This is a transcript of the Gastropod episode, The Great Gastropod Pudding Off, first released on May 6, 2019. It is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.
TOM GILLIFORD: I’m Tom. I’m from the Great British Bake Off once upon a time, many years ago. What year? 2016, I think, which was the last one that was on the BBC.
SELASI GBORMITTAH: My name’s Selasi. I’m making spotted dick and I was on 2016 Bake Off.
YAN TSOU: My name is Yan.
CYNTHIA GRABER: What year were you on?
TSOU: So the UK, I believe it’s series 8 and in the US I believe it’s series 5. See I’m blushing already. This is why—it’s a face made for radio.
NICOLA TWILLEY: OH MY GOD. Tom. Selasi!
GRABER: It was really hard not to fangirl excessively.
TWILLEY: I was like a schoolgirl meeting the Beatles. It was overwhelming.
GRABER: Yes, we are huge fans of the Great British Bake Off here at Gastropod.
TWILLEY: And so imagine our delight—and by delight, I mean sheer unadulterated ecstasy—when three of our favorite Bake Off stars agreed to take part in the first ever Great Gastropod Pud Off!
GRABER: That pud, if it’s not totally obvious, it’s short for pudding. And we right now are freaking out so much we haven’t introduced ourselves—
TWILLEY: Or even told you what you’re listening to, which is Gastropod, the podcast… or should I say pudcast?
GRABER: Oh my god, that’s bad. No. You shouldn’t.
TWILLEY: OK, the podcast that is full of pudding puns and also looks at food through the lens of science and history. I’m Nicola Twilley.
GRABER: And I’m Cynthia Graber. And a quick word to those of you who listen with your kids—our baking contestants all will be making a version of the classic British pudding, spotted dick. And, um, you can see where this is going. This episode is filled with junior-high-level anatomy jokes. And a couple of mild curse words. So you’ve been warned.
TWILLEY: This episode all began with Cynthia’s great passion for a very particular pudding. Sticky toffee pudding.
GRABER: I fell in LOVE with sticky toffee pudding a few years ago, once I realized it wasn’t, you know, American-style butterscotch pudding. And then I asked my partner Tim to make it for me for my birthday this year.
TWILLEY: And Tim texted me, because I am British and sticky toffee pudding is a very British pudding. Or so I thought.
GRABER: In any case, you sent him the perfect recipe, he made the batter and put it in the pan, and then he freaked out. It looked nothing like any cake batter he knew. He was so worried it would fail that he literally ran out to the store to get new supplies for a second batch. But we did put it in the oven, and, by the time he came back, we could tell it was the real deal.
TWILLEY: Would I have failed you? You guys really need to trust me when it comes to pudding.
GRABER: But this led me to all sorts of questions. Of course I wanted to know, where did sticky toffee pudding come from? But then I had a more basic question—what is pudding? Is it any type of dessert, like the pudding course you see at restaurants?
TWILLEY: Yes and also no. And even though I am something of a pudding expert—being British, pudding is basically my birthright—but even so, I found that I too had pudding questions. Like spotted dick—why would you call a pudding a dick? Or a duff? Or a dead man’s arm. And quickly, I realized: this is all the excuse we need to make a pudding episode! Hurray!
GRABER: I seconded that immediately! Of course.
TWILLEY: And then, because when it comes to pudding, I believe in going big or going home, I thought, you know? We have some Great British Bake Off bakers in our fan club, particularly the fabulous Tom Gilliford. And maybe they’d want to compete to make us some pudding? Particularly some spotted dick.
GRABER: And to our great shock and unending delight and excitement, they did!
TWILLEY: So we had a pud off. And there was a winner. And we’re going to tell you all about it!
GRABER: So this is the first trial of the first attempt at a spotted dick.
TIM: This is a Yankee spotted dick, even better. So this is our cornmeal and New England cranberry-based dick.
GRABER: No, my partner Tim is not a former Bake-Off contestant—here’s what happened. Once Nicky and I realized that the wonderful Tom Gilliford of the Great British Bake Off had indeed gathered two of his Bake Off friends to compete on Gastropod, then I had a problem. Tim either had to come with us to London, or he would divorce me. He’s the baker in the family, and he and I are equally obsessed with Bake Off.
TWILLEY: So we threw a rookie into the mix! Four bakers—Yan, Tom, and Selasi from the Bake Off, Tim from Casa Gastropod. One evening. And one challenge: to create a spotted dick with a twist. Well, a mini dick actually. Tom kindly pointed out that a full-size dick would take too long. So to speak.
GRABER: Oh, it begins. Spotted dick traditionally is a steamed pudding with raisins or currants in it, it’s typically served with custard poured over top. But back in our home in Boston, Tim invented his own spotted dick recipe for the competition, a Yankee dick, and we gave his very first bake of it a try.
TIM: OK. So I think it’s a little too sweet, because of the cranberries, they’re very sweet.
GRABER: They’re sweet, and the dough, like the pudding part itself is pretty sweet, and you’re going to put a custard on it, and so I agree it needs to be a little less sweet.
TIM: But the cornmeal has a really nice crunchy texture.
GRABER: So I have to say, neither of us have ever had spotted dick before, so I don’t know how this compares!
TIM: This is the best spotted dick I’ve ever had!
GRABER: There were a few more bakes to get the recipe just right. Then Tim packed up his cornmeal, cranberries, rum, maple syrup, measuring cups, and whisk and zester, and he got on an overnight flight to meet us in London.
TWILLEY: Other bakers had brought other things. Like whiskey.
GILLIFORD: A bottle of scotch.
TWILLEY: Not only old scotch.
GILLIFORD: Laphroaig. Ten year old Laphroaig, got to be. And then—because you’ve got to have a drink with it—this is not going in the pudding, it’s just going next to it, which is some Laphroaig infused with apricots. Which is fun. And then my knife roll which doesn’t have any knives in it today. It just has like cling film and an orangutan-shaped potato peeler.
TWILLEY: That’s amazing.
GILLIFORD: And my nitrogen siphon which I’m excited for using later on for nitrogen-infused custard.
