Desserts, or puddings as we Brits call them, are the highlight of many people’s days. I can’t be alone in sometimes spending all day looking forward to that ‘pudding’ at the end of the day! British food can be an acquired taste to the rest of the world. Pies filled with lumps of meat, mushy peas, curry sauce smothered all over ‘chips’, and flapjacks (oaty bars, not pancakes!). However, when it comes to British desserts, they can pull it off exceedingly well.
Unique flavors are used to create cakes such as the Battenberg cake and Bakewell tart. Steaming techniques are used to make classic British desserts like sticky toffee pudding, spotted dick, and figgy pudding.
Some desserts may seem familiar but the Brits have their own take on classics like apple pie and cookies (referred to as biscuits!). Actually, half the battle is understanding the words they use! A biscuit is a cookie, but also a cracker, a scone is a biscuit, and a crumble is halfway between a cobbler and crumb top pie.
If this has enticed you to try some out, here are 17 British desserts that’ll brighten up your day!
1. Eton Mess
You’ve likely heard of Eton but in relation to a posh British school. This is basically the dessert version of that, something you’d find at all the houses of the families attending said school. This summer dessert comprises a ‘mess’ of strawberries, cream, and meringue, all served in a fancy glass. Something Sweet and Something Savoury shares how to pull it off perfectly.
You have probably heard of apple and boysenberry pie, apple cobbler, and apple pie with a crumb top. Ana’s Baking Chronicles shares the recipe for this traditionally autumnal British dessert. Blackberries are very similar to boysenberries and grow in abundance in the wild in the British countryside. As a result, this is a very popular dessert as it uses a lot of fruit but is very simple. A ‘crumble’ involves the fruit being placed in the dish (no pie crust on the bottom), and essentially a crumb topping is then added. This can be variations of flour, butter, and sugar, with some recipes adding in things like oats, nuts, and spices.
In the US, when referring to flapjacks you’d be talking about pancakes. However, across the pond, a flapjack is a dessert bar that’s made of oats, sugar, butter, and syrup. Think of a granola bar but with more sugar and butter! Traditional Home Baking shares a great and easy-to-follow recipe for these sweet treats.
Sugar, Spice, and Glitter shares this delectable recipe for a Bakewell Tart. These can be made into big tarts where you slice them up, but it’s more common in Britain to have them as individual cakes. They have quite an acquired taste, heavy on the almond extract but with raspberry jam, a cherry on top, and plenty of white icing (frosting! But not buttercream, the Brits don’t do that.), which has to be at the exact right consistency for it to be considered a real Bakewell Tart.
This cake is similar to the Bakewell above in that the overarching flavor is almond extract. However, most of this flavor comes from the marzipan wrap rather than the cake itself. The signature element of this cake is its strong baby pink and yellow checkerboard pattern. Mandy Mortimer talks us through the steps to make this rectangular British masterpiece.
6. Spotted Dick
Liana’s Kitchen shares the recipe for this traditional dessert with a name that’s probably controversial everywhere outside of Britain. This is essentially a vanilla steamed sponge cake filled with currants, giving it that ‘spotted’ appearance. Many Brits will refer to this as being the ‘school lunch pudding’, but it’s actually a really delicious dessert when baked in the right way. Best served with heavy cream or hot vanilla custard (if you’re reading from the US, you’ll need to whip this up from scratch using the recipe below!).
This is very similar to the spotted dick dessert, the difference being it doesn’t contain any dried fruit but instead the bottom of the steaming bowl is filled with a high-quality fruit jam. After the pudding is steamed, it’s tipped up and laid out on the serving plate with the jam hot and running down and inside the vanilla sponge giving a delicious sweet, and moist dessert. Stay At Home Mum gives a simple recipe to pull off this delightful sweet.
