The internet has done many good things for food writing and cookery: a wealth of recipes, technique videos, help and guidance are at our fingertips. There is a democracy to anyone being able to publish any dish they like, and tell stories alongside it. Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate, but living in an age where such an abundance of love of food is so readily available is kind of mind-blowing, and truly wonderful. However, it does mean that recipes can struggle to stand out. Those publishing these recipes often reach for words which will give them authority, give them pizazz.
I’m as guilty as the next food writer of trumpetting each new recipe as being the best, the ultimate, the perfect version of a particular dish, but I’m also equally susceptible as a consumer of these recipes to getting superlative fatigue. But queen of puddings has heritage, and happily, it lives up to its name: it takes all the best bits of puddings (squidgy soft custard! Sweet, sticky jam! Crisp meringue!) and wraps it up in a visual showstopper. I love a crumble, but no one ever gasps when you place it on the table. A queen of puddings demands a collective gasp.
It’s often thought to have been made for Queen of Victoria, hence its regal name, but as Regula Ysewijnt observes in Pride and Pudding, this isn’t correct. Milk and breadcrumb-based puddings have been around since the seventeenth century, but this particular variation first appeared in writing in the 1865 Massey and Son’s Comprehensive Pudding Book, called ‘a queen’s pudding’. A queen of puddings is a layered, baked pudding: a custard layer of soaked breadcrumbs, a fruity, jammy layer, and then on top, swirls of toasted meringue.
Traditionally, the jam or fruit layer is raspberry, but I love it with cherries – and a mix of whole fruit and jam makes for a real treat of a pudding. I use frozen cherries here: they’re cheap, and you can get them all year round and – once defrosted and strained – don’t leech too much liquid into the other layers, but fresh, pitted cherries would work too if you find yourself with a glut. This pud also uses the same quantity of egg yolks for the custard as egg whites for the meringue, which means you don’t end up with a sad container of one or the other in your fridge, frantically googling friand or ice cream recipes to use them up.
Queen of puddings
Makes: Serves six
Takes: 30 minutes
Bakes: 45 minutes
For the custard
3 egg yolks
500ml whole milk
50g Caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons morello cherry jam
250g frozen dark cherries, defrosted
For the meringue
3 egg whites
150g caster sugar
- Preheat the oven to 130°C. Heat the milk and vanilla extract over a medium heat, and whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale. Once the milk is steaming, pour it slowly over the yolks, whisking until combined. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the base of a large pie or serving dish (about 1 litre capacity, but there is tolerance here). Strain the custard through a sieve over the breadcrumbs and leave to soak for fifteen minutes.
- Bake the custard for about half an hour until the custard is just set, but retains a gentle jiggle.
- Drain the defrosted cherries using a sieve, and then stir the jam through the cherries, squishing the cherries a bit with the back of a spoon. Gently spoon these on top of the custard.
- Increase the oven temperature to 180°C. To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites in a scrupulously clean bowl until they reach soft peaks. Add the sugar in three increments, whisking the meringue back up to soft peaks with each addition.
- Spoon or pipe the meringue onto the pudding, and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until it is crisp and coloured. Allow to cool slightly, and serve warm.