10 Desserts That Brits Miss When They Leave the U.K.

Every British expat living in the U.S. has a constant yearning for some culinary pleasure they left back home. For many, it’s British bacon while others long for a traditional Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Some even declare they would swim across the Atlantic just to get their hands on a decent portion of fish and chips. For me and my sweet tooth, it’s the desserts.


Trifle. (Photo: Fotolia)

Trifle. (Photo: Fotolia)

Let us begin proceedings with what is undoubtedly the most famous English dessert of all. A trifle is made from several layers of yumminess, including custard, whipped cream, sponge cake, jelly and a selection of fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. (The more daring also like to spike their trifle with alcoholic beverages, such as sherry or fortified wine.) But perhaps the greatest gift this dessert has given British culture is the classic Tommy Cooper trifle gag. “A fella goes to the doctor, and he’s got jelly in one ear and custard in the other, and the doctor says, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Fella says, ‘You’ll have to speak up doctor, I’m a trifle deaf.’”
Get Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for trifle at BBC Good Food.

Eton mess

Eton mess. (Photo: Fotolia)

Eton mess. (Photo: Fotolia)

Eton College is a lot like Hogwarts, except instead of teaching witchcraft and wizardry, they teach poshness and pomposity. The Eton mess is a dessert traditionally served at Eton’s annual cricket match against the pupils of Harrow School and consists of strawberries, cream and pieces of meringue all mixed together in one big—you guessed it—mess.
Get the recipe for strawberry rose Eton mess at BBC Good Food.

Arctic roll
In 1939, a Czechoslovakian lawyer named Dr. Ernest Velden fled his homeland for fear of Nazi persecution and found refuge in Britain. The following year, Dr. Velden put his law degree to good use and set up an ice cream factory in Eastbourne, East Sussex. In 1958, old Ernie came up with the idea for arctic roll: a log of vanilla ice cream encased in a tube of sponge cake with a paper-thin layer of raspberry sauce in between. Sales soared throughout the 1970s, and, by 1983, arctic roll was such a celebrated part of British culture that the Queen rewarded the good doctor with an OBE. But like ice cream left out in the sun, the arctic roll’s days were numbered. Sales slumped during the 1990s and, in 1997, manufacturer Birds Eye announced it was ceasing production. But the story doesn’t end there. In 2008, the arctic roll would rise again like a phoenix from the freezer. The global recession prompted Birds Eye to bring back the dessert as part of their “Make Your Pound Go Further” campaign. And the British public welcomed it back with open arms (and mouths).
Get the recipe for clotted cream & raspberry ripple Arctic roll at BBC Good Food.

Jam roly-poly
This sweet, stodgy pudding evokes much nostalgia amongst Brits of a certain age for it was once a staple of school lunches throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, even its delightfully rhythmical name carries an air of childlike innocence, as if it were something out of a Roald Dahl book. Kids often refer to jam roly-poly as “dead man’s arm” due to its appearance resembling a bloodied human limb. Kids, eh? The dessert itself is a suet pudding spread with jam, which is then rolled and steamed before being served with hot custard. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the pairing of hot custard with dessert is practically nonexistent in the U.S. Pieces of pie, for example, are either served with ice cream, cream, or unaccompanied. It’s a crime against American puddings that they haven’t been introduced to hot custard. A crime, I tell you!
Recipe via BBC Good Food.

The crackling of the bonfire, the whizzing and popping of the fireworks, the excited “oohing” and “ahhing” of the crowd, and the moist treacle taste of parkin. Welcome to Britain on Guy Fawkes Night. Parkin originated in Yorkshire during the Industrial Revolution and is made from flour, oatmeal, black treacle, margarine, brandy and ginger. It tastes like soft gingerbread, and Northern grandmothers bake it in batches big enough to feed an army and then they force-feed it to you for the next seven months. “Go on, have another piece, pet,” they say.
Recipe via BBC Good Food.

Banoffee Pie

Banoffee pie. (Photo: Fotolia)

Banoffee pie. (Photo: Fotolia)

In tracing the biography of the banoffee pie we return once again to East Sussex and a restaurant in the small village of Jevington (just a stone’s throw from where Dr. Velden had some years earlier invented his arctic roll). The year was 1972, and the restaurant was The Hungry Monk. Head chef Ian Dowding collaborated with owner Nigel McKenzie on a dessert that was based on an American dish called “Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie.” At first they experimented with different fruits such as apples and oranges before finally hitting the sweet spot with bananas. It was McKenzie who came up with the portmanteau “banoffee” (although McKenzie originally christened it “banoffi” it later became more commonly spelt “banoffee”). Because you can’t patent a recipe, neither Dowding nor McKenzie have received any royalties for their creation, although their efforts are commemorated with an historical blue plaque on the wall of the now defunct Hungry Monk restaurant.
Get the recipe for mini banoffee pies at BBC Good Food.

Bread and butter pudding
Yet more stodgy pudding! Some food historians date this frugal dish as far back as the 11th century, while others place it much later at around the turn of the 17th century. What is certain, however, is that this dessert began life amongst the poor as a way to use up any leftover bread. It’s made by layering slices of stale, buttered bread in a baking tray and then adding a sprinkling of raisins. Next, a mixture of lightly whisked eggs and milk is poured over the bread. Then you pop it in the oven and Bob’s your uncle. It’s a versatile pudding that can be seasoned with whatever’s lying around the kitchen: nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, anything really. For best results serve with piping hot custard (if you can find any).
Get the recipe for a light version of this dish at BBC Good Food.

Knickerbocker glory
A popular treat on days at the seaside, the knickerbocker glory is an ice cream sundae made with fruit, cream and syrup. Nobody knows where it came from, who invented it or quite what makes it glorious; it is the mysterious enigma of the Great British dessert menu. All we know for certain really is that it appeared in Britain sometime during the 1930s. Etymologically speaking, the most likely explanation is that the name comes from America. In his 1809 book, A History of New York, author Washington Irving wrote under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. This assumed last name soon became a colloquial term for the Dutch population living in the area. Further evidence to suggest the knickerbocker’s U.S. roots can be found in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 book How to Mix Drinks, in which Thomas gives a recipe for a rum-based fruity cocktail called “The Knickerbocker.” The good news for expats is that they’ll have no problems finding an ice cream sundae in the U.S.; it just won’t be called a knickerbocker.
Get the recipe for peach melba knickerbocker glory at BBC Good Food.

Sticky toffee pudding
Like the knickerbocker glory, the STP’s roots also lie on the left side of the pond. During the Second World War, two Canadian Air Force officers stationed in Britain were lodging at The Old Rectory Hotel in Claughton, Lancashire. One evening during dinner service, the men passed the original recipe for sticky toffee pudding on to their hotelier, Patricia Martin. The dish was later adopted and tweaked by Francis Coulson, who owned the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District. It was here during the 1970s that STP achieved national recognition and before long it was being sold in restaurants all over Britain.
Get a recipe for sticky toffee pudding at BBC Good Food.

Spotted dick
Come on now, stop laughing, we’re all adults here. Granted, it sounds like an undesirable male genital disease, but the dish is made from suet mixed with other ingredients such as flour, molasses, corn syrup and nutmeg, which together create a pastry dough. Raisins are then added to make the dish “spotted” before being steamed or boiled. Where the word “dick” originates from in this context is unclear, but it is most likely a corruption, possibly of “dough” or the last syllable of “pudding.” As with most hot British desserts, spotted dick is best complemented with hot custard.
Get the recipe for spotted dick at BBC Good Food.

What are some of your favorite British desserts? Tell us in the comments below:

See more:
Why the U.S. Should Adopt British-Style Supermarkets
10 British Flavors Americans Will Never Widely Appreciate
British Treats You’ll Miss this Christmas

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Jon Langford

Jon Langford is a British expat living in NYC where he is often asked if he’s Australian on account of his Yorkshire accent. He is a freelance copywriter and journalist, and has been published in many sports and pop culture outlets including Major League Soccer, Time Out magazine, Inked magazine and Smitten by Britain. As bassist of alternative rock group The Chevin he has toured the world over, appearing on Conan, the Late Show with David Letterman and Last Call with Carson Daly. Follow him on Twitter at @Jon_LangfordNYC.
View all posts by Jon Langford.
  • frozen01

    Oh, why did you have to mention Sunday roasts?
    I’m still mourning from when our local favorite British imports store/cafe expanded their menu, and the rumor of the addition of the Sunday roast did not come to fruition.

  • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

    Gosh, never even heard of Parkin but it sounds nice. I made trifles years ago for a group of Americans and they all just pushed it around the bowl. There mustn’t have been enough sherry in it. Eton Mess and Summer Pudding go down really well though.

