Pudding or Tart?
Bakewell Tart may be more familiar to many of us in the UK than Bakewell Pudding, but it is the pudding (essentially a ‘tart’ because it is open and has a pastry base – yes, very confusing!) that is probably the most famous culinary export of this small market town in the Peak District National Park. For research purposes, I decided a taste test would help and, unable to track down the pudding in my home town of York, there was no choice but to set off for Bakewell to sample these sweet treats.
Both desserts are filled and flavoured with (usually strawberry) jam and almonds but are quite different. The pudding is generally considered to be the sweeter of the two and consists of a puff pastry base with a layer of jam that is topped with a mixture of ground almonds, eggs, butter and sugar, while the tart has a shortcrust pastry base, with the layer of jam covered with a sponge-like mixture of the same ingredients but with fewer eggs, and with sliced almonds placed decoratively on top before it is cooked.
Most visitors to Bakewell will be tasting the pudding for the first time as it can be hard to find out of Derbyshire and, although the pudding has remained the same since its invention, numerous variations of the tart can be found in bakeries and grocery shops all around Britain, often with a topping of white icing, such as the mass-produced Cherry Bakewell with white almond-flavoured fondant and half a glacé cherry on top. Locals are quick to point out this is not a Bakewell Tart!
The pudding was invented here, albeit by accident, which is how it came to be called Bakewell Pudding. The origins are unclear, but the story that has been passed down is that it was first made by accident in 1860 by Mrs Greaves, landlady of the White Horse Inn. Having left instructions for her cook to make a jam tart, instead of stirring the eggs and almond paste mixture into the pastry, the cook spread this on top of the jam. The concoction, not unlike an egg custard when cooked, was appreciated by the clientele at the inn and so a new recipe came into being.
The accuracy of this story is questionable, however, as the White Horse Inn was demolished in 1803 to make way for the development of Rutland Square and subsequently the Rutland Arms Hotel in the centre of town. Furthermore, a recipe for 'Bakewell pudding' was published in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families in 1845. Whatever its origins, Bakewell Pudding has stood the test of time in this area and you may find it on dessert menus in hotels – generally served with cream.
Purveyors of both puddings and tarts can be found on most of the streets in Bakewell. I chose the café above the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop on Bridge Street for my taste test… and then went for a good long walk to burn off some calories. A picnic lunch was not required.