John Larrysson's Kitchen: Christmas Cake & Pudding

A Hong Kong restaurant advertised that their Christmas buffet would have Christmas pudding. That was part of the reason I took my wife there for dinner. However they had a milky flavoured-gelatin dessert and called it Christmas pudding. Such mixtures may be called pudding, by some people. However a different dish, called a pudding, served at Christmas time is not a Christmas pudding.

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Christmas pudding is the name of a very specific food; it is steamed and made from flour, dried fruit, eggs, suet (hard beef fat), brandy and so on. Christmas cake, and especially pudding, are common in England, but less so in America. While otherwise similar to a Christmas pudding, Christmas cake is baked and uses butter instead of suet.

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Cream pies have a cover of whipped cream over a custard stuffing. In Modern British English, the word custard usually means a sauce for pouring onto dessert.1 There are two common exceptions. 1) custard pies are usually mentioned only in an American context, such as things that Charlie Chaplin et al. would hit people in the face with.2 2) egg custard tarts, like the famous Hong Kong egg tart. The original Middle English meaning of the word custard was something covered with a crust. So do not worry too much about modern custard definitions.

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Pumpkins are a vegetable. However pumpkin pies are a dessert. It is a pie crust filled with a sweet pumpkin custard filling. They are from North America and are the traditional Thanksgiving dinner dessert. These pies also show up in traditional American Christmas dinners instead of Christmas pudding.

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Apple pies are an American symbol of society, the idiom as American as apple pie is common. However apple pie was not invented in America and has been popular in England for centuries. In Northern England it is traditionally served with a slice of cheese. More surprising to readers outside of the northern UK would be the expression “An apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze”.3 While popular the apple pie is not specifically American.

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Wedding cakes are traditionally white to symbolise virginity. In the past the highly refined ingredients needed for a white frosting were expensive and also a sign of status. However the ingredients and type of cake are more flexible, as long as it is not dark. Not all named desserts have such strict descriptions. Some desserts are named after flavouring ingredients, such as chocolate, carrot or coconut. A dessert may be named after an event such as a wedding or birthday. A black pudding is a steamed sausage made with pig’s blood and oatmeal. If someone orders a black pudding they will be very unhappy with a sweet dark chocolate pudding. Certain cake, cookie and pudding names have a very specific meaning. Do not use these names for other foods that sound similar.

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1. Example:

2. Custard pies (also called cream pies) have a cover of whipped cream over a custard stuffing. Example:

3. Example:

by John Larrysson [email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.

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