Queen of puddings is a breadcrumb-thickened set custard spread over with jam, topped with meringue and baked off. The origin of the dish is a little lost, but in the 1699 book with the improbable title The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, there are a bunch of recipes in with breadcrumbs are soaked in milk for a sweet preparation. Among these is ‘A good quaking bag-pudding,’ which calls for milk-soaked bread sweetened quite a bit with eggs and flour, assembled into a dish covered over with linen and subjected to a series of cryoptoculinary inversions.
Most people who care about this stuff will agree that a Queen of puddings is the same thing as a Manchester pudding, and that the addition of egg yolks to the Manchester version over other similar puddings is fully present in the Queen. The whole thing is derived from bread pudding, and it was Mrs Beeton who is said to have described Queen of puddings as ‘Queen of bread pudding,’* in reference to the contrast with her ‘Very plain bread pudding,’ which is bread mashed up with water to which sugar and currants are added.
The recipe we have given here is from Gary Rhodes. We cooked it a couple of days after he suddenly died in November 2019. Rhodes has two recipes for QoP – the other uses vanilla sponge in the custard base and is repeated by a few other food blogs, including The Spruce Eats. The version here is the original from Rhodes’ 1999 New British Classics, which is arguably the Larousse of British food.
*This notion is written down in New British Classics, but I cannot find the phrase anywhere in The Book of Household Management by Mrs Isabella Beeton. We cannot yet track down a definite origin for ‘Queen.’
Queen of puddings
- For the base:
- 600ml milk
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 50g unsalted butter
- 50g caster sugar
- 100g fresh white breadcrumbs
- 6 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons raspberry or blackcurrant jam
- For the meringue:
- 4 egg whites
- 225 g caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and prepare six 7.5 cm (3 in) soufflé dishes or one 1.75 litre (3 pint) soufflé dish.
Bring the milk and lemon rind to the boil in a pan, then remove from the heat and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Remove the zest and add the butter and sugar. Bring back to the simmer and remove from the heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs and allow to cool slightly. Beat the egg yolks and add to the mix. Pour it into the soufflé dish or dishes and stand them in a roasting tray filled three-quarters full of hot water. Bake in the preheated oven for 30–40 minutes until set. When the puddings have just set, remove from the oven and the water bath and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Increase the oven temperature to 230°C. Divide the jam between the tops of the puddings. To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites with the sugar until they form firm peaks. Pipe or spoon the meringue over the top of the puddings and return them to the hot oven, or place under a pre-heated grill, for about 6–8 minutes until golden brown.