GRABER: In case you’ve never played with a nitrogen siphon—I have not yet had that particular joy—it’s how you’d make something foamy if you happened to be a high tech chef… or baker. You use it to infuse a liquid with tiny bubbles of nitrous oxide.
TWILLEY: Tom had brought his own ingredients and pudding gear, but he’d also done Selasi’s shopping.
TWILLEY: Rhubarb though I see.
GILLIFORD: That’s for Selasi. I don’t know what the rhubarb is about. I’m assuming he’s using rhubarb because he hasn’t asked for any dried fruit. But I wouldn’t put it—I wouldn’t put it past him that he gets here and he’s like where’s my dried fruit? And I’ll be like in the picture of the note that you scrawled by hand with no measurements on it and sent to me saying buy this, which was sent to me sideways.
TSOU: You are his bitch.
GILLIFORD: Yeah I am.
GRABER: Selasi hadn’t shown up yet on his trademark motorbike, but his ingredients were there.
TWILLEY: And Yan went shopping for her ingredients in her pantry.
TSOU: So I’ve chosen a steamed pudding. And for that I’m going to make some limoncello-soaked blueberries. So the blueberries are dried. Because lemons and blueberries work very well. I’ve used it previously in an episode. I know that it works.
GRABER: Which episode was that?
TSOU: It was the show that I went out on! So it’s a winning combination! It’s purely because I love the flavors. So… And plus, dried blueberries lying in the cupboard looking sad. I had currants, but these are more exciting I think.
TWILLEY: So we’ve got Tim the rookie with his Yankee dick. We’ve got Yan with her winning combination of lemon and blueberries. Tom also went shopping in his cupboard for something to go with the whiskey.
GILLIFORD: I am making an apricot, pistachio, and sage spotted dick. Then we’re putting a sage and Laphroaig syrup over the top and using a Laphroaig demerara sugar nitrogenized custard. Which is going to be really light and fluffy. It’s weird stuff but it tastes amazing.
GRABER: Why these flavors?
GILLIFORD: When Nicola said, hey, would you do puddings? I had those flavors in my cupboard, and I was like, Yeah okay we’ll try and see what it does. And I like sage in everything, sage is amazing. Sage and whiskey goes particularly well together, and I thought why not—and I don’t like raisins, so.
GRABER: That’s Yan and Tom, but we’re still missing one. And if comments on our facebook page are any indication, we have some Bake Off fans who are also quite fond of Selasi.
TWILLEY: In fact, I too have a giant crush on Selasi.
GRABER: But if you remember the season that Selasi and Tom were on, you probably aren’t surprised to hear that Selasi showed up late.
ALL: Hey. Hello.
TWILLEY: Selasi’s excuse was literally that he had to help an old lady across the road.
GRABER: Ah, Selasi. Even though he seemed quite chill as he whipped his helmet off, the stakes at our Gastropod Pud Off were high for him. When he took part in Bake Off, he was a banker.
TWILLEY: But he’d since thrown that in to train as a pastry chef in Switzerland. In other words, he’s gone pro.
GRABER: But he’s still the same Selasi who constantly forgot ingredients during his time in the tent.
GBORMITTAH: I’m trying to keep it simple but without the raisins, only because I forgot to include them in my recipe. I’m making a simple custard, a vanilla custard. And I’m going to make a—hopefully it works—I’m going to make a rhubarb jelly and cut it into cubes and that’s going to be used for decoration. I was going to make a crumble like a—but we don’t have an oven do we. I was going to make a speculoos crumble. But yeah, sorry. It’s your fault.
GRABER: We’ll make do with what you have!
GRABER: All the contestants had been warned: this kitchen was fairly basic. Each contestant just had one induction burner they could use for both their custards and their actual puddings.
TSOU: This is better than my own kitchen. I may well move in.
TWILLEY: I really played up the basic nature. I’m sorry! I just wanted expectations to be low. It’s really how I operate.
GRABER: That’s totally true!
TSOU: They basically described this as like a cave with a whisk. Maybe some fire.
TWILLEY: In reality, the kitchen was actually quite high tech. The lovely Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr—you’ll remember him as the star of our jelly episode—he loaned us his test kitchen for the night, along with the fabulous Danny, the Bompas & Parr development chef. For which we will be eternally grateful. But it was pretty small for the baking of four spotted dicks.
GRABER: Still, everyone was in good spirits. We poured some drinks and the bakers got right to work on their spotted dicks.
TWILLEY: If you closed your eyes, it was kind of like the TV show!
TSOU: This is just like being in the tent!
GILLIFORD: It is.
GRABER: As we said, all the bakers were riffing off the same classic British pudding, spotted dick. But before we get to what is spotted dick, where does that name come from, and why is it a pudding, I want to know: Why weren’t they all baking versions of sticky toffee pudding?
TWILLEY: I mean, just think for a second, Cynthia. How much more fun is it to say spotted dick repeatedly than sticky toffee pudding. To be fair, it’s not that I don’t love a good sticky toffee pudding. It’s not for nothing that it’s one of the most popular puddings in the UK.
FELICITY CLOAKE: It’s an icon, is probably the best way to describe it. It is such a classic British pudding in terms of: you will see it on everything from you know restaurants to pubs to microwave meals. Everyone loves a sticky toffee pudding. It’s got that kind of indulgent yet comforting feeling.
GRABER: Felicity Cloake has many claims to fame. You will soon hear her as one of the expert tasters of our Great Gastropod Pud Off.
TWILLEY: But more to the point, she is one of my favorite cookbook authors and recipe writers. She does this column in The Guardian—the perfect version of everything—that is amazing. It was her perfect sticky toffee pudding that I sent to Tim to make for Cynthia’s birthday.
GRABER: Successfully and totally deliciously.
TWILLEY: So, for those of you who haven’t yet had the extreme pleasure: we asked Felicity, what is a perfect sticky toffee pudding?
CLOAKE: It’s this sort of batter pudding with dates in it. So it’s quite rich but still fluffy and then it has a really rich, buttery toffee sauce poured over the top. And then ideally it’s served with ice cream and custard. But, you know, that is going above and beyond with the indulgence. But the interesting thing about it is that it’s not actually a British pudding at all. It’s a Canadian pudding and it’s quite recent.