Celebrating Sweets introduces us to the sweetest steamed dessert of them all, the sticky toffee pudding. This is not for the savory lovers or those with a lower tolerance for sugar, because oh boy, it’s sweet. Hardcore dessert fans will love this moist toffee-flavored sponge, with the toffee sauce at the bottom of the steaming bowl infusing the whole cake.
9. Treacle Tart
Speaking of overly sweet British desserts, the treacle tart has to be on par with the sticky toffee pudding in terms of sweetness. It might actually be even more sugartastic. This is served in slices, and to tone down the sweet flavor of the treacle, is often served with heavy cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A Communal Table shows how to pull off this slightly tricky dessert.
English trifle is one of those desserts that may seem quite a strange combination to ‘outsiders’. This is demonstrated perfectly by the episode of Friends where Rachel makes a trifle but doesn’t think it’s weird to add ground beef and peas. Because that’s the kind of dessert it is, the ingredients seem a little, well, odd! Amanda Cookin’ shows how to create a traditional English trifle, no beef or peas needed.
11. Vanilla Custard
Many British desserts require the addition of hot, thick vanilla custard smothered over the top. Generally in North America, custard is something served frozen and is basically ice cream. Well yes, if you’re making ice cream you will essentially make a custard and then freeze it. Knowing how to make a hot vanilla custard is essential if you’re embarking on any British desserts. It’s delicious and quite simple, Savory Experiments shows us how to thicken the milk with flour before whisking in eggs and vanilla seeds.
Known by many as figgy pudding, though many Americans are disappointed to find out it often doesn’t actually contain any figs. Traditionally, it’s served by pouring brandy over the top and setting fire to it. Quite a dramatic culmination to Christmas dinner! Christina Cucina shares how to bake this festive dessert, which is comprised mostly of dried fruit and suet (though breadcrumbs may have to do because suet can be hard to find outside of Britain!), and warns it needs to be prepared about six weeks before Christmas for all the liquor to fully soak into the fruit!
13. Jaffa Cake
This British dessert was probably only brought to the rest of the world’s attention after that episode of The Great British Baking Show where the technical challenge was to bake one from scratch. British people were jumping out of their seats crying, no one makes these from scratch! They are a staple at children’s birthday parties and perhaps cost under a dollar for a whole pack. However, if you want to try baking these out for yourself to see what the fuss is about, Little House, Big Alaska has a great recipe. Incase you don’t know, these are cookies that have a sponge base, orange Jell-O filling, and dark chocolate topping!
Cooking with my Kids shows us how easy it is to make your own pavlova. This is the more ‘whole’ and less ‘messy’ version of an Eton mess. Big meringue circles filled and topped with both cream and quintessential British berries (strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries).
There are various versions of scones floating around, but the British are very particular to as what constitutes a true English scone. Unpeeled Journal shows us the truest version, claiming to be Buckingham Palace’s recipe. These are traditionally served as the dessert part of afternoon tea, with fresh strawberry jam and clotted cream (heavy cream baked on low heat for about a day, creating a thick and gooey cream that is far superior to whipped cream!).
Okay so by biscuits, I mean crackers. The Brits love to call their crackers biscuits to confuse everyone, but also because some of their crackers are as thick as a cookie which is what they call biscuits. Make sense? Oh another thing, they eat cheese and ‘biscuits’ for dessert. Give a Brit cheese and crackers as an appetizer and they’ll look upon you in horror. Ain’t Too Proud To Meg suggests how to serve cheese and crackers, and which types of crackers are best. The Brits love the smelly cheeses, so go ahead and whip out that stilton.
17. Rock Cakes
One last British dessert to thoroughly confuse you. These are rock cakes and a classic cake you’ll find in many bakeries and cafes. However, it’s almost identical to what Americans would call a scone. The only exception is that there can be no variations on the fillings/flavors, a rock cake must have currants/raisins or some form of small dried fruit and a warm, spice flavor. Something Sweet, Something Savoury shares how to pull off these rock cake ‘scones’ to English perfection.