18 Great English Desserts
If you’ve ever asked the question What’s so great about English cooking? We have the answer. They excel in the area of desserts.
From the traditional sweets that date back 500 years or more, to the creations of modern chefs; from sophisticated liquor-drenched options, to fluffy sweets which make full use of seasonal fruits, there are desserts to please every palate.
Many are surprisingly simple to make at home, so if you’re looking for a new way to create the perfect end to any meal, check out our list below of the most popular English desserts.
1. Treacle Tart
Not only is treacle tart Harry Potter’s favorite treat, it’s an essential English classic which dates back to the 19th Century.
It’s a delicious and easy-to-make mixture of golden syrup, breadcrumbs, eggs, and lemon zest poured onto a shortcrust base and baked until golden. Serve alone, with ice cream, or a dollop of thick cream or yogurt.
2. Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky toffee pudding is a sinful dessert, served hot, and it’s well worth breaking any diet for!
The cake is made with plump, juicy Medjool dates and covered with hot, luscious caramel sauce. This classic restaurant dessert is often served with cream to balance out the sweetness.
3. Fruit Crumble
An easy-to-make fruit crumble is a staple of every English kitchen. Flour, sugar, and butter are mixed until a breadcrumb-like texture is achieved.
This is placed over pre-cooked apples to form a crust when it is baked until golden. When they’re in season, the sharp sour taste of fresh rhubarb or gooseberries make an excellent contrast to the sweetness of the topping.
Apple crumble is a year-round favorite, with tart apples preferred over sweet ones to balance the sweetness. You’ll find fruit crumbles served with hot vanilla custard, a dollop of ice cream, or drizzled with cream.
4. Bread and Butter Pudding
Bread and butter pudding was an ingenious solution for economical homemakers to ensure that nothing in the kitchen went to waste.
The simple recipe transforms stale bread into a delicious dessert. First, sliced bread is soaked in a custard made of milk, cream, sugar, and eggs, then spiced up with some nutmeg, vanilla, and perhaps sultanas.
Then, it’s baked to create a light and delicious pudding with a golden crust. Finally, it’s typically sliced into wedges and served hot, with cream, ice cream, or custard.
There are a thousand variations on the basic trifle recipe which will all create the ultimate party dessert. Whether it’s for a toddler’s birthday celebration or an impressive finale at a sophisticated dinner party, it’s easy to adjust the basic elements according to the occasion.
Trifle is typically made in a large glass bowl so that each colorful layer can be admired as the centerpiece of every festive table.
How is it made? Let’s start with the bottom layer. Sponge fingers are broken into large chunks and soaked in sherry, unless it’s for a kid’s party, in which case alcohol isn’t recommended! Add some fruit – perhaps raspberries in season – but any fruit will do, cover with jelly (aka Jell-o), and leave it to set. Then pour on a thick layer of cold custard, and finish with a top layer of whipped cream.
Decorate the top with sprinkles, sliced strawberries, chocolate chips – let your imagination run wild! Chill, and serve in glass bowls.
6. Gooseberry Fool
Gooseberry fool is an English dessert with a history that goes back centuries – to the days of Shakespeare!
‘Fool’ is the term used when any fresh fruit, cream, and sugar are beaten together to create a light, frothy mix. The pleasure of making a fool comes from using the freshest seasonal fruit – plump gooseberries are a summer favorite as their tartness contrasts beautifully with the sweetened rich cream.
However, you could also make strawberry, raspberry, or even peach versions.
Fool is best accompanied by a buttery homemade shortbread, as the crumbly texture balances out the silky smoothness of the fool.
7. Christmas Pudding
Christmas pudding is best prepared at the end of November to allow the rich flavors time to develop. If you’re going to follow Victorian tradition and add coins to the mixture, just make sure they’re clean and warn your diners to avoid dental crowns being accidentally broken!
8. Jam Roly Poly
This humble dessert, served in homes and school canteens everywhere, is perhaps not as ubiquitous as it once was. It’s nothing fancy – basically, just a layer of sponge cake, spread with strawberry jam and rolled.
But it’s an economical, easy-to-make comfort food, typically served with hot vanilla custard, which brings back childhood memories for generations of English natives.
Luxurious, rich, dark fruitcake, studded with dried fruits, is a staple at Christmas, weddings, and christenings. It’s traditionally made a couple of months in advance and regularly ‘fed’ with brandy to make it ultra-moist and juicy.
