New York City has a handful of restaurants that respect the long and noble tradition of UK desserts. We've listed five of our favorites below. But before we dive in, let's run through some notes about British baking: Many traditional recipes call for dough made from suet, which is fat from the kidney and loin. It's known for its pure white color, clean flavor, and high smoke point, making it ideal for baking. The use of animal fat, rather than butter, betrays the savory origins of many pies and puddings that have evolved into sweets. And it's also worth noting that many British desserts like crumbles and steamed puddings are topped with warm custard made from egg yolks and cream that give it a distinct yellow color. Now, it's time to dig in:
Bedfordshire Clanger at The Beatrice Inn
Traditionally made with a suet crust, a Bedfordshire clanger is a complete meal in one being stuffed with a savory filling of meat and vegetables at one end and either jam or stewed fruit at the other. As its name implies, it originates from the county of Bedfordshire and in fact "clanger" is the nickname for locals from there. The dish is similar in spirit to others found around Britain like the Cornish pasty and Buckinghamshire bacon badger in that it was popularized as a convenient way for workers to carry a pack lunch. There are no pure incarnations of a Bedfordshire clanger in NYC but chef Angie Mar over at the The Beatrice Inn serves a riff on the dish as a dessert stuffed with apple and foie gras (and topped with foie gras ice cream for good measure). The filling may be non-traditional but she does fashion her crust from suet which gives it a robust flavor and flaky texture — and it gives you an idea as to why more people should be baking with suet. She also fries rather than bakes the pie, which may not be traditional, but does capture the broader spirit of British cuisine.
The Beatrice Inn, 285 W 12th Street, New York, NY 10024
Fruit Crumble at Tea & Sympathy
A crumble is dessert of stewed fruit topped with a mixture of butter, sugar, and flour which is then baked until golden and most often served with cream or custard. It is similar to the American cobbler, but because the recipe contains no baking powder, a crumble does not rise. Rather it becomes crisp and, well, crumbles, giving the dish its name. In addition to the flour, crumbles can also contain ground nuts, broken up biscuits, or oats in the topping. Popular fruits include apples, rhubarb, and blackberries. If this sounds like a poor man’s pie, you are not far off the mark, crumbles gained popularity during the Second World War when food rationing was in effect. In NYC Tea & Sympathy serves the quintessential crumble. Currently apple and rhubarb are on offer, but you can expect the flavors to change seasonally, This is the crumble you likely grew up with if your parents loved you.
Tea & Sympathy, 108 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10011
Bara Brith at Sunken Hundred
Bara brith is a traditional Welsh bread made with fruit and seasoned with tea. Translated from Welsh the name means speckled bread and it is similar to other fruit cakes found around the British Isles, most notably the traditional Christmas cake. To make bara brith, dried fruit is soaked overnight in tea before being mixed with egg, flour, sugar, and a spice blend redolent with allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The batter is then baked into a loaf and is served sliced at tea time with butter. You can find bara brith over at Sunken Hundred where Welsh natives (and brothers) Dom and Illtyd Barrett serve their family recipe along with a walnut and black rum ice cream developed by their chef Tom Coughlan.
Sunken Hundred, 276 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Sticky Toffee Pudding at John Dory Oyster Bar
Sticky toffee pudding (STP) is a steamed sponge cake made with dates and doused in toffee sauce, with cream or ice cream being popular toppings. The dish has become popular in the last three decades in Britain after being developed by pastry chef Francis Coulson in the 1970s up in the Lake District. However, the dish's origins may actually lie in Canada, as Coulson once revealed his inspiration came from a recipe given to him by a house wife, who it turns out got it from a Canadian friend. While similar to other steamed puddings like spotted dick, STP is more cake like in its ingredients in that it uses butter rather than suet in the batter. There are numerous versions of the dish around NYC but April Bloomfield’s iteration at John Dory Oyster Bar will steal your heart. It comes topped with Earl Grey-infused whipped cream, which complements the spicy, caramelized flavor of the pudding perfectly.
John Dory Oyster Bar, 1196 Broadway, New York, NY 10001
Spotted Dick at Chip Shop
Spotted dick is a steamed sponge pudding traditionally made with suet and studded with dried fruit. Suet pastry is sprinkled with fruit like raisins, sultanas, and currants, rolled and then steamed. It is then cut into cylindrical portions and most often served with custard, which seeps invitingly into the porous pudding. Spotted dick, and indeed the use of the word "dick" to describe puddings, dates back to at least the early 19th Century. Here in NYC you won’t find a version using suet because it is not commonly available but you can find a fine example of spotted dick at Chip Shop, replete with lashings of custard that tastes undeniably of Bird’s. That’s not a knock! That specific taste is "half the battle" in evoking home, as one ex-pat noted at the Chip Shop bar.
Chip Shop, 129 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201