Reincarnation: Czarina Pudding (1901).
Updated: Aug 9, 2020
Don't throw dry or stale cake away; transform it into Czarina Pudding, an exquisitely regal and almost-forgotten, Russian-styled dessert.
There were several iterations of Czarina Pudding circulating in the West between the late 19th and early 20th century, one of which was a Curaçao flavoured ice cream served with preserved fruit, raisins, or similar. Another presented as an almond-flavoured and sweetmeat-loaded, flummery. My version is an adaptation of recipes published in North America by 1901. Appropriately referenced as a "cold night pudding", it makes for a pretty and delicious autumnal or winter sweet.
This variation most likely arrived around the time of Czar Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov (1868-1918) and Grand Duchess Alexandra Feodorovna's (1872-1918) coronation celebrations on 26 May 1896; or, as an homage to mark the Czarina's birthday which fell on 6 June. It appears to have been a relatively well known sweet until the demise of Imperial Russia; when Czarina Pudding all but disappeared.
In returning it to modern day platters, we restore not only a dessert of distinction, but one that is inordinately versatile, surprisingly economical and highly adaptable – with limitless variations possible, depending on what cake you have at hand and what fruit spread you choose. In Table of Fear & Delight, Episode 1: Reincarnation, I used a frighteningly stale gingerbread loaf to make Czarina Pudding, in combination with an orange marmalade spread. Here, I've transformed a dry gluten-free white cake, with my homemade strawberry preserve. Both versions were equally delicious. I'll attempt it again using leftover chocolate cake soon.
For the pudding:
370 ml milk
200 g butter, cubed
6 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1 dessertspoon of cornflour
¼ cup of sugar
1 dessertspoon of lemon juice
1 ½ - 2 cups of dry or stale cake crumbs
1 cup of fruit preserve, jam or marmalade
For the meringue topping:
3 egg whites
6 tablespoons of sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
Blanched almond spikes or flaked almonds
Optional: coloured sugar for dusting (red and green garnishes are synonymous with old Russia.)
For the pudding foundation:
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 356°F. Grease and line the base of a cake or loaf tin with baking paper, OR, for an easy family-style presentation, simply butter a pie plate well.
Prepare cake crumbs.
Gently heat 370 ml sweet milk and 200 g of cubed butter in saucepan.
While the milk and butter warm, separate 6 egg yolks from whites, reserving 3 egg whites for the pudding itself, retaining the remaining 3 egg whites for meringue topping later.
In a large heatproof bowl, combine all 6 egg yolks with 1 level dessertspoon of cornflour and ¼ cup sugar.
Add a dessertspoon of lemon juice, and whisk together well.
When milk and butter reach a simmer (just below boiling point), remove from heat and pour into the egg mixture, whisking in well. When fully incorporated, return to saucepan and stove top, beating custard mixture until smooth and thick.
Remove from heat, pour into heatproof bowl and fold in 1½ - 2 cups of cake crumb. Set aside.
Beat the first 3 egg whites until stiff, and then fold evenly into the pudding foundation.
Pour into prepared cake or loaf tin, or buttered pie plate.
Place in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes at 180°C / 356°F. Remove and allow pudding to cool. If using a cake or loaf tin, after a few minutes turn out onto a tray lined with a sheet of baking paper to cool completely.
For the topping.
Using the remaining 3 egg whites, make a simple meringue by beating egg whites with a pinch of salt, 6 tablespoons of sugar (incorporated one at a time) and a ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar. (I add the cream of tartar to stabilise the nicely forming meringue at soft peak stage.) When glossy and stiff peaks hold, set aside momentarily.
Spread a layer of fruit preserve, jam or marmalade over the top of the cooled pudding, before covering this with the meringue.
Upholding tradition, decorate meringue with a handful of blanched and shredded almonds.
Pop the pudding back into the oven just long enough to brown the meringue.
Remove and serve hot or cold, with a dusting of coloured sugar if desired.
If you are short of the full cake crumb amount required, use old biscuit or cracker crumbs, dry toast, bread crusts or even crumbs as a substitute.
This is a dessert you can tweak and play with - don't be afraid, what could go wrong?