In an airtight tin, this type of cake can last without spoiling for many years. So it’s not unusual for parents to save some of their child’s christening cake to eat on their 21st birthday!
The sugar content of the cake and the fruit make great preservatives, and it tastes as good as when it was made. However, more modest, lighter fruitcakes are enjoyed all year round as part of an afternoon tea feast, and they make a welcome addition to picnics. They’re pretty quick and easy to make, and each baker can add their twist with the unique combination of spices and fruits they choose to include.
10. Banoffee Pie
Invented in the 1970s, this easy-to-make dessert became an instant classic. Sliced bananas, toffee sauce, and whipped cream are layered on a base of crumbled digestive biscuits, held together with melted butter.
To impress your guests with a luscious dessert that’s easy to whip up, this is a crowd-pleasing banoffee pie recipe you’ll return to again and again.
11. Lemon Syllabub
This is a light and sophisticated dessert, dating back at least to the 16th Century. It’s a grown up mixture of heavy cream, sugar, lemon, and some kind of wine, all whipped together to create an airy, almost runny, concoction.
While lemon is a classic ingredient, other fruits can be used as a base – stewed plums are a wonderful alternative. Because of the alcohol, it’s not served to children, although you can of course make a ‘clean’ version.
12. Arctic Roll
Arctic roll was ultra-popular in the 1970s when a version by frozen food manufacturer Bird’s Eye became a staple in many English households. And who can resist this retro favorite?
A roll of vanilla ice-cream is tightly wrapped with a layer of jam-covered sponge and left in the freezer to’ bond’ for a couple of hours. To be honest, many countries claim to have invented the Arctic Roll, but we’ve included it in this list due to the special place it holds in the affection of English dessert lovers.
13. Eton Mess
This genuinely English creation appears to have been invented in the canteen of Eton, England’s famous private school that’s best known for producing a string of prime ministers and leading top politicians. It’s a sumptuous, chaotic mash-up of fresh strawberries, cream, and meringue.
In winter, when fresh berries are not in season, stewed plums or apricots make a good substitute. Making perfect meringues is an art, so if you need a great-looking dessert in record time, no one will notice if you use good-quality shop-bought ones.
14. Eve’s Pudding
A few decades ago, Eve’s Pudding was a staple dessert that every English cook would whip up regularly, without thinking twice. More recently, like many hot desserts, it’s fallen out of favor.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious, especially when served piping hot from the oven and smothered with hot custard. Eve’s pudding is a dish of spiced baked apple topped with the golden crust of a light sponge, and it makes the perfect end to a special meal such as Sunday lunch.
15. Bakewell Tart
This traditional almond tart originated in the Derbyshire town of Bakewell. It’s a favorite for afternoon tea, or after a meal, perhaps with custard, ice cream or thick cream.
The filling is made with ground almonds, eggs, sugar, and flour, and the top is decorated with sliced blanched almonds.
16. Baked Egg Custard
Although when we think of custard, we tend to think of something thick yet runny. However, the English also have a tradition of making rich egg custards that goes back many centuries.
Baked egg custards are found throughout Europe, but the classic English version is always made with shortcrust pastry and delicately spiced with nutmeg. It can be served warm, while the center is still soft, or chilled, when it will have a firmer texture. Either way – delicious!
17. Scones, Jam, and Cream
While this iconic combination is served with afternoon tea, rather than after a full meal, it is so closely associated with English tradition that we had to include it.
Freshly baked scones (with or without sultanas) are spread with strawberry jam and topped with a dollop of thick, yellow, clotted cream from the country of Devon. Purists sometimes argue about whether the cream should go on top of the jam, or the jam belongs on top of the cream. It’s really your choice; the only rule is that you enjoy the experience!
18. Jelly and Cream
This simple dessert that every Brit associates with their childhood ends our list. The jewel-like colors of the jelly (aka Jell-o), perhaps sculpted into a fascinating shape with a special tin, glass or silicon mold, enchant kids of all ages and hold a special place in the dessert section of our hearts. And covered with cream, heaven!
On the flip side, we have to give a mention to jelly’s nemesis – blancmange. Loathed by generations of children whose parents tried to force them to eat it for some unknown reason, blancmange is typically a pink jelly made with milk in place of water. It’s actually not so bad, and variations exist throughout Europe, but for a kid’s party, we recommend you play safe with an animal-shaped water-based jelly.