GRABER: Wait, what? But didn’t Felicity just say it’s an iconic British dish?
CLOAKE: So everyone thinks it’s that kind of thing that you see in boarding school stories in Charles Dickens and stuff and actually I think it’s a sort of 1920s Canadian thing. But you know we’re magpies, we’ve been stealing things all over the world for centuries and we’re not going to stop now apparently.
TWILLEY: OK, so according to Felicity, Oliver Twist would never have sat down to a sticky toffee pudding. But I’m confused. Who did the stealing, and why is sticky toffee pudding virtually unknown in Canada, if that’s where it came from? This makes no sense.
CLOAKE: Probably the best known origin myth is from the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District. and it was quite famous in I think the 19… sort of in the 1960s. And it was a sort of a rare oasis of good cooking in what was at the time a little bit apparently of a culinary desert.
GRABER: Like so many dishes we talk about on this show, there’s an origin myth. And then there’s what’s more likely the truth, although even that is kind of hard to figure out.
TWILLEY: The myth is that this chef at the Sharrow Bay Hotel in northern England—his name was Francis Coulson—he invented sticky toffee pudding. Then there’s a rival myth: The Cartmel Village Shop, just a few miles down the road from the Sharrow Bay Hotel—they claim to be the home of sticky toffee. And you can find Cartmel Village Shop ready-made sticky toffee puds in supermarkets all over the UK. And then still others say it was actually invented in a hotel in Aberdeenshire, in Scotland.
GRABER: Felicity thinks the Sharrow Bay Hotel Francis Coulson theory is the closest.
CLOAKE: But the interesting thing is that actually there’s—if you dig a little bit deeper from these oft-peddled origin stories, you can find out that actually I think Francis was friendly with a Canadian woman, and there’s definitely been very similar puddings found that are much earlier and from Canada. So it seems likely that he made it famous but probably didn’t invent it.
TWILLEY: There is some evidence to back this up. Francis Coulson apparently confessed to a fellow British chef that he borrowed the original recipe from a lovely woman in Lancashire called Patricia—or, in some versions of the story, Peggy. And apparently she’d got this recipe, which maybe involved maple syrup rather than toffee sauce—she’d got it from a Canadian serviceman who was stationed at her house during the Second World War.
CLOAKE: Which sort of makes sense as an origin, so I don’t know. Unfortunately lost in the mists of time and sort of weighed down by layers of toffee sauce is how he got that recipe from her and, you know, did he eat it at her house, where did it come from, we don’t know.
GRABER: So the origins of sticky toffee pudding are still kind of a mystery. But it seems pretty clear it’s not originally British. And it’s not actually a pudding.
CLOAKE: It is an unusual pudding in that it’s not the kind of standard pudding that people here would make.
TWILLEY: It is a pudding in the sense that all desserts in England can be called puddings. But it’s not a pudding pudding, if you see what I mean.
GRABER: I have no idea what you mean.
TWILLEY: Even I was confused about what a British pudding truly was, to be honest, and I’m British. So we went to consult the expert. In Belgium.
GRABER: As one does.
GRABER: What a beautiful tea you’ve made for us here.
REGULA YSEWIJN: I enjoy making an effort in tea. My name is Regula Ysewijn, I’m from Belgium, from Flanders, the Dutch speaking area of Belgium, and I have written a book called Pride and Pudding and a book called The National Trust Book of Puddings, about a history of British puddings, savory and sweet.
TWILLEY: Yes, a Flemish Belgian is in fact the world’s expert on British puddings.
GRABER: As you might imagine, Regula is a hard-core Anglophile. So we asked her: what is a pudding?
YSEWIJN: So a pudding can be lots of different things. It can be savory, which is the actual mother of pudding, the alpha pudding which is haggis-type of dishes and sausages, black pudding. Blood sausage. That’s what the mother of puddings is. But pudding can also be sweet and that’s what it evolved to through the ages. And today pudding is synonymous with dessert. But while all desserts can be pudding not all puddings can be dessert.
TWILLEY: Hmm. That answer was not exactly crystal clear. So we also asked Felicity. And got pretty much the same answer.
CLOAKE: I mean it’s a really—it’s a blurred line. In Venn diagram terms, there’s an awful lot of overlap. So pudding can generally mean dessert in general, so anything from a slice of birthday cake, you can say, What are we having for pudding? It could be that, or a fruit salad if you’re my mum. But also more specifically, it does refer to the sort of slightly heavy, less fancy sort of traditional pudding. So it really probably, not a failsafe but quite a good rule is, that if it’s French or Italian it’s probably not a pudding. It’s a dessert. But if it’s, you know British or Irish, then it probably qualifies as a pudding. And then of course you have the next question of stuff like black pudding and hog’s pudding, which are sausages and definitely shouldn’t be eaten for dessert, so that’s hard. Haggis is also a pudding obviously that contains all sorts of offal. So there’s sort of three different meanings. And I don’t know how long you have to live here to figure it out.
GRABER: As someone who has never lived in the UK, I literally once texted Nicky in the middle of Great British Bake Off to ask, how can there be a pudding week if all desserts are puddings?
TWILLEY: The questions that really matter, brought to you by Cynthia Graber.
GRABER: I was really stressed about this.
TWILLEY: Bake Off is so stressful I have to watch from behind a cushion so I feel you. But the key to understanding pudding is really what Regula just called the mother of all puddings—haggis. The traditional Scottish dish of meat, oatmeal, and seasoning stuffed in a stomach and boiled.
GRABER: One theory is that the word “pudding” came from the Latin “botellus,” which means sausage, or small intestine. But in general, the word describes dishes that were made by boiling stuffed animal bag-like organs, like intestines or stomachs or even wombs.
YSEWIJN: And I think that pudding dishes, they come from a necessity to use up every bit of the animal. But also a necessity… how are you going to prepare things? Because they didn’t have little pots and pans and a nice stove with three hobs and all that. They only had this animal and an open fire and they had to prepare food and they had to see, How can we do this without any vessels?
