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Spotted Dick

by Regula Ysewijn from Pride and Pudding: The history of British puddings, savoury and sweet  (Murdoch Books)

Photography Regula Ysewijn


Mentioning this pudding to people unfamiliar with British food always generates great

amusement. Its etymology is the culprit, though an entirely innocent explanation can

be provided. ‘Dick’ is simply an old dialect pronunciation of ‘dough’, just like ‘duff’

in plum duff. The first documented recipe for spotted dick appeared in A Shilling Cookery for The People in 1854:

339. Spotted Dick.- Put three-quarters of a pound of flour into a basin, half a pound of beef suet, half ditto of currants, two ounces of sugar, a little cinnamon, mix with two eggs and two gills of milk; boil in either mould or cloth for one hour and a half; serve with melted butter, and a little sugar over.

Alexis Soyer, A Shilling Cookery for the People, 1854


A few years earlier, in 1849, the same author had published another recipe for spotted dick in his book The Modern Housewife or, Ménagère. Then he called it a ‘Plum Bolster, or ‘Spotted Dick’ – this recipe, however, was for a rolled suet pudding like a roly-poly. His recipe for roly-poly is printed just above the spotted dick in the book. Nowadays the pudding is sold in tins, a reminder of how the English searched for a way to have their puddings without having to spend the time making them! Spotted dick was also a popular school-dinner pudding; many people who were young in the sixties and seventies will remember them well, all covered in custard. Well prepared, it is a treat and a pudding so iconic, especially because of its most peculiar name, that it could not be omitted from this book.


Makes 1 pudding in a 17 cm (6½ inch/No. 30) basin (mould)



300g (10½ oz/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour

130g (4½ oz) shredded suet

50g (1¾ oz) raw sugar (or Nigel says substitute with Demerara sugar)

a pinch of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

200ml (7 fl oz) milk

150g (5½ oz) currants, soaked in water, brandy or rum


Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F). Prepare the pudding basin for steaming (see below).

Combine the flour, suet, sugar, cinnamon and baking powder together in a large bowl and mix well.

Add the egg and a little of the milk while constantly stirring the mixture. Soon it will be looking like very coarse breadcrumbs.

Keep adding milk until you can bring the mixture together with your hands into a stiff dough. If it is too dry, you might need another splash of milk, although the dough should not be wet or sticky.

Finally work in the currants.

Roll the dough into a ball and press into the prepared pudding basin.

Steam the pudding in the oven, as described on page 69, for 4 hours.

Serve with custard sauce (see recipe below) 

Steaming a pudding using a pudding basin

Preparing the basin

Generously grease the pudding basin (mould) with butter and cut a circle of baking paper the same size as the base of the pudding basin. Place the paper circle in the basin; it will stick perfectly to the butter. This will make it easier to get the pudding out of the basin.


Spoon the batter into the pudding basin, then cut another two circles of baking paper with a diameter about 8–10 cm (3¼–4 inches) larger than the top of the basin. Make a narrow fold across the middle to leave room for the paper cover to expand slightly. I like to use two layers of paper. Tie securely around the top of the basin with kitchen string, then cover with foil and tie kitchen string to create a handle so it will be easier to lift the basin out of the pan after steaming.

Now get yourself a pan large enough to hold your pudding basin(s) or, if you are steaming little ones all in one go, a large baking dish. I prefer to use the oven for this as I do not like to have a pot of boiling hot water on the stovetop for 2 hours or more, depending on the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315°F) or the temperature suggested in the recipe.

Stand the pudding basin on an inverted heatproof saucer, a jam-jar lid or trivet in the base of a deep ovenproof saucepan or pot. Pour in boiling water to come halfway up the side of the basin. Cover the pan, either with its own lid or with foil, in order to trap the steam. Place in the preheated oven and leave for as long as your recipe states. This can be between 30 minutes and 7 hours depending on the size of your pudding.

When you are steaming little puddings, it is sufficient to place the puddings in a deep baking dish and fill the dish with boiling water once you have put them in the oven. Cover the dish with foil and steam for as long as your recipe states.

Unmoulding a pudding

Carefully remove the pudding from the pot while it is still in the oven. Have a tea towel (dish towel) at the ready to hold it safely and catch all the hot water that will drip from it. Leave the pudding to rest for a couple of minutes, so that it will cool off a bit and be easier to handle.


Have a plate ready. Remove the foil and string, then open the paper lid and turn the pudding out by carefully loosening it around the edges with a blunt knife.


Custard Sauce

Gloriously flavoursome full-fat milk and cream and deep orange coloured egg yolks will give the flavour you need to make this a truly enjoyable sauce. Mace is excellent as a flavouring, a bay leaf added to it gives a more spiced flavour. When using cinnamon, the flavour is quite similar to using vanilla, I find, but vanilla – now commonly used – was never traditional.


Makes about 2 litres (70 fl oz/8 cups)


10 egg yolks

500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) milk

500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) thick (double) cream

50 g (1¾ oz) raw sugar

1 mace blade or cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf (optional)



Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl.

Bring the milk, cream, sugar, spice and bay leaf, if using, to a simmer in a saucepan. Strain the hot milk mixture and discard the flavourings. Pour a little of the hot mixture into the egg yolks and whisk thoroughly.

Now continue to add the hot milk mixture in batches until fully incorporated and you get a smooth sauce. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a spatula until just thickened, making sure the eggs don’t scramble. When just thickened, remove from the heat and pour into a cold sauceboat for serving. If you don’t want the custard to develop a skin, cover the sauceboat with plastic wrap.


Vanilla custard

Adding vanilla isn’t traditional to Britain but is delicious and often done today. Please use a real vanilla bean and not the essence, which has often not a seed of vanilla in it.

Split a vanilla bean lengthways and simmer with the milk and cream.

Take the bean out of the liquid when you are adding it to the egg yolks.

Keep the vanilla bean, rinse it gently and dry it.

It will still give off enough flavour to make your own vanilla sugar when placed in a jar with sugar.


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