What Are the Different Types of British Desserts?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

British desserts, often collectively referred to as puddings, consist of dozens of fantastic recipes for both traditional and modern sweets. Quite unique, the many types of British desserts contain rich, delicate, and flavorful ingredients to satisfy any type of sweet tooth. Some of the most popular types of British desserts include fools, tarts and crumbles, trifle, Christmas pudding, and the famed spotted dick.

Figgy pudding decorated with holly.
Figgy pudding decorated with holly.

Fools are a fabulously lush and indulgent type of dessert, despite a very basic ingredient profile. A fruit fool usually contains layers of flavored and sweetened whipped cream, and fresh or pureed fruit. Easy to whip up in a matter of minutes, fools can nevertheless be elegantly plated and served in beautiful sundae glasses. One variation on a fool is the famous Eton Mess, named for a popular dessert at one of England's most famous colleges. The Eton mess combines strawberries, cream, and pieces of meringue or cake, and is often served quite haphazardly.

British tea is sometimes served with a pastry.
British tea is sometimes served with a pastry.

Tarts and crumbles are two types of British desserts similar to pie. Many tarts are associated with a particular location of origin, such as Bakewell tart, Liverpool tart, and Eccles tart. Tarts typically consist of a blend of ingredients baked into a single, flaky tart crust. Crumbles are similar to American cobblers, and feature a base of fruit, often apples or rhubarb, topped by a crumbly streusel and baked until golden brown. Crumbles are another fast and easy dessert, and can make a great, quick addition to a brunch or tea buffet.

One of the more spectacular British desserts for presentation purposes is traditional English trifle. This layered dessert is often served in a clear glass bowl or individual crystal cups, so that the layers are visible. Layers in a trifle usually consist of thick custard, whipped cream, fruit, and sponge cake. Some recipes also call for the sponge to be soaked in liquor, such as rum, sherry, or amaretto, for an extra bit of flavor.

Possibly the most traditional of all British desserts is the Christmas pudding. Shaped like a cannonball and often concocted weeks in advance, the Christmas pudding is a truly spectacular combination of ingredients. Raisins, brandy, spices, flour, and beef fat are all common ingredients, though it is possible to make Christmas pudding with vegetarian suet. This dense, festive treat is often topped with brand frosting or liquor, and sometimes set on fire before serving for extra presentation points.

No list of British desserts is complete without the oddly named spotted dick. Believed to be derived from an earlier moniker, “spotted dog,” the dish gets its name from the raisins and currents that stud the outside of the dessert. This thick, bread-pudding like dish is often served swimming in cream or custard, and can be deliciously warming on a chilly fall day.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


@Mor - I love sticky date pudding. I remember I always craved it after reading the Harry Potter books where it was often one of the deserts they served at the school.

Actually those books are probably a pretty good way of getting an idea of what British food is like in general, since the school served quite a few traditional foods to the students and they were often described well. Too well in some cases!


@Fa5t3r - That makes me think of an episode of a TV show where a character tried to make a trifle and the recipe pages were stuck together, so she ended up following part of a recipe for a meat dish as well as the recipe for the trifle.

I'm not that fond of trifle anyway, to be honest. I think all that sponge cake and other fillings just get in the way of the custard. I'd much rather have something like sticky date pudding.


We often have trifle at Christmas when we spend time with the extended family, probably because some of them are Irish and I think my grandmother started the tradition. Trifle is really easy to make, so we usually let one of the less confident cooks bring it (the least confident usually end up bringing salads or cooked chickens from the supermarket!).

I actually think this can be a mistake sometimes though, because trifle might be easy to make, but it's not necessarily easy to make well. You really have to have a good feel for what kinds of fruits and cake will taste good together.

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