GRABER: We talked about this before in our pots and pans episode—fire was used for cooking long before people had any pots and pans…
TWILLEY: So they used the handy bags that came with the animals, and they stuffed all the little extra smaller bits of meat and fat that you couldn’t roast into those bag-like intestines. And hey presto, you have what we know as a sausage—or a pudding.
YSEWIJN: Exactly. Puddings and sausages are exactly the same. It’s just because we have lost track of what a pudding is, because today we think of pudding as sweet things.
GRABER: There are still some sausages in the UK that are called puddings, like black pudding. If you’ve ever been to a classic British restaurant you might have eaten it, it’s made with blood, that’s why it looks black. And it’s usually fried. It’s got kind of a soft texture, it’s part of a full English breakfast.
TWILLEY: These kind of encased boiled sausages stuffed with meat and fat and herbs and maybe some grain as a filler—they’re the original puddings. And they go way back.
YSEWIJN: In Homer’s Odyssey in 800 before Christ, there is the story of Homer returning home from the Battle of Troy and finding his house full of suitors to marry his wife because she thought that he had died in the battle. And there is one paragraph where he describes that there is black pudding being made in his house. So that’s how we know that puddings have always been around.
GRABER: These types of dishes were popular all over Europe, but they looked different depending on where you lived. In Mediterranean countries, sausages had a denser, harder texture, because they could be cured in the dry air.
TWILLEY: And there is not a lot of dry air in the UK. It’s a tad bit more drizzly. So puddings in Britain became different—softer and squidgier. And just like the Italians and Spanish love their cured sausages—well, we love our puddings!
YSEWIJN: Already in the 17th century, we can clearly see that pudding was considered something really English, quintessentially English. And that we know from a diary of a Frenchman who travelled around England and his name was François Maximilien Misson. And he wrote, “Blessed be he who invented pudding because it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people. A manna better than that of the wilderness because the people are never weary of it. Oh, what an excellent thing is an English pudding! To come in pudding time is as much as to say to come in the most lucky moment in the world.” And this is a Frenchman being quite lyrical about English food!
TWILLEY: Which is not something you hear very often, to be perfectly honest.
GRABER: You might have noticed that the Frenchman said it was an excellent thing to come at pudding time. People often ate puddings at the beginning of the meal. And they were such an integral part of that meal that dinner time was literally called pudding time.
TWILLEY: And one of the most famous pre-dinner puddings is still super popular today—Yorkshire pudding. This is a batter that’s traditionally cooked underneath the roasting joint of meat, to soak up the dripping.
YSEWIJN: And the farming families, they would have the pudding before the meat because it would fill them up and it would stretch the meat for longer and maybe even have leftovers for the next day. Now the really poor families, they didn’t have even a pudding.
TWILLEY: And the rich—well, of course they had plenty of meat to go around, but they also loved a good pudding. They jazzed up their puddings with expensive ingredients—dried fruit and spices and herbs.
YSEWIJN: And they always perceived puddings to be sweet because they were always flavored with spices like ginger and cinnamon. And they always had sweet herbs and then sometimes currants and figs and all kinds of things that sweetened it before there was sugar around.
GRABER: Sweet is a relative word here. There wasn’t that much honey around, and there was even less sugar. Cooks added dried fruit to their meat or fish dishes—which isn’t that weird, figs or plums or dried cherries with meat or orange peel with fish, it’s delicious.
YSEWIJN: In the past they didn’t really care about the fact that fish should be savory. They just thought, what can we do with the texture of this meat and what can we make of it? And of course because we are human we like sweet things.
TWILLEY: Two things happened to change the destiny of pudding, and make it synonymous with dessert. The first was sugar. Sugar was a rare and expensive spice in the Middle Ages—only the rich could add it to their stuffed intestines.
GRABER: And then Europeans set up plantations with slave labor in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Sugar was still expensive but it became more common. And then finally mechanization and expansion made it even cheaper in the 1800s. That was the turning point.
YSEWIJN: So the introduction of sugar to puddings, it goes quite quietly for a while, until it becomes relatively cheap in the 19th century.
TWILLEY: The second thing that relegated pudding from a main course dish to its own category at the end of the meal is something we’ve talked about before, the shift from dining à la française—
GRABER: Where everything was just served all at the same time, banquet style—
TWILLEY: —to dining à la russe.
YSEWIJN: Which is a style where there are some dishes on the table but then there will be footmen and they will come and present a silver platter with some salmon which some asparagus. And the chef has more control about how food is combined onto the plates of the dining guests. And that is when of course people start thinking like, Should there be a sweet pudding on the table when we’re having salmon and asparagus? And they start finding that quite strange, and it starts moving towards the end of the meal.
TWILLEY: Again, like the introduction of sugar, the migration of sweet things to the end of the meal was slow—it took place over decades, with the super rich changing their eating habits first, and the poor—well, they weren’t eating multi-course meals till much later.
GRABER: And as everyone starts to be able to get a hold of more sugar, and they move that sweet dish to the end of the meal, they also think, Hey, let’s get rid of the meat in our puddings! Meat belongs in the savory course. These sweet puddings become pure sweet.
TWILLEY: So they get rid of the meat in their puddings, but they keep all the dried fruit and the spices and the sugar and the grains—and even the animal fat—and the result is what we think of as British pudding today. Puddings like spotted dick!
TWILLEY: That smells really good.
GRABER: Ooh, very pretty in pink.
TWILLEY: What’s in it?
GBORMITTAH: Eh, it’s just rhubarb.
TWILLEY: Meanwhile, back in the Pud Off kitchen, things were going well. At least for some of the bakers.
GRABER: Tim, I should also say to listeners that you haven’t even slept all night!
TIM: Yeah, so I was on the red eye from Boston, didn’t sleep a wink, and now here I am trying to pretend I know how to cook!
GRABER: Tim’s hands were a little shaky, I’m not gonna lie to you. Here he was, zero sleep, ingredients and equipment schlepped across the ocean, competing against some of the very best amateur bakers in the UK. Could he make it work? And would he forgive me if everything fell apart?
TWILLEY: Yeah, seriously, you were potentially even more nervous than Tim, Cynthia, let’s be honest here. But even Yan was experiencing some baking issues.
