“When we had done, he brought me a pudding, and having set it before me, seemed to ruminate, and to become absent in his mind for some moments.
‘How’s the pie?’ he said, rousing himself.
‘It’s a pudding,’ I made answer.
‘Pudding!’ he exclaimed. ‘Why, bless me, so it is! What?’ looking at it nearer. ‘You don’t mean to say it’s a batter-pudding!’
‘Yes, it is indeed.’
‘Why, a batter-pudding,’ he said, taking up a table-spoon, ‘is my favourite pudding! Ain’t that lucky? Come on, little ‘un, and let’s see who’ll get most.’”
-Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850.
Batter puddings appear in infinite variations in 19th century cookbooks. In their most basic form, batter puddings were a simple batter made from eggs, flour, and milk or water. They could be either baked, boiled, or steamed, and were often flavored with additions of sugar, spices, and fruits. In the second half of the 19th century, baking powder could be added (such as in the 1886 Cherry Batter Pudding I made previously), but earlier recipes relied on whisking alone to provide lift.
Batter pudding features in a scene from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, in which poor David Copperfield hardly gets to eat any of it. While traveling alone for the first time, young Copperfield is cheated out of his meal by a “friendly” waiter. The waiter convinces the naive child to give up his ale and most of his dinner, then competes with him to see “who’ll get most” of the batter pudding. Copperfield sadly reports:
“The waiter certainly got most. He entreated me more than once to come in and win, but what with his table-spoon to my tea-spoon, his despatch to my despatch, and his appetite to my appetite, I was left far behind at the first mouthful, and had no chance with him.”
Dickens doesn’t specify which type of batter pudding David Copperfield and the waiter were eating. Since the waiter initially mistakes the pudding for a pie, I chose a sweetened version with fruit from the 1838 book The Family Hand-book. When baked in a pie dish, it does resemble a pie (today, we would probably call it a clafoutis). I added a little ground ginger, which is mentioned in a different batter pudding recipe in the same book, but other spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon could be used as well. For the mixing method, I consulted the 1844 book Cookery Made Easy, which describes how batter puddings should be made in detail.
Cherry Batter Pudding:
- 2 cups cherries, halved and stoned
- 9.6 US fluid ounces or 284 ml milk (the recipe is English so they are most likely referring to an Imperial pint, which is larger than a US pint)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 oz flour (this is an estimate; in this case tablespoons probably refers to larger spoons used for eating, not to the standard tablespoon measurement used today)
- 3 oz sugar, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger, or to taste
- butter and sugar for sauce
- Beat the eggs first, then add the milk and whisk thoroughly.
- Stir the flour, sugar, and ground ginger together in a bowl.
- Gradually pour a small amount of the liquid through a strainer onto the flour, stirring until it forms a smooth paste.
- Continue to gradually add the rest of the liquid to the flour, whisking the entire time.
- Whisk for a few extra minutes to ensure the batter is completely smooth with no lumps.
- Butter a 9-inch pie dish or similar-sized baking dish. Scatter the cherries in the dish, then pour the batter over them.
- Bake at 350 for about 30-35 minutes, until the pudding is set and starting to turn golden brown around the edges.
- Melt some butter together with sugar (amounts to taste) for a sauce.
- Serve in individual slices, or, for the more authentic Copperfield experience, eat it straight from the serving dish with a spoon.
The cherries are the real star of this pudding, with the batter being just a vehicle to hold them together. I thought the amount of sugar was just about right, but next time I might add slightly more ginger or other spices, since the flavor was pretty subtle. I didn’t like the texture of this pudding quite as much as the steamed batter pudding I made previously – once again confirming my opinion that steamed puddings are just the best – but it was still good, just a bit denser. I tucked in with a spoon, like David Copperfield and his waiter, although I wasn’t able to polish the whole thing off in one go. The leftovers were decent when reheated (especially with additional butter and sugar sauce), but it was at its best when fresh from the oven. Although David Copperfield ate his batter pudding as a dessert, I thought it was excellent for breakfast.
(1838). The family hand-book. London: John W. Parker. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Family_Hand_book/ZarOpAsUZL4C?hl=en&gbpv=0
(1844). Cookery made easy. London: Dean & Munday. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Cookery_Made_Easy_Or_The_Most_Plain_and/l8rE7kxb-0oC?hl=en&gbpv=0
Dickens, C. (1850). David Copperfield. London: Chapman & Hall. https://archive.org/details/personalhistoryo00dickiala/page/54/mode/2up?view=theater