(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

FoodNovember 26, 2021

An ode to puddings in big bowls

(Image: Tina Tiller)
(Image: Tina Tiller)

A pudding in a bowl is one of those quintessential summer festive foods – chilled, aesthetically pleasing, nostalgic and perfect for sharing. And you don’t need to wait till Christmas day to make one.

There’s nothing quite as magnificent as a big bowl of pudding that’s made to share. Perhaps their comforting appeal has something to do with bountifulness. There’s no slivers or slices in the world of big pudding bowls – it’s all about generous scoops from a dish of something that is as delicious as it is infinite. 

The word pudding is baffling on many levels. To start, it’s one of very few nouns ending in “ing” in the English language. And apparently the word comes from a Latin word for sausage or small intestine. 

The worst part is the definition of the word though. What even is a pudding? While I presume most of us take our meaning for this type of dessert from the ordinary American definition – that is, synonymous with a sweet dessert that has a custard or cream-type base – it’s genuinely disturbing how many definitions fall under the British meaning. Over in the UK, a pudding can be spicy, savoury, sweet, bread-like, salty, part of the main meal, something you eat after the main meal, starchy, steamed, raw and more. It means that both haggis and trifle are considered puddings.

The culture surrounding traditional puddings of Polynesia, including Aotearoa, has been written about at length by scholars. They range from intricate pastes or sauces to the starchy or sweet. Māori puddings include roroi (kūmara pudding) and kānga pirau (fermented maize porridge) – both of which can be either sweet or savoury. And while this doesn’t shed any light on the ambiguous definition of pudding, these writers have highlighted the mana these puddings were imbued with, mainly because of their luxuriousness.

A big bowl of pud is something spectacular to behold. It’s the headline act, without taking itself too seriously. There’s an illusion of complexity, but quite often they’re relatively low-effort to put together. And for that reason and more, there’s no better time than now to start whipping some up.

Because the definition is so confusing, I’ve chosen to define pudding for this article’s sake as a dessert that you serve in a large bowl, which is even better eaten for breakfast after being in the fridge overnight.

Here’s a list of the best options to fill your trifle bowl, or if you don’t have one, your biggest glass salad bowl, pyrex or Arcoroc mixing bowl, or even a transparent acrylic bowl will do. Ideally, you do want the bowl to be clear – to see your pudding in all its glory. 

Angel delight

It would be improper to talk about this genre of dessert without a mention of angel delight. The ethereal whipped-up treat is pure retro magic. How does such a miraculous texture arise from whisking an indeterminate chalky powder with milk? I don’t have the answer and perhaps it’s best we never know. A big bowl of the mousse-like creation makes for an impressive pudding to share, and might trigger nostalgia for anyone alive when packets were stocked in the jelly section of Foodtown. Devastatingly, supermarkets don’t seem to sell it any more, but British supply shops usually have sachets.

Pineapple dream

I can’t find anything online to confirm this, but according to a retro Māori cookbook in my bookshelf, pineapple dream is a Hawaiian dish. It consists of layers of crushed wine biscuits, tinned pineapples (though fresh would be a nice touch), whipped cream and a sprinkling of cashews. Most recipes I’ve read call for it to be made in a tin, but because it’s no-bake there’s absolutely no reason this couldn’t be the perfect kitschy sweet to fill your pudding bowl.


A few years ago, the food writer Mary Berry controversially declared that jelly had no place in an adult trifle. I agree (sorry Mum). But people are often incredibly protective about the way they make their trifles. Recipes for the festive dessert are so often an expression of family ties, history and personal preferences too. For example, while my mum’s trifle is magnificently layered with sponge, jelly, runny custard, sherry, tinned peaches and topped with a tumble of mixed berries, mine is sponge soaked in raspberries, vodka, homemade custard and cream – with a single raspberry on top. There are options beyond the traditional too; chestnut and chocolate, coconut and mango, stone fruit and lemon curd. Or try the Italian version, zuppa inglese, which sits somewhere between a tiramisu and trifle, with sponge tinted a shocking pink using pomegranate juice. Trifles need not be forgotten about till Christmas time either – they’re perfect served up on a weeknight or as a lazy Sunday afternoon treat.

Alison Roman’s banana cream pudding, a trifle and angel delight (Image: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)


Speaking of tiramisu, why not make a big serving bowl of tiramisu to impress your friends, flatmates or whānau? Here’s a tried and tested (albeit non-traditional, thanks to the addition of cream and cream cheese) recipe from The Spinoff’s Ātea editor Leonie Hayden via her friend Antonia. A note: there’s been a salmonella bug detected in some New Zealand eggs as recently as August – so be cautious with raw egg.

  • 200g-250g each of mascarpone cheese and light cream cheese (so long as you have about 400-450g of cheese mix, all good)
  • ½ cup cream
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • ⅓ cup caster sugar
  • 2 ½ cups strong black coffee
  • ⅓ cup caster sugar, extra
  • 2 tablespoons marsala/brandy/armagnac
  • 500g savoiardi (sponge finger) biscuits
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Using electric beaters, beat the cheeses until smooth. Add the cream and egg yolks.

Using electric beaters, beat the egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating constantly after each addition, until the mixture is thick and glassy and the sugar is dissolved. Using a metal spoon, fold into the cheese mixture (my most favourite part aside from eating).

Combine the coffee, sugar and marsala or brandy in jug. Very quickly dip one-third of the sponge fingers into the coffee mixture (if you soak for too long it becomes watery as it sits overnight).

Place into the base of four-cup capacity serving bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sifted cocoa. Spread one third of the cheese mixture over the cocoa. Repeat, layering twice more. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to mix and biscuits to soften.

Dust with more cocoa before serving.


You could very happily make up a quivery bowl of supermarket-bought lime, raspberry, orange or blackberry jelly, serve it at the dining table alongside a punnet of vanilla ice cream and call it a night. But if you’re wanting to share something with a little more early-2000s sophistication, why not concoct a version laced with prosecco or vodka or with fresh seasonal fruit suspended within.


Ambrosia is American in origin, but it’s so pervasive in marae wharekai and Māori get-togethers that I’m inclined to say it’s very much been adopted into modern Māori cuisine. Just mix whipped cream, yoghurt (preferably Fresh n’ Fruity strawberry flavour), marshmallows, strawberries and top with crumbled shards of a Flake for good measure. Near-instant food of the gods.

Alison Roman’s banana pudding

Bananas are a controversial fruit, but this kitschy Alison Roman pudding topped with a lone glