British Comfort Food – Classic Desserts

Don’t ‘Trifle’ or ‘Fool’ with dessert!

It has not been easy to travel to England.  As more friends are canceling plans for summer and autumn trips to London and beyond – my mind turns to English comfort food, especially desserts.  If this is NOT your summer to attend the Chelsea Flower Show, tennis at Wimbledon, and the opera at Glyndebourne – at least you can eat an English dessert treat and imagine the English summer!

I had a British mother-in-law and after I learned that proper tea began with a heated cup and NEVER involved a tea bag, I watched her create delicious desserts.

Jam Roly-Poly begins with a sheet of dough. Slather it with jam or marmalade.  Roll it up and bake it on rack over a pan filled with water. It is the favorite of children and is often served with hot custard.  Jam Roly-Poly







Fruit Fool is a rich, smooth concoction of crushed fruit folded into heavy cream. Your imagination is the only limitation – strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry and beyond.  Fruit Fools.







English Trifle is made with sponge cake (sometimes soaked in sherry) , custard, jelly (Jell-o), whipped cream and berries. You can’t get much more traditional than this at the end of a British meal. Traditional English Trifle.



If you decide to go ‘all-in’ to a British meal, check out this 9.5” deep footed Trifle Bowl.  $64.99.




Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding is not a ‘pudding’ in the American sense.  It is a rich, moist, warm spice cake that is served drizzled with warm buttery toffee sauce. It is said to be one of Kate’s Middleton’s favorites.  This is comfort food on any continent.  Sticky Toffee Pudding.




Fruitcake dates back to the Middle Ages when there was no refrigeration. It stays fresh for a long time because the alcohol and fruit act as preservatives.  Fruitcake is the traditional royal wedding cake – in huge sizes with layers. Fruitcake.




Knickerbocker Glory  has captured the hearts of British people since the 1930s. It was made famous in Harry Potter when Dudley threw a tantrum because his Knickerbocker Glory didn’t have enough ice-cream on top.  It is a layered ice cream sundae served in a tall glass with a very long spoon. Knickerbocker Glory.


Set of twelve 12.5 oz Sundae glasses, $27.97





Set of six, 12 oz glasses. $22.00




Set of six long handled spoons. $11.99

British dessert

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Eton Mess – The lore is that when a strawberry meringue was dropped on the floor at Eton College, it was picked up and served as messy dessert, hence the name, Eton Mess. Prince William and Prince Harry both attended Eton.  Think of it as deconstructed Pavlova.  There is lots of advice on shortcuts, including frozen strawberries and Trader Joe’s Meringue CookiesEton Mess.


Treacle Tart refers to the buttery, caramel flavored golden syrup that is the star component of this dessert. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you’ve certainly heard of this. Golden Syrup recipe.  Treacle Tart Recipe.






Bread and Butter Pudding is a way to bake stale bread, currants, egg custard and create a warming, comfort food dessert.  Bread and Butter Pudding.








Fruit Crumbles.  Apple, pear (and other fruit) crumbles are a favorite in my house. Fruit Crumble.









Victoria Sponge (Cake) is sponge cake with jam layers.  It is like a light pound cake. Victoria Sponge.










Syllabub is whipped cream, fresh mint, white wine and lemon zest – a great light touch at the end of a meal.  Syllabub.












Banoffee Pie is a youngster among these venerable desserts. It has been around since the 1970s. The name combines the two main stars of the dessert: bananas and toffee (or dulce de leche) with whipped cream and a pie crust: traditional or graham cracker.  Banoffee Pie.








Arctic Roll was ‘invented’ in the late 1950’s.  It is  a sponge cake layered with raspberry sauce around a log of vanilla ice cream. Slice and enjoy!  Arctic Roll.





Cranachan (CRA-neh-kinn) is a Scottish dessert that is traditionally made in the summer after the raspberry harvest. It includes fresh raspberries, whipped cream, honey and steel-cut oats. It almost looks like oatmeal! The traditional way to serve it is to place a bowl of each ingredient on the table for people to create their own.  Cranachan


Spotted Dick (yes, that is the unlikely name of this dessert).  I first read about Spotted Dick aboard the HMS Surprise with Captain Jack Aubry filling his plate in the Patrick O’Brian books beginning with Master and Commander. ‘Dick’ is another term for a pudding and this one is boiled with raisins, currents or other dried fruit. Spotted Dick.

Figgy Pudding was created in the 14th century as a savory dish made of beef, mutton, raisins and prunes. It became a dessert in the 16th century and is now made with brown sugar, currants, alcohol, and spices. See the ASE article on steamed puddings from around the world.


Pavlova is a staple in among far flung Britons, especially in Australia and New Zealand.  Meringue, fruit and whipped cream.  See the ASE article on Pavlova.




Irish or British Flapjacks (they are known by both names) Oat Cookies are so delicious they’re addictive.  Ginny and Nancy were introduced to then by ASE reader Susie T. They are easy to make and well worth any effort you put in!








Flapjacks are also delicious with a chocolate icing.






Need inspiration?  Watch The Great British Bake Off.








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