By: Mrs Robot
I was once entertained to hear an American food critic say you could mess about with the savoury side of food as much as you liked and British people would eat it, but don't ever mess with their puddings. It's true: we do love a good pud, from venerable old Christmas Pudding to a steamed golden syrup one, to what has to be the UK's current favourite, sticky toffee pudding, which is a bit of a johnny-come-lately having been invented around the 1970s. Now, British puddings are not like American pudding, which seems to refer solely to custardy or blancmangey things. Being a guttersnipe, I'll label anything sweet served towards the end of a meal 'pudding', but when I talk of 'a pudding', I'll mean the spongy sort. Queen of Puddings is a bit of an oddity, then, as it's got a custardy (but firm) base. On top of that goes a thin layer of red jam, then a pile of meringue.
This was an unusual thing for me to make as there's an unstated division of labour here at Casa Mechanica; I do pastry, he does meringues. But as Mr Robot had crossed the line when he wrestled with the Moroccan snake, I decided to give this a whirl. The recipe was from Katie Stewart's Cookery Book, a reprint of The Times Cookery Book. I was worried about including this entry in our 'Retro Recipes' section, but that book was first published over 40 years ago! Despite that, the book isn't at all dated, just incredibly useful.
I don't know why it's taken me so long to give this a go. I'd feared it would be tricky, but it's incredibly simple. I suppose separating eggs might seem difficult to some people if they've never tried it, but it's really easy. You use the yolks in the custard mixture, which you then soak the bread in, beat smooth, and bake. Once the bread-custard base is firm, you smear it with jam - we used a jar of raspberry bought at the Bakelite Museum on a recent trip to Devon - and then top with meringue. Bake it again for about 10 minutes and hey presto! Pudding is ready to serve.
As for the meringue... I did it! I've always been terrified of over-beating it and ending up with a collapsed mess, and that's been leading me to under-beat. This time I got it really stiff and the whole experience was much more satisfying (ooh, matron).
One thing that struck me was how economical the whole thing was, enabling you to feed about six people (erm, or two greedy ones) using just a few eggs, a thick slice of bread, some sugar and some jam. If you've got other things going in the oven anyway, it would be easy to pop the base in on a lower shelf at the same time, making maximum use of the heat. She may be called a Queen, but she's a Pauper at heart!