Name given to several quite different dishes." Larousse Gastronomique
I mentioned yesterday that Michel Roux Jr. had demonstrated a couple of recipes in his TV program on bread. This is one of them. He called it Diplomat pudding, which rang faint bells in my head. Or was it cabinet pudding? Well indeed, it seems the distinction is vague.
Actually, of course, it's just one of those 'classic' dishes that has no single 'classic' recipe no matter how much individual chefs might like you to think that they have the definitive version. Its origins are not very clear either - or it's name. I have seen it claimed by France, Hungary, even Cuba, although why Hungary when in fact the claim is that it was first served at some diplomatic function in 1908 in Bosnia, I do not know. Well I can guess. Bosnia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire back then I think, although that hardly makes it Hungarian. But Cuba? I'm pretty sure that Cabinet Pudding is British, but it's almost the same thing and I was quite taken by this definition from Wikipedia.
"Cabinet pudding, also known as Chancellor’s pudding, is a traditional English steamed, sweet, moulded pudding made from some combination of bread or sponge cake or similar ingredients, with dried fruits such as raisins, served with some form of sweet sauce such as custard. Other versions of cabinet pudding might use gelatin and whipped cream." Wikipedia
So beautifully vague.
Having now looked at a few different versions of diplomat pudding (as opposed to cabinet pudding), I think it's basically a bread and butter pudding with the addition of alcohol and dried fruit. The arguments seem to be over whether you use bread (which kind?), brioche, or sponge fingers. Cake seems to be reserved for some versions of cabinet pudding. Then you mix this altogether somehow, or layer it, pour over a custard laced with rum (usually) or some other alcohol and bake in the oven. Serve warm. Well again they all varied a bit on that, but Michel Roux jr. was definite that it should be warm. Turn it out from the mould when hot and it might collapse and it was not good cold.
Another thing that strikes me is that to my mind, except for the alcohol this is really a poor man's dish, and yet it is called Diplomat pudding. Diplomats are not poor and besides if it's served to a diplomat it's likely to be at some posh function. But then again I suppose if you are using brioche or sponge fingers it could be considered posh. Michel Roux Jr. had one unique touch in that he toasted his cubes of stale crustless bread, sprinkled with icing sugar in the oven until they were crisp before putting them in his moulds. Then he mixed his dried fruit and rum with the custard and poured it over the bread before baking. It is a very simple recipe.
I also found this video from a French guy called Eric Lanlard who insisted that you use brioche and glacé fruits.
I searched my cookbooks to no avail. Not even Delia had a recipe for cabinet (or diplomat) pudding. Neither did Eliza Acton or Jane Grigson. In fact the only recipe I found was in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Like Eric Lanlard they used glacé fruits not dried ones. But you know I found one recipe online that just used a tin of fruit cocktail!
So overall considering where I found the various recipes I would say its origin is French, but it's one of those wonderful recipes that seems to be infinitely variable. I mean you could of course use fresh fruit. Which leads to the interesting question of when a dish becomes something different entirely. When does a mix of custard bread and dried or glacé fruits become bread pudding or cabinet pudding? You see I think cabinet pudding is basically the same thing, but steamed rather than baked in a Bain Marie. I mean Wikipedia wasn't even specific about the custard - they suggested 'some kind of sweet sauce' would be just as good.
The food historians weren't clear either. I found a couple of them and neither seemed to be sure.
So give Michel Roux Jrs. recipe a go. It looked pretty simple. You didn't even really cook the custard on the stove. You just mixed the eggs and milk and then poured it over the dish. You might be able to find the program on SBS ON Demand - it's an episode in the Great British Food Revival series.