TWILLEY: So you’re making two kinds of pudding now.
GRABER: Showing off?
TSOU: No, because this—do you know what, I do the exactly same—the exact same thing at home. I’ll stand there going, Oh well I’m in the kitchen now, I’ve made a mess. Might as well make it worth it.
GRABER: Yan wasn’t actually making two puddings to show off. She got nervous that we were going to be sticklers about using all the traditional ingredients in a spotted dick. Because originally, the fat for spotted dicks was something called suet.
TSOU: And it wasn’t until I read it a bit later and plus you know when, they, the others, put the fear of God into you and go, Oh yeah well I’m not using suet, I’m going to use Trex, I thought, Shit, I’ve read the thing wrong—explicit sorry. But have I read that the directions wrong? So I quickly adapted, which I’m able to. Hopefully. Let’s see—we’ll see, shall we? I was quickly able to adapt.
TWILLEY: Yan decided to carefully cover her rear end by making four puddings total—two with butter, as she’d originally planned, and two with the traditional suet.
CLOAKE: So suet—it is I think a very underrated ingredient but interestingly one that is clearly still popular, because you will find it in almost every supermarket here as well as the butchers. So what it is is the fat from around, generally cow, though you can get it from sheep. I believe pigs, but it’s almost always beef and it’s the fat from around the kidneys, which is a very sort of fine white fat. So it’s not like beef dripping that you might fry your chips in. It’s very, very white, it’s very sort of flaky.
TWILLEY: Most people in the UK don’t actually buy that flaky kind of suet from the butchers—like Felicity says, you can also get this sort of processed pellet version in the shops which is much less beefy. And the same company also makes a vegetarian version from palm and sunflower oil.
GRABER: The point is, though, that cooking with suet is different from cooking with other fats like butter. Felicity explained why suet is so particularly amazing.
CLOAKE: It has a very high melting point. So unlike butter, as soon as you put it in the oven or you start cooking it in any way it dissolves into the batter, suet stays intact for much longer. And so it gives a much lighter texture to the, you know, the structure of the sponge. Because the air holes are bigger. Because it’s had time to form around them before it’s before they’ve melted. So you get a lovely light result that is, it’s very hard to achieve with butter or vegetable fat or anything like that. And so I think mostly it’s still used because of that.
GRABER: This lightness is nice today, sure, but it would have been critical a few hundred years ago. Baking powder was only invented in the mid 1800s.
TWILLEY: OK, so Yan was using suet and butter side by side.
GRABER: Didn’t even occur to Tim to use suet, and we wouldn’t have known where to find a veg version in the US. He went straight for butter.
TWILLEY: Tom went traditional with suet, and Selasi, surprise, surprise, substituted Trex, which is vegetable shortening, when he couldn’t find suet at his corner shop. But all of our bakers went a little bit new school when it came to what they were baking their puddings in. No intestines here.
GRABER: This is also at this point kind of old school. By the 1700s, intestines for puddings were already on their way out.
TWILLEY: It became a special occasion thing, like haggis for Hogmanay, or Scottish new year.
GRABER: But people wanted to eat pudding all year round, not just when they’d slaughtered an animal.
YSEWIJN: People had to be creative if they wanted to use something else than a bag like intestine, so they used things like saucers from tea cups and plates which they would put together and all kinds of things just because they wanted to make pudding. I always imagined looking at an English person from that period as looking around in the kitchen like, What can I make a pudding in? What can I make a pudding in?
TWILLEY: The pudding cloth was the first big step forward—with a muslin cloth, you could wrap the contents of your pudding, tie it together into a ball, and hey presto.
GRABER: And then when manufacturing got going, pudding tins and pudding basins became all the rage.
TWILLEY: I am the proud owner of a pudding basin, which you just put your pudding mix in and then tie a cloth or more often tin foil over top with string.
GRABER: Which, of course, Selasi had forgotten.
TWILLEY: String! Danny is your man.
GBORMITTAH: Do you have string. Or something to hold this? Rubber band?
GRABER: Tim didn’t realize that it should be a tin foil on top, he just knew he had to cover his mini spotted dicks as they cooked. So like those 18th century Brits, he improvised by using two differently sized muffin tins and wedging them together. This way his dicks would stay dry as they steamed in the water boiling at the bottom of the pot.
TWILLEY: Steaming, like suet, is another essential element that sets pudding apart from other flour and fat and dried fruit combinations, like, say, cake. In fact, this really, is what makes a pudding a pudding to my mind. It has to be steamed.
CLOAKE: It’s a very gentle form of cooking because it’s obviously not in direct heat, it’s in water. and also because it’s moist so even though it’s got, it’s in the ceramic basin, the top has a sort of porous, you know either it’s wrapped in muslin or you know more modern people would probably use foil. And so there is a certain amount I think of moisture sort of gets in at the top. And so it’s just a sort of gentler form. It’s much slower, it’ll take—I think a Christmas pudding will probably take you about six or seven hours to cook in total. So it’s not fast, but it does give, I think, a gentler result. and you’re not going to get any browning or anything like that. So they quite often look slightly pallid and unappetizing but always super moist and delicious.
GRABER: Tim kept an eagle eye over his Yankee dicks as they cooked, because that water can boil away if you’re not careful. Steamed puddings are not the most hands-off recipe to make.
CLOAKE: You can’t just, you know, shove it in the oven and forget about it. You have to, you know, keep an eye on it. It’s bubbling away. It will boil dry as soon as you leave the room, you’ll suddenly hear this hissing and go, Oh God, the water’s boiling out and my pan is burning.
GRABER: Someone forgot to give this memo to Tom, though.
TWILLEY: What happened was, at one point, I noticed he’d disappeared. And I wandered round the corner and found him at the sink.
TWILLEY: You’re just over here doing the dishes.
GILLIFORD: Yeah. Someone’s got to.
TWILLEY: This is not what it’s like on Bake Off.
GILLIFORD: No, there’s a person to do the dishes. Who on our year, we were told like basically most of her skin fell off because she would have her hands in boiling dishwater the whole time. Yeah. So you just kind of wave and the things disappear off your desk and they get… And if you’re like, I need a new bowl! One appears for you. It’s wonderful.
