The cake in Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was marked in currants with "EAT ME". A century and a half later, we are following in Alice's footsteps, as Victorian desserts experience a remarkable revival.
Menus at restaurants such as at Heston Blumenthal's Dinner and Mark Hix's eateries now feature Victorian favourites blancmange and brown bread ice cream; and supermarkets are seeing an increase in sales of Victorian staples including Bakewell tart, coconut pudding, Eve's pudding and steamed treacle puds.
The trend for Victoriana coincides with the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, who wrote in A Christmas Carol that Mrs Cratchit's plum pudding was declared by her husband to be "the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since her marriage".
The National Trust has also caught on to the trend for bygone desserts by introducing the lemon-flavoured Winifred pudding at its properties nationwide. The food historian Caroline Yeldham, who worked with the National Trust and breadmakers Allinson to revive Winifred pudding, believes traditional puds are just the thing in uncertain times.
"The Victorian era was a time of boom and bust, of irresponsible bankers and businessmen, as satirised in Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now. What people wanted from their food was comfort, and this is solid, comforting food," she said.
Sales of traditional puddings have increased: at Asda, steamed puddings in jam, coconut and syrup flavours are up 33 per cent year on year, while sponge and currant spotted dick is up 39 per cent on last year, bread and butter pudding up 25 per cent and Bramley apple crumble up 56 per cent. Waitrose has seen similar rises, with Bakewell tart up 43 per cent, treacle tart up 30 per cent and Eve's pudding, made with apple and sponge, up 23 per cent. Rosalynde Kennedy, Asda's cake and dessert buyer, said: "The nation's increased interest in home baking and cookery programmes has reignited our love of retro Victorian pudding classics over more exotic alternatives such as tiramisu."
Ms Yeldham believes the revival stems from a re-examination of overlooked foods and forgotten recipes. Ronnie Murray, group pastry chef at Hix Restaurants, added: "We are going back to old classics, reinventing those and making sure they're done really well." He currently has sea buckthorn blancmange on his menu, and will be bringing back Sussex pond pudding, made with beef suet and whole lemon inside.
Ms Yeldham says many Victorian puddings went out of fashion in the 1920s and 1930s, in part because of the time required to make them. The rise in "modern" desserts such as ice creams matched the increased availability of better refrigerators.
Food tastes also moved away from suet-heavy fare to lighter dishes, although Ms Yeldham insists many were not synonymous with stodge. Winifred pudding is based on a recipe by the Victorian breadmaker and former doctor Thomas Allinson. He was struck off the medical register in 1892 for his radical views as he promoted healthy eating, vegetarianism and the benefits of wholemeal flour in bread.
Winifred pudding has proved so popular with National Trust diners that some properties, including Lanhydrock in Bodmin, will continue to serve it. Melanie Claridge, catering manager at Lanhydrock, said: "Visitors were suitably intrigued, with many asking for the recipe. It's fantastic to make that connection with the history through food but it's not always popular. For example, calves' feet in aspic was the height of fashion in Victorian times, particularly at Lanhydrock, but I'm not sure it would work on the menu today."
Thomas Allinson's recipe
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35-40 minutes
1 slice wholemeal batch bread, crusts removed
5 tbsp whole milk
85g (3oz) unsalted butter, softened
85g (3oz) caster sugar
2 medium size eggs
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 tsp lemon flavouring or lemon oil 250g
(9oz) puff pastry, thawed if frozen
1 tbsp caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 180*C/fan oven 160*C/Gas mark 4.
1. Lightly butter and flour a 9in (20cm) shallow plate pie dish. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Chill until ready to use
2. Crumble the bread into fine crumbs (if you are not trying to use Victorian cooking methods, use a food processor) and tip into a bowl. Gently warm the milk and pour over the breadcrumbs and allow to stand for 5 minutes until cooled slightly and the breadcrumbs have absorbed the milk
3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until they are well incorporated.
4. Beat the breadcrumbs mixture with a fork until it is smooth and then stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in the lemon juice and lemon oil and pour into the prepared pastry case.
5. Bake for 30 minutes until it has risen and is golden. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the caster sugar and bake it for a further 5 minutes - this will give the pudding a crunchy top. Serve warm with pouring cream.
To serve cold:
Mix together 2 tbsp icing sugar and a little water or freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a smooth icing. Drizzle over the pudding and serve.
On the menu at Hix Restaurants
Makes 12 desserts, divide ingredient quantities depending on number required.
This works in two layers - jelly and blancmange.
[Note: Sea buckthorn juice can be exchanged for other fruit purees.]
To make the jelly:
300ml sea buckthorn juice
100g caster sugar
3 1/2 leaves of gelatine
1. Soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water.
2. Bring 200ml water and caster sugar to the boil. Remove from the heat, and squeeze out the gelatine leaves into the hot water, and stir.
3. Pour in the juice and pass mixture through a sieve.
4. Pour mixture into the moulds, just covering the bottom.
5. Place in the fridge to set.
To make the blancmange:
6 leaves of gelatine
420ml full fat milk
320ml double cream
520ml sea buckthorn juice
230g caster sugar
1. Soak gelatine in a bowl of cold water.
2. Put milk, cream and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, add gelatine and stir.
3. Pass mix through a sieve and into a bowl which is placed over a bowl of ice water to start the chilling process. Keep stirring until almost set.
4. Take moulds out of fridge, and top up with the blancmange.
5. Put back in the fridge over night.
Food historian Caroline Yeldham's Eve's Pudding
This is a simpler version of an 18th century boiled pudding known as the Duke of Cumberland's pudding, which surrounded an apple mixture with a richly egged suet crust and was served with melted butter, wine and sugar.
