A steamed pudding is guaranteed to elicit shrieks of delight from your dinner guests
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Spotted dick, bread-and-butter pudding and rhubarb crumble. If these names conjure up haunting school-dinner images of pathetic spongy messes drowning in pools of lumpy instant custard, then you probably haven't noticed that things have changed somewhat since then.

British puddings are back. For years they have been relegated to the culinary back seat in favour of more exotic concoctions such as white chocolate terrine, bavarois and tiramisu. But who wants to be slaving over a sabayon and whisking furiously at that all-important moment while all your dinner guests are sitting back swilling wine? Why not make, say, a steamed pudding, which is guaranteed to elicit shrieks of delight, particularly when served with some sort of caramel sauce? It can be bubbling away while you get to grips with the conversation.

Diners in fashionable restaurants are happily tucking into the new, improved 1990s interpretations of sticky toffee pudding, treacle tart and pear crumbles, not to mention pannetone bread-and-butter pudding - British with an Italian twist. Wedding reception menus are even falling victim: one trendy couple who are about to tie the knot plan to round off their feast with a sherry trifle. If, however, your culinary abilities aren't up to it, you can always nip down to your local M&S or Waitrose, and pick up a ready-made one instead.

Both supermarket chains have seen the demand for such comfort foods and have brought out their own ranges. Waitrose, who launched their range in December, offer favourites such as jam and custard sponge, rhubarb crumble and bread-and-butter pudding, and they have a summer pudding range in the pipeline. Dust your bought pudding with icing sugar and hey presto! you could almost have made it yourself.

Voltaire obviously hadn't tasted Delia Smith's version of marmalade bread- and-butter pudding when he noted that "English plays are like their English puddings; nobody has any taste for them but themselves".

One small detail though - forget your fat-free, high-fibre lifestyle. Good old British puddings can only be fully enjoyed if all the dietary no-nos are left in.