Yas, Queen!
Baguette and jam
Credit: Getty / Tina Burdiashvili / EyeEm

I love a dessert that uses up extra ingredients. Whether it is turning some sad fruit into a fool or Eton mess, or leftover egg whites into meringue cookies, it always feels good to be mindful of food waste, or to repurpose something that is hanging around your fridge. That was the first thing that drew me to this old-school traditional English dessert. Queen of Puddings, for all its fancy name, is actually a homey nursery food type of treat, and makes use of two things I always have too much of: leftover bread and jam. 

With all the baking I do, I am forever finding myself with the last bit of a staling loaf. And since I am something of a jam addict, both making and buying, my fridge always has a half dozen jars or more clattering around. So being able to use both of those as ingredients in a comforting dessert makes me triply happy.

What is Queen of Puddings?

Queen of Puddings is a layered dessert consisting of a custard base enhanced with breadcrumbs, a layer of jam, and a top layer of baked meringue. The breadcrumbs give the custard a bread-pudding flavor but with a more tender, lighter texture, and the jam provides punch to balance the sweet meringue. The best part? You can use any style of bread from white sandwich loaf to whole wheat, and any flavor jam you have lying around. Just don't use bread that has seeds, mix-ins, or other flavors. 

Why is it called Queen of Puddings?

According to this fabulous UK source on all those strangely named British puddings (Spotted Dick, anyone?), Queen of Puddings was likely adapted from the 17th-cenutry "Monmouth pudding" made from breadcrumbs boiled in milk. By the 19th century, a version called "Manchester pudding" was common and tickled the fancy of none other than Queen Victoria. The chuffed chef renamed the treat in Her Royal Majesty's honor.   

How to make Queen of Puddings

Ready to put your leftover bread and jam to the most delicious use? Here's the recipe!

Queen of Puddings

Serves 6-8

8 ounces fresh breadcrumbs, not toasted, any style of bread (about three cups of crumbs)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Pinch kosher salt

2 cups whole milk

2/3 cup cream

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla paste or extract (I like paste for the seeds)

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

6 large eggs, separated

1 cup jam, any flavor

1. Butter a large oval baking dish and heat your oven to 325° with the rack in the center of the oven. 

2. In a large bowl, toss the crumbs with the melted butter and a pinch of kosher salt until coated, and pour into the prepared dish, taking care not to press down—you want the crumbs to be light and fluffy. Set aside.

3. Heat the milk, cream, vanilla, nutmeg, and ¼ cup of the sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until smooth. When the milk mixture begins to just shimmer and steam a bit, but no bubbles are visible, remove from the heat. Drizzle one ladleful of the hot milk slowly into the yolks while whisking to warm the eggs, then pour in the rest of the milk while whisking constantly.

5. Once fully blended, pour over the buttered breadcrumbs, drape with a clean lint-free tea towel, and set aside for 15 minutes.

6. After 15 minutes, remove the tea towel and transfer baking dish to the oven and bake for 20-24 minutes. While the custard is baking, heat jam in a small saucepan over low heat to make it more liquid. Add 2-3 teaspoons of additional liquid (plain water is fine, but juice will also work) to the jam to loosen the mixture further. Set aside.

7. Check the custard at 20 minutes—the top should be set, but it should still be super wobbly underneath, like a waterbed. If the top isn't set, keep baking for a few more minutes. Once the top is set, remove the baking dish from the oven but keep the heat on. Gently spoon the jam over the custard, taking care not to break the surface. You want the jam in an even layer, but don't worry about spreading too much.

8. In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on high until they have doubled in volume and hold a soft peak. Gently and slowly add the rest of the sugar, one teaspoon at a time, with the mixer still going, and whip until thick and glossy and has stiff peaks. Carefully dollop the meringue on top of the jam, being careful not to swirl it in. I sometimes put it on with a piping bag, just to be fancy, but a rustic swirl looks lovely as well. Be sure the whole base is covered by an even layer of meringue.

9. Return to oven and bake for an additional 18-22 minutes until the top is golden brown and slightly crisp. Let sit at room temp for 10-15 minutes before serving warm or let cool completely to room temp and then chill. I often serve with unsweetened softly whipped cream.

Pro tip: How to make fresh breadcrumbs

You'll need 8 ounces of fresh breadcrumbs for this recipe. I often just process my extra bread into fresh crumbs and stash in a zip top bag in the freezer in a mélange, and then use that when I get a craving. If your bread has a very hard crust, cut most of it away before processing into crumbs, or they won't soften in the custard and will make hard little bits that will mar the texture.