The Pudding Problem

Pudding is a problematic word for the dessert taxonomist. For depending on where you happen to be in the English-speaking world, it can mean quite different things. In England the word “pudding” can stand for just about anything sweet, especially if it’s eaten after the main meal. What we in the States would call “dessert.” If that’s far too broad a definition, the American one is perhaps a bit too narrow. Here, “pudding” means a very specific sort of dessert: a custard, one thickened either with eggs or with a starch of some sort. It’s not as though we don’t understand when someone uses “pudding” to indicate a cake-like object, it’s more that we just don’t fathom the reason for it. It’s a needless complication. Fancy talk.

That said, I’ve never known an American, once he or she has tasted a classic English-style pudding, to ever think it wasn’t just plain fabulous. English puddings are rich, sweet and extremely moist, just the sort of item that folks like us love. In fact one could make the argument that the more exposure Americans have had to English puddings, the more we’ve tried to incorporate the aesthetic into our own layer cakes. Indeed, whereas once American cakes were measured by their height and lightness, today they’re measured by density and richness. I personally lament that. I think we’ve pushed the idea of richness and sweetness way too far in over the last decade or two. But then it probably isn’t fair to lay the blame for all that at the feet of English pudding. It leaves precious little room for the hard sauce.

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