That lady I fancied I was looking at her, though, as far as I could see, she had the figure and complexion of a roly-poly pudding – William Makepeace Thackeray, Notes of a journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, 1846
A great piece of modern-day vintage art by Martin Wiscombe
If you ask most British people what their most favourite childhood dessert is, the jam roly-poly pudding would be one of the top rankers; it certainly is one of mine. A roly-poly is a pudding made from suet dough that is spread with jam and then rolled up. Originally, it was boiled in some muslin, but is these days steamed or baked. Other fillings can be done such as golden syrup, apples or prunes. I have never tried a sweet roly-poly with anything other than jam, and even then I will only use raspberry or blackcurant jam. There are also savoury roly-poly puddings. It was common to boil the roly-poly in a shirt sleeve, giving it the nick-name ‘dead man’s arm’. I’ve never actually made any kind of pudding by boiling it in muslin, never mind a shirt sleeve. Next time I do a pudding I will do it the old-fashioned way. After all this is a history blog, isn’t it? What makes a pudding a pudding? Click here.
This pud seems to have been invented during the first half of the nineteenth century, no mention of it occurs before 1800 as far as I see, apart from writings about a game called Roly-Poly.
ROLY-POLY. (1) A pudding made in round layers, with preserves or treacle between…
(2) A low, vulgar person.
(3) A game played with a certain number of pins and a ball…
James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips, A dictionary of archaic and provincial words Vol II, 1847
Here is my recipe for jam roly-roly poly, the suet pastry shouldn’t be sweet; the sweetness should come from the jam and custard (with which it is always served). You can swap any preserve for the jam if you like, I imagine lemon curd would be good. It feeds at least six people and is pretty good value for money – these sorts of wintertime desserts are supposed to warm and fill you. At some point I’ll give the apple and prune one a try and put the recipes for them on here too.
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400 g self-raising flour
good pinch of salt
200 g suet
160 – 180 ml milk or water
your favourite jam
custard, to serve
First, make the suet pastry. If you haven’t made pastry before, don’t worry, suet pastry is the easiest of all the pastries to make. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar and suet together. Using a butter knife, mix in a little liquid. When incorporated, add a little more. Keep adding and incorporating until a dough begins to form, then start using your hands to form a soft, but not sticky dough.
If you add too much liquid add a bit more flour. Now roll out the dough into an oblong as long as your steaming receptacle (I use a large roasting tin with trivet) and spread it with jam.
Make sure you leave a space of a centimetre at each side and a space of 2 cm along the top length of the rolled out pastry.
Moisten the edges all the way round with a little water and fold over the first part of the dough.
Carefully roll it up, making sure that the jam doesn’t get pushed to the edge, spilling out. Fold the ends under to prevent the jam from escaping.
Sit the rolled pudding on some greaseproof paper and fold the edge up in a pleat, tucking the edges under, making sure there is room for the pudding to expand.
Next, sit that on some foil, and again secure by folding a pleat and scrunching the edges.
Place the pudding on a trivet in a roasting tin. Cover the whole thing with foil, making it nice and tight around the edges – you don’t want steam (and therefore heat) to escape. Leave one corner unsecured so you can pour a kettle of hot water inside, then secure the final edge. Place over one or two hobs and get the water up to a good boil. After around 20 minutes, turn the heat down to medium-low and leave the pudding to steam for 90 minutes.
When the time is up CAREFULLY remove the foil – don’t get yourself a steam burn at this point! Remove the pudding and let it stand for 5 or 10 minutes before you unwrap, slice and serve it.
If you like, especially if the pudding hasn’t browned very much in the steaming process, just before the end of the cooking time, preheat the oven to 200⁰C (400⁰F). Take the roly poly out of its little tin prison, place on a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up.
Serve hot with custard poured over it.