Bakewell in Derbyshire is a pretty market town in the Peak District National Park, about ten miles to the south west of Sheffield . A lovely destination for many reasons, Bakewell is famous for two in particular: the well dressings that take place at the end of June; and its eponymous tarts and puddings.
There is some enjoyable confusion about the history of the Bakewell tart and pudding, with more than one place claiming the glory of having originated the sweet. My Edwardian cookbook doesn’t even mention the tart, giving recipes instead for Bakewell Pudding, Bakewell Pudding (another way), and Bakewell Pudding (rich).
It is generally accepted that the pudding is the original version, dating back to Tudor times and possibly even earlier, and there is something of the medieval nobleman’s kitchen about the ingredients cited for the pudding: eggs, butter, milk, pounded almonds, sugar (possibly honey in the original) and breadcrumbs. Variations on this list include the addition of nutmeg, the use of lemon to sharpen it slightly, and the use of preserved fruit on top of pastry to make a very luxurious pudding indeed.
The puddings sold locally in Bakewell are a real treat for those of us who enjoy a proper British end to a meal, right up there in the pantheon with Roly-Poly Pudding, Sussex Pond Pudding , treacle sponge and Banbury Cakes . They are moist, suitably filling, and deceptively simple – to get the right consistency is an art. The wonderful Jane Grigson pooh-poohed the idea of using almonds, believing the filling should be a rich custard (and some of the puddings in Bakewell are closer to a heavy custard as she indicates).
The tart uses a shortcrust pastry base, spread with strawberry jam - though other preserves have been used – in turn covered with a mix of eggs, almonds, butter and sugar that when baked should remain moist and light, rising in a mound to leave a peak higher than the surrounding crust. Some cookbooks offer the use of puff-pastry as the base, but that seems like a later experiment.
There are several stories about the origin of the Bakewell tart as opposed to the pudding, though the veracity of them is perhaps open to question. The Bakewell Tart and Coffee House claims to be the source of the product, offering as the story of its genesis the tale of Mrs Greaves, landlady in the 1820s of what is now the Rutland Arms , whose unsupervised and inexperienced servant erroneously put the jam on the pastry base, rather than on top of the eggy mixture. Mrs Greaves, who was busy entertaining, served it anyway and the rest is history, or at least one take on it.
Another version has a nobleman in the 1860s ordering a jam tart, the layers again going on in the wrong order in the haste to serve him, though the date is very much open to doubt given Eliza Acton gave a recipe for it more than a decade previously. The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop is a good place to learn about the product, and consider its history while of course eating one.
Sadly the name Bakewell does not refer to the baker’s art, but is a corruption of the words bad, or bath, and kwell, or source, referring to the many wells that used to flow in the area.