  • catmom3

    I make bread pudding but I don’t butter the bread, I cube it. And I do serve custard with pie but I’ve never tried it hot. I usually heat the pie and have the custard at room temperature.

  • Eggplants&Aubergines

    How can you have forgotten treacle pudding, Bakewell tart, Battenburg cake, rhubarb crumble with the mentioned custard and Eccles cakes. These are all missed by this particular Brit!

    • maggie

      and treacle tart.

    • AlanD

      Chorley cakes, not Eccles cakes!

  • znachki

    American of British descent (3 generations out), and in my family we still do the occasional Sunday roast. We also have trifle – w/sherry of course, and I always serve my “pie plant” rhubarb pie with warm custard. You can even find Birds at some larger grocery stores, if you want. I’ve made some of the others, but not all. Also – Battenburg cake. You just have to DIY!

  • Karen Frenchy

    Aaaaah the famous English trifle, made by Rachel (Friends) ^_^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G08pqAaJi5k

  • Pippa

    I miss proper sausages, roast dinners, curry and doner kebabs…All so healthy :)

  • madison

    Don’t forget the 99 flake!

  • Kaz

    Gypsy tart: Kentish sweet pastry tart made with brown sugar and condensed milk.

  • welcometo1984

    Lardy cake, Bakewell tart, Manchester tart, baked rice pudding with petticoat tails, proper apple/rhubarb/ gooseberry crumble.

  • Rosebudmi

    I do not understand why Trifle is not served more in this country. It is so simple to make and is absolutely delicious!

    • silentnonrev

      My mum always made it with leftover cake, etc., We have an apocryphal family story of a guest at our Granny’s table finding a ham sandwich in her portion

  • Sa Say

    Bread and butter pudding is…well….bread pudding. Pretty much identical to the description here, although I will often add a jigger of whiskey, brandy or cognac to the milk for a pop of flavor. Go south, English eater! The south and southwest can serve you bread pudding all day long.

  • Pam T

    Pavlova – raspberries, meringue, and whipped cream in pie-sized layers. The best.

    • silentnonrev

      I think that’s some flavor of Antipodean, rather than of Limey origin

  • Mose

    Bread and butter pudding is similar, but not exact, to what is popular in the American south called Bread pudding (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/the-best-bread-pudding-recipe.html)

    • Lizzie

      The recipe sounds identical to the bread pudding we eat here in Minnesota (at the geographical top of the US). With a caramel sauce and ice cream…. *dies*

    • NotABrony_OkILied

      I was thinking the same thing. Our southern version is pudding-ier (lol). It’s not firm like cake as this kind appears to be, it’s MUCH softer, almost like a cobbler without the crumble on top.

  • Lucindalc

    What is this hot custard? And why don’t we have it here in the States? I make Eton Mess every summer and my family loves it.

    • silentnonrev

      buy some Bird’s custard powder at your local Indian grocery

  • Carol Jenkins O’Neill

    Battenburg cake, rhubarb crumble and I love sticky toffee pudding.

  • Aurora Tripp

    Mmm, Bakewell tarts!!! :-)

  • Louise Barlow

    Apple and blackberry crumble, flapjacks, treacle tart, victoria sponge cake, cornish ice cream, stewed apple and custard.

  • Scotsgranny

    These are not British, they are English. Please do not generalise. No wonder the Scots want out.

    • NotABrony_OkILied

      You’re all silly. The entire island is smaller than a province or state elsewhere. Just grow up, have done with it and unify into one country already, you stubborn fools.

  • Christian Johnson

    Americans of Southern extraction have a distant relative of trifle: Banana pudding.It’s essentially an alcohol-free trifle, using Nilla wafers (Kraft’s vanilla wafers, accept no substitutes) instead of sponge cake. It’s heaven, although it can be finicky to make unless the bananas are exactly the right stage of ripeness (too ripe and they turn to mush; too green and they react with the cornstarch, unbinding and leaving you with sweet, lumpy banana soup). Alton Brown provides a good starting point: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/baked-banana-pudding-recipe.html.

  • RandomEnglishGirl

    It’s not called Guy Fawkes night, if you call it that. All you know is fireworks. It’s called bonfire night, and involves flaming torches and exploding floats of guy Fawkes, political figures and anything we English dont like! Seriously bonfire night is the best, especially if you march.

  • http://www.algoreisabidfatidiot.com/ Rev Jim Jones

    Southeastern key lime pie with gram cracker crust.