bar
At the other end of the Scottish culinary evolutionary ladder from cranachan sits the deep-fried Mars bar. Created in Glasgow fairly recently, the deep-fried Mars bar is exactly what you think it is: a Mars bar (similar to the American Milky Way) battered and fried in a deep fryer, then served in a wrapper so people can attempt to eat it without getting melted greasy chocolate everywhere. Around the world, some people experiment with deep fat frying other chocolate bars, but Mars is traditional in the U.K.
Do you have a sweet tooth? It may well need to be replaced with bridgework after you eat enough treacle tart. This dessert is inextricably linked to the Industrial Revolution. Back then, treacle began to get made and packaged in larger quantities, giving the author of a cookbook from 1879 the necessary ingredients for the first treacle tart. Treacle itself — similar to molasses — goes back to the earliest days of sugar production, when it was also used in medicine, weirdly, as an antidote to poisons. Will this fact cure your craving for it?
One very old dessert is the amusingly named hasty pudding, which acquired this name in the 1500s. It is traditionally made with flour or oatmeal in the U.K. or cornmeal in Colonial America. Hasty pudding is served with sugar (or if you prefer, honey, golden syrup, maple syrup or the like) and milk. Designed to be cheap and easy to make from ingredients that store for a long time, hasty pudding is the sort of low effort dessert you can imagine people making in an age before the modern kitchen.
The Arctic roll's popularity in the U.K. has always been directly proportionate to the state of the economy. A frozen dessert created in the 1950s by a Czech immigrant to the U.K., it was cheap and lovely, and perfect mid-century Britain. Essentially ice cream and raspberry jam rolled in a sponge cake, this caloric treat was a hit until the 1980s when sales began to dive. By the 1990s, Arctic rolls weren't made anymore. Then came the financial crisis and the demand emerged once again!
What do you call ladyfingers soaked through with sherry and layered with custard or whipped cream? It's an English trifle! The name comes from the word meaning 'a thing of little to no consequences', and the dish has evolved over the centuries. Originally, there was little to this dish but the basic aforementioned required ingredients, but today you can find it made with all manner of fruit and jam, depending on the tastes of the chef who made it.
Figgy pudding is the name made famous by Christmas carolers, but this dish goes back to one of many kinds of spiced puddings popular in England in the Middle Ages. This dish as we know it came about in the 1500s. The modern recipe is a light cake, flavoured with cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, orange peel, optional chopped nuts and, of course, the required chopped figs. It's not often seen outside of a Christmas context, probably because it's one of those really perfect winter desserts.
This dessert is something you could have after a meal, or you could have it when you take your tea. Either way, this bready concoction is made with lard (of course), sugar (one would hope!), raisins, spices, flour and currants. There are a few variants of the recipe, possibly owing to the fact that several places in the U.K. claim to be the birthplace of this dish!
What would a sponge cake be if you made the dough with suet and then steamed it? What if it were just lightly sweet, with a lemony flavour and dotted with currants? That's spotted dick you're thinking of. The latter part of its name isn't filthy at all, although a House of Parliament restaurant once changed its name on their menu to 'spotted Richard'. It comes from the short version of 'puddick', an Old English word which evolved into 'pudding'.
Rhubarb's history in Britain is strange and meandering, and it lands on becoming a dessert in a strange way. Originally brought to Europe by Marco Polo in the 1200s, rhubarb came to Britain in the 1600s, and it only seems to grow well in one small area of England near Wakefield. It was first used for medicinal purposes; then it started to turn up in food. In this case, it's usually accompanied by a second flavour, depending on the chef.
Mincemeat pie goes back at least 500 years, when it literally contained meat and thus acquired its name. After some time though, this pie stopped containing any meat at all, instead having a mix of dried fruit left to steep in brandy, suet and spices. Not far off from fruitcake, mincemeat pie is a wintery dessert usually reserved for the holidays and often made in single-serving portions, rather than one huge pie for all to share.
The custard tart has a long history in Britain, and it has proven adaptable and consistently loved. A pastry with an egg-based custard filling, the custard tart is similar in some ways to a quiche, though it is sweet and often contains fruit. There are many regional variations and haute cuisine variations, but the traditional, simple custard tart remains the most classically British for its lack of pretence and simple construction.
A dessert can divide a village on its own history! The village of Bakewell, Derbyshire, has several sites that each claim to be the birthplace of this wonderful concoction, but regardless of which is truly the first, it came into existence sometime in the early 1800s. This treat consists of three major elements: a puff pastry crust, a filling of fruit preserves or whatever fruity mixture one prefers, and a poured-over mix of sugar, almonds, melted butter and eggs, all of which is baked — well. The result? Heaven.
In the early 1970s, the owner and the chef of a restaurant in East Sussex teamed up to adapt an American recipe because they couldn't successfully make it. Their result was a pie containing toffee, bananas and every dream you've ever had about the perfect food. Soon the dessert spread beyond their restaurant, and now it can be found all over the Commonwealth, as far away as Australia.
Victoria Sponge Cake
The very concept of tea time was invented by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, during the Victorian era, to help people deal with that 'sinking feeling' at about 4 p.m. Soon Queen Victoria and her court adopted the tradition. The Victorians enjoyed this sponge cake, made of eggs, flour, butter and sugar, layered with jam and whipped cream. More modern variations include mixed-in jams, but when you have your tea, this cake is your jam.
After the triumph of the Bakewell pudding, the Bakewell tart capitalised on its essential elements (and name recognition) to become a hit, and the cherry Bakewell is a delicious variant of the tart. One significant difference between the tart and the pudding is that the top layer of the tart is frangipane, a specific type of custard made with almonds. In the case of the cherry Bakewell, the frangipane is then covered with icing and a single candied cherry. Bon appétit!
Imagine apple pie with a suet-based crust, which is, of course, made from the fat around the kidneys and loins of an animal. Now imagine this pie inverted and shaped like a hat, a little taller than this photo. Yes, that's essentially what an apple hat is — a tall pastry containing peeled, chopped bits of apple mixed with sugary goodness and cooked in a pudding basin in boiling water. For a little something extra, add some quince jelly to the interior mix!
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