GRABER: That was super sweet of Tom to get going on the dishes—but then I caught up with him a few minutes later when he was back at his cook station.
GRABER: Some fun stuff going on over here—I see the steaming basket going on.
GILLIFORD: Well I let it boil dry so…!
GRABER: Oh, that’s what the smell of burning is!
GILLIFORD: That’s what the smell of burning was, it was burning pan!
TWILLEY: No good deed left unpunished. But while the bakers struggled, Cynthia and I did what we do best: we ate.
TWILLEY: Can I try your mix?
TWILLEY: Oh, that’s delish, Yan.
TSOU: Thank you. Can you taste the lemons? I forgot to put the lemon essence in. Doesn’t matter. I put a whole lemon zest in. So that should do it.
GRABER: Oh, I really want to try the—can I?
TIM: What is it? That’s the batter?
GRABER: Want a taste?
CLOAKE: Delicious, really zesty. Yum! Very nice.
GRABER: Mmm. I want to eat more of the batter.
TWILLEY: And then from Yan’s raw pudding batter, we moved on. To Tim’s raw pudding batter.
TIM: I don’t know if it’s any good raw, but you can try it—get a cranberry.
GRABER: How is it? Is it good?
TWILLEY: It’s good. You can taste the corn.
CLOAKE: Gives such good texture.
TWILLEY: I’m liking that.
TIM: We had to play with the milling a lot to get the texture right. So it wasn’t too crunchy.
GRABER: So now you know why spotted dick has suet in it traditionally, and why there are traditionally bits of dried fruit in it. And why it’s steamed. But where in the world does that name come from?
YSEWIJN: Yes, spotted dick is probably the coolest name for a dish ever. It basically just means “spotted dough,” because dick was just a word for dough. So sorry to burst the bubble!
TWILLEY: The spots, obviously, are the currants. Or limoncello-soaked blueberries, if you’re Yan. Or cranberries, if you’re Tim.
GRABER: But spotted dick is just one of the many fun traditional British puddings. The golden age of puddings was in the 1800s in England. People wrote entire cookbooks on the topic. And they came up with all sorts of awesome names.
YSEWIJN: Then you’ve got Dead Man’s Arm which is a jam roly poly. And another name for that is that a Shirtsleeve Pudding. So from Shirtsleeve Pudding, it then went to Deadman’s Arm because it looked like a gentleman’s arm in a shirt sleeve and the spiral of jam in the middle could be blood, couldn’t it!
TWILLEY: If you haven’t had a jam roly poly, well, you haven’t lived. But to help you picture this Dead Man’s Arm, it’s a long cylinder pudding, traditionally wrapped in a cloth, with raspberry jam rippled through it. And it’s delicious.
GRABER: In Regula’s book, there’s Sussex Pond Pudding, Pease Pudding, War and Peace pudding, and Plum Duff.
TWILLEY: Aka Christmas pudding.
GRABER: Which we don’t have in America, but apparently it’s super traditional in the UK.
TWILLEY: Plum Duff is quite a close cousin to spotted dick
YSEWIJN: Because “duff” is a dialect word for dough and plum is a dialect word for, old word for raisins.
TWILLEY: So, more dough and dried fruit, but with extra spices and darker muscovado sugar to make it more Christmassy.
GRABER: Christmas pudding as a Christmas tradition is actually a surprisingly modern invention. In the early 20th century, Britain had suffered a lot of losses in the war. And so King George set the groundwork for something called the Empire Marketing Board that would create a surge of patriotism around buying British.
YSEWIJN: And in 1925, a recipe for Christmas pudding was distributed entitled, “Make your pudding from Empire products.” And a massive plum pudding was paraded around the streets of London.
TWILLEY: Sometimes I’m so proud to be British.
GRABER: Nicky, I still don’t really get this Christmas pudding thing. What it is, and what are your Christmas traditions around it?
TWILLEY: So the thing that most Americans find slightly horrifying about Christmas pudding is how far in advance you make it. You’re supposed to make it on Stir Up Sunday.
GRABER: Which is…? What in the world is Stir Up Sunday?
TWILLEY: So, yeah, my knowledge of the Christian side of this is a little fuzzy. I’m more on the pudding side. But it’s about a month before Christmas, at the start of Advent, and there’s a reading that’s always read on that Sunday in church that includes the line: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.”
YSEWIJN: They would walk home and they would idyllically start making the pudding with the entire family. That’s what I imagine. I think it’s only the women who would have done it.
GRABER: Okay, you go home after hearing that you’re supposed to be stirred up, and you start stirring up… pudding?
TWILLEY: Yes. Exactly. And you have to stir it East to West because the three kings came from the East. It’s this really, really dense mix—it’s so full of dried fruit it’s actually hard to stir. And then you steam it, it’s cooked, and then you wrap it up, and put it somewhere dry and cool for a month. But then you unwrap it every Sunday to feed it with brandy.
GRABER: So you have a dense steamed pudding that you’ve kept in the pantry for a month, and you’ve been soaking it in brandy every week. Yum?
TWILLEY: Yep, then you steam it again on Christmas Day. And then you stick a sprig of holly on top, for decoration, and you give it one last dousing with brandy, and you set it on fire.
YSEWIJN: I have no way of actually scientifically or historically proving this, but I think the English have always loved dinner theater. And of course that would be quite extraordinary, wouldn’t it, if you would have your pudding with flames.
GRABER: So apparently setting puddings on fire is something of a tradition. And Selasi decided that setting his pudding on fire would be a good idea in the Bompas & Parr test kitchen as well.
GRABER: What are you doing with the blowtorch.
GBORMITTAH: Just to get that nice caramel.
GILLIFORD: And mind your good friend.
TWILLEY: You’re insured, aren’t you, for everything?
DANNY CHEETHAM: I don’t know.
GRABER: Whoa, and the sugar caught fire!
ALL: Whooaaa oh oh!
TWILLEY: You don’t really need the kitchen.
GRABER: Wow, that was more exciting than I expected.