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Finely grated lemon rind
Icing sugar for topping
75 g self-raising flour
50 g butter
50 g caster sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1. Heat the oven to 375degree F/190 degree C/Gas Mark 5.
2. Butter a 1.5 pint baking dish.
3. Peel, core and slice the apples and lay in the dish. Sprinkle on the sugar, lemon rind and water and set aside.
4. Sift the flour into a separate bowl, add the butter, caster sugar, egg and milk, and beat with a wooden spoon until it forms a smooth cake batter.
5. Pour over the apples and smooth the top.
6. Bake for 35 - 40 mins until golden brown and set. Use a metal skewer to test the apples - they should be soft.
7. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with cream and custard, or with the butter, wine and sugar sauce mentioned below.
Coconut Pudding, recipe by Thomas Allinson
10oz fresh grated coconut
8oz Allinson breadcrumbs
4oz stoned muscatels, chopped small
1 pint milk
1. Mix the breadcrumbs, coconut, muscatels, sugar and the butter (oiled).
2. Add the yolks of the eggs, well beaten.
3. Whip the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth and add these to the mixture just before turning the pudding into a buttered pie-dish.
4. Bake until golden
Food historian Caroline Yeldham's Bakewell Pudding (or Tart
Shortcrust pastry, made using butter and 100gm plain flour
1 tablespoon raspberry jam
25 gm plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
50 g ground almonds
50 g butter
50 g caster sugar
Almond essence - optional
Flaked almonds and icing sugar - optional topping
1. Heat the oven to 400 degree F/200 degree C/Gas Mark 6. Roll out the pastry and line an 8 inch/20 cm tart tin. Spread with the jam and set aside.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder, and mix with the almonds. Cream the butter and caster sugar until light and pale. Beat the egg and almond essence, if using, and beat into the creamed butter and sugar. Fold in the flour and almonds with a metal spoon and spoon over the jam.
3. Sprinkle with the almonds and bake for 30 mins until risen and firm.
4. If you want a version more like the Bakewell ones, or the medieval ones, then leave out the flour and baking powder, and add another egg. You will want a softer set, more like a custard than a cake.
5. This pudding is based on medieval flans or 'flathons' which were a rich egg custard tart, with candied fruit between the pastry and custard. For Lenten days, when eggs were forbidden, a version using almonds and sugar replaced the egg custard. Bakewell puddings are a mixture of the two, with raspberry jam, or strawberry in some of the victorian recipes, replacing the candied fruit.
Sussex Pond Pudding
Recipe from British Food by Mark Hix, published by Quadrille
This unusual pudding is steamed with a whole lemon inside that serves two purposes: one to hold the pudding up and secondly to permeate the rich buttery sauce with a delicate lemony flavour as it cooks. Once the pud is turned out on to the serving dish, it will be sitting in a pond of delicious sweet lemony sauce.
250g (9oz) self-raising flour
125g (4oz) shredded beef suet
150ml (1/4 pint) milk
200g (7oz) soft light brown sugar
300g (11oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 large unwaxed lemon
1. Mix the flour and suet together in a bowl, then gradually mix in the milk to form a dough. The dough should be soft but firm enough to roll out.
2. Roll out the dough to a circle large enough to line a 1.5 litre (21/2 pint) pudding basin. Cut a quarter out of the circle for the lid and to ease the lining of the bowl. Butter the pudding basin well, drop the pastry into it and join up the edges where the quarter was removed.
3. Mix the sugar and butter together and put into the lined basin. With a roasting fork or skewer, prick the whole lemon all over as much as you can so that the juices can escape during cooking, then push it into the butter mixture.
4. Remould the pastry for the top and roll it out to the correct size. Lay it on top of the filling and press the edges together to seal in the filling. Cover the top of the basin with a generous piece of foil, making a pleat down the middle to allow for expansion. Secure in place under the rim with string, making a string handle so it can be lifted out easily.
5. Lower the pudding into a pan containing enough boiling water to come about halfway up the side of the basin. Cover and simmer for 4 hours, topping up with more boiling water as necessary.
6. To serve, lift out the basin and allow to stand for about 30 minutes, then remove the foil and loosen the sides with a small sharp knife. Put a deep serving dish over the basin and quickly turn the whole thing upside down – it may collapse a little but the flavour will be incredible.
Apple Charlotte, recipe by Thomas Allinson
500g Bramley apples
225g Cox or Braeburn apples
50g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)
1 egg yolk
9 slices of Allinson Brown Batch with the Taste of Sourdough
100g soft butter
Fresh cream to serve
1. Peel, core and slice the apples. Place in a pan with 2 tbsp water and the caster sugar and lemon zest if using. Cover and cook the apples over a medium heat for about 10 mins, stirring occasionally until the stewed, soft and fluffy. Leave to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 200oC, 400oF(180oc Fan) Gas Mark 6. You will need 4 x 300ml ovenproof pudding moulds. Remove the crusts from the bread, draw around and cut out four circles to fit the base and top of the pudding moulds. Cut the remaining bread into 5cm wide fingers.
3. Generously butter the bread on both sides and use it to line the base and sides of the moulds, overlapping the slices and making sure there are no gaps. Press the bread firmly into the sides of the tins.
4. Beat the egg yolk into the apples then spoon into the bread lines cases, top with the remaining circles of bread, press down firmly. Place the puddings in a baking tray and bake for 25-30 mins or until they are golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5 mins.
5. Invert the moulds onto four plates and serve hot with the cream poured over.