The town of Bakewell in Derbyshire is well known for its famous pudding, often, incorrectly called ‘Bakewell Tart’.
Legend has it that the pudding was created by accident in the nineteenth century. The story goes that the cook at the Rutland Arms in the centre of the town was making a jam tart and absentmindedly poured the egg mixture intended for the pastry on top of the jam instead. The guests enjoyed the new pudding so much that the cook was ordered to make it regularly.
Intriguing though the story is it’s very doubtful. A much more likely explanation is that Bakewell pudding was a variation of the popular ‘transparent’ puddings of the eighteenth century, in which a layer of fruit or jam was covered with a mixture of sugar, butter and eggs before baking. These puddings only sometimes had a pastry case and were more usually baked in a dish without the pastry. The famous cookery writer Eliza Acton recorded the first known recipe for Bakewell pudding in 1845 in ‘Modern Cookery’, and wrote that it was ‘served on al holiday occasions’, although there was no mention of pastry. Mrs Beeton’s recipe appeared with a puff pastry case in 1861.
The neighbouring county of Staffordshire has a very similar pudding, called ‘Staffordshire Yeomanry Pudding’ which originated in 1838 and was a speciality of the Swan Hotel in Lichfield.
Bakewell pudding is rich, light and delicious. Strawberry (or raspberry) jam is spread generously on the base of a pastry case, a mixture of butter, eggs and sugar is poured over the top and then baked for 25 minutes. To be really authentic, the baking dish should be oval with sloping sides.
Nowadays the characteristic flavour of Bakewell pudding is almonds, although these weren’t used in the original dish. At first a small amount of almond essence was used to flavour the topping, then as time passed, it became customary to use ground almonds as well or even instead of the essence, which changed the texture of the topping.
The mass manufactured, commercial version of Derbyshire’s famous pudding is ‘Bakewell Tart’, a twentieth century invention in which a thin layer of cheap jam is topped with a synthetically flavoured filling containing flour or cornflour and sometimes finished with a layer of oversweet icing. Needless to say this is a travesty of the real thing which, when properly made, is a light and delicious wholesome treat.
There are several Bakewell Pudding recipes, all claiming to be authentic – each using puff, flaky or shortcrust pastry and either strawberry or raspberry jam. It’s a matter of personal preference, which you choose. The jam can be replaced with stewed, candied or dried fruits; the latter can be soaked in wine or cider if you wish. In the summer months, use fresh raspberries sprinkled with caster sugar over the pastry base instead of jam for an even more tempting treat! It’s well worth the effort of making a genuine Bakewell pudding, but do make sure you use butter, not margarine, as it makes all the difference to the flavour. There are no almonds in this recipe but if you want an almond flavour add a few drops of real almond essence or (even better) almond extract to the mixed topping.
REAL BAKEWELL PUDDING
225g shortcrust or puff pastry
strawberry or raspberry jam
110g/4 oz butter
110g/4 oz caster sugar
4 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Roll out the pastry and line a 20 cm (8 inch) pie dish or flan tin. Spread the jam over the base of the pastry. Melt the butter and while still hot, pour it over the sugar and eggs, beating well. Pour the mixture over the jam and bake for 20-30 minutes Gas6/200C/400F until golden brown. Eat while still hot and fresh.