TWILLEY: I have to say, doesn’t pudding just sound like the basically the greatest thing in the world at this point? It has the best names, it’s the fluffiest and moistest thanks to the suet and steam. And it’s definitely the most dramatic dessert out there.
GRABER: But other than sticky toffee pudding—which, as we’ve told you already is not a traditional British pudding—puddings aren’t so popular anymore. They kind of lost their shine in the 20th century.
TWILLEY: It’s actually the same story we’ve told you before on Gastropod: After the First World War, middle class people no longer had domestic staff and then as the century went on, women went out to work, and basically no one had time to bother with a pudding that needed to be watched for 6 hours to make sure it didn’t boil dry.
GRABER: There is a little bit of a pudding revival today, but it’s still not a hot dish on the dessert menu. Other than, as I’ve heard, the dining halls in British schools, right? Isn’t this where most Brits have eaten spotted dick?
TWILLEY: Exactly, which is why many of us have a certain nostalgic fondness for it, even if we haven’t eaten it in 20 years. Sam Bompas is exactly the same.
SAM BOMPAS: Oh, enormous spotted dick fan. It’s a real school dinners affair isn’t it. It’s something with nostalgia, mystery, horror all intermingled in the same—and comedy as well. It’s a perfect British dish.
GRABER: Well, here in the Bompas & Parr kitchen, we are bringing pudding back.
TWILLEY: Because our bakers made mini spotted dicks, they were ready in just a little over an hour. Yan’s were first.
GRABER: Wow! Yan, that’s beautiful!
TWILLEY: Ah! It’s a pud.
TSOU: Smell it, smell it!
TWILLEY: Oh my God. Smell it.
BOMPAS: Oh wow.
CLOAKE: Oh, lovely.
CHEETHAM: Ooh, divine.
TSOU: Ok fine, let’s…
TWILLEY: And then, as the bakers brought their spotted dicks out to the table, our expert panel of Felicity, Sam, and Danny grabbed their spoons and prepared.
BOMPAS: Are there factors for determining what the best spotted dick is based on?
TWILLEY: Sam, if you don’t know how to judge a spotted dick at your… LAUGHTER
BOMPAS: I don’t know! But is it look, is it texture, is it feel? Like, you know, what… What makes a good dick?
GILLIFORD: Staying power.
TWILLEY: What do you value in a spotted dick? Or a mini dick, I should say.
BOMPAS: This is… LAUGHTER This is just such a horrible wormhole, isn’t it. I was gonna—I was gonna get excited about mouthfeel but that’s… LAUGHTER. Blushes on radio.
TWILLEY: Everyone’s like oh little bit awkward now.
BOMPAS: Oh yeah, everyone’s standing around really awkwardly with their arms across their chest.
TWILLEY: We are British.
GRABER: I was gonna say, not the Americans. We have no problems. LAUGHTER
GRABER: After that initial awkwardness, our esteemed panel started off by tasting Tom’s mini dicks, which had chopped dried apricot and powdered pistachios and sage and nitrogen-infused foamy Laphroaig custard.
BOMPAS: Here we go!
CLOAKE: Ok, I’m gonna dig in.
BOMPAS: It’s quite an aroma wafting up. It’s the whiskey.
CLOAKE: Yeah, I just smelled the whiskey. Get us all pissed.
BOMPAS: It really like rolls across the palate. It’s definitely the most complex spotted dick I’ve ever had in my life, but then, that’s not a very high barrier to entry!
CHEETHAM: I love the contrast between the airy, mousse-y, foamy texture and the really dense solid… LAUGHTER
GRABER: The stodge?
CLOAKE: It’s good.
BOMPAS: Yeah, but it’s what you want. If you have a spotted dick that doesn’t make you go into a coma afterwards, then, um, it’s not the full experience.
CLOAKE: You’re right not to put too much sugar into it, because actually there’s so much apricot in there, it actually would’ve been too much, and I think it’s really well balanced. And actually, it’s quite… what fat did you use in it?
GILLIFORD: Just suet.
CLOAKE: Okay. It’s very nice and, um, it’s like a dumpling. Which I guess a steamed pudding is basically. It’s lovely. My god, that custard is quite strong. Which is great. If I get arrested cycling home I will be citing you.
TWILLEY: Next up was Yan, with her butter dick and her suet dick, side by side. The suet version was the clear crowd favorite.
GILLIFORD: Definitely that one, that’s really good.
CLOAKE: And they’re both good, but that is more of a spotted, obviously, more of a spotted dick.
CHEETHAM: The taste of, that’s English baking, I think, right there.
BOMPAS: It’s something you can really bite or gnaw on and then… Hefty.
GRABER: What is the taste of English baking, like what does that mean to you?
CHEETHAM: So it’s like… just like, heavy, using dried fruits. The rich custard.
CLOAKE: Yeah, slightly plain.
CHEETHAM: Yeah exactly, like that’s my nan in a flavor. LAUGHTER
TWILLEY: That sounds good.
GRABER: Hi, grandma.
BOMPAS: Don’t put anything too extraneous in there, don’t fancy it about.
GRABER: Next up was Selasi’s, which looked absolutely gorgeous
CLOAKE: It’s looking good.
TWILLEY: Presentation—maximum points, I think.
BOMPAS: That is gorgeous. It’s like if you could ever have a bouquet of spotted dicks—this is, this is it.
TWILLEY: As Tom pointed out, though, without any dried fruit, it was really more of a spotless dick. LAUGHTER
GRABER: Everyone then moved on to Tim’s Yankee dick, with a maple and rum custard—which I have to admit was basically the opposite of Selasi’s in terms of appearance—
BOMPAS: I think it is—it’s quite a revelation. Because it’s probably like the beige-est thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s like, you know, it’s like you can’t even describe the color because it’s sort of khaki on a plate. LAUGHTER. But then the taste is really good. So you know it’s… LAUGHTER
GRABER: Flavor over presentation.
TIM: Flavor over presentation, yeah.
TWILLEY: At this point, Cynthia and I were basically dying. Everyone else was eating pudding and we were holding microphones. It was extremely painful. But, for you, dear listeners, we will do anything.
GRABER: Like Nicky said, we were dying. I wanted to dive right in. But—prizes had to be awarded!
BOMPAS: So what do you reckon? What’s the lowdown?
CLOAKE: It’s hard, because they’re apples and pears innit.
CHEETHAM: There’s also like, innovation. And like the classic, truest form of the classic
BOMPAS: What it brings to you, yeah. And I like, wholeheartedly love the um—was it Tom’s—the whisky one.
BOMPAS: And I like kept coming back to that, back to that, back to that.
CHEETHAM: Intimidation through the glass. LAUGHTER.
GRABER: There’s somebody watching over the judging here.
GRABER: That intimidation, that was Selasi pressed up full body against the glass, staring at all of us. But we pressed on.
CHEETHAM: Yeah. Also the other toss up is presentation.
CLOAKE: Mm hmm.
CHEETHAM: And there was some really tasty stuff going on and the presentation was very grassroots, and that’s being polite. LAUGHTER.
CHEETHAM: And then some of it was very elevated. Yeah.
CLOAKE: Yeah. I um—yeah I think if we’re judging just on the spotted dick itself, then I think, yeah, Tom’s was the most interesting, I think, because of that—the way that it was so intensely savory and, yeah, had those apricots and the sage. But I really liked Tim’s with the cornmeal. That was the one that made me think I want to try making a spotted dick with another type of grain because it had a really interesting texture.
CHEETHAM: The cornmeal for me, it stood out for me from the moment I tasted it in terms of delivery and it—just because it was so different and interesting and really good.
BOMPAS: But there was also none of that nostalgia, though. It was so, so culturally alien in terms of what a spotted dick is.
BOMPAS: If it wasn’t presented to me and said, This is spotted dick.
BOMPAS: I wouldn’t have got it.
CLOAKE: Yeah, I might have thought it was a traditional Native American cake.
BOMPAS: The blueberry spotted dick.
CLOAKE: That was classic. That was very classic.
CHEETHAM: Nailed it, didn’t it?
CLOAKE: Yeah. None of them are rubbish. That was the problem.
CHEETHAM: I’m controversially going to go with the cornmeal and stand by it.
TWILLEY: Explain your reasoning.
CHEETHAM: Just because… I just enjoyed it the most. Like the texture was so… It just didn’t come across like it was a steamed pudding in any way whatsoever. So to be able to achieve that by using some different products than, you know, the standard with the same process. It just amazed me that it was—that’s what came out. And the custard was delicious. Even if it was a little bit like scrambled eggs. LAUGHTER. But it was delicious!
TWILLEY: And the presentation wasn’t anything to write home about.
CHEETHAM: Absolute zero. Minus. But you know.
CLOAKE: It’s not the point of a spotted dick, really, right?
CHEETHAM: And it’s radio, not telly.
GRABER: That’s true.
TWILLEY: All right. Sam, put your stake in the ground.
BOMPAS: While, I might have been a little bit nobbled by the amount of Laphroaig whiskey that was in Tom’s. It is a spirit that I have a great affection to. And I really reveled in it—it was great.
CLOAKE: Huh, so I have the casting vote. Unless I’m going to go for another one completely.
CHEETHAM: And then we’ve got to start again.
GRABER: Now we’re going to tell you who won the Great Gastropod Pud Off!
TWILLEY Felicity has the honor tonight, presenting the pink jelly.
CLOAKE: It’s my great pleasure and privilege tonight to announce the winner of the first annual Gastropod Pud Off, British edition. And the winner is—and it was very hard and we nearly came to fisticuffs over various custard things in there. But the winner is… Bake Off silence. Tom! CHEERS AND APPLAUSE. Let me present you with this jelly.
GILLIFORD: I just don’t know what to say. This is what I’ve always wanted. I finally beat Selasi, I mean what? LAUGHTER. Yeah well, it was good fun. I enjoyed it. APPLAUSE
GRABER: Thank you, all! APPLAUSE
BOMPAS: I wish every Friday ended like this. LAUGHTER. It’s amazing! So good!
TWILLEY: I do too, Sam, I do too. If I spent every Friday night of my life at a Pud Off, I would not be sad.
GRABER: I just want to add that Tim was so thrilled to sort of come in second. Yes, his spotted dick was pretty ugly, but he invented a new dish and held his own against all these amazing, amazing bakers who we all totally love, so we were both pretty proud! We have his recipe and Tom’s winning recipe on our website, as well as links to Felicity’s perfect version of sticky toffee pudding and spotted dick, all on our website, gastropod.com.
TWILLEY: And I was pretty proud that such amazing bakers were willing to come out and spend a Friday evening baking with Gastropod! Huge, huge, huge thanks to Tom Gilliford, for making it happen—he’s working on a cocktail book right now folks, so you’ll be hearing more from him soon! And thanks also to baker stars Yan and Selasi, we have links on our website.
GRABER: Thanks once again to Sam Bompas and Danny Cheetham of Bompas & Parr, you have our endless thanks for letting us come in and take over your test kitchen for the evening. And thanks to Felicity Cloake as well—to all three of you for being the perfect pudding tasters.
TWILLEY: Felicity’s recipes are literally perfect and she is coming out with a new book this summer based on her very own bicycle Tour de France. It’s already on my wish list, we have links at gastropod dot com.
GRABER: I’d also like to give a special shout out to Nicky for coming up with the idea for this Pud Off, reaching out to Tom, and doing all sorts of crazy behind-the-scenes London work to make it come together. Absolutely amazing. And thanks to our incredible intern Emily Pontecorvo—the pudding gifs are due to her magic. Finally, thanks so much to the queen of British Puddings, the Belgian author Regula Ysewijn, her book is called Pride and Pudding, and she has a new one coming out with The National Trust this summer. We have links of course—and thank you, Regula, also for feeding us such delicious puddings.
TWILLEY: When we left Regula’s house we in fact were stuffed like puddings. It was a lovely feeling. We have so many fabulous extras this episode—like the romantic story of custard powder—that we had to save for our special superfan newsletter, so if you can support us at that level, now’s the time! But your support at any level is essential to keeping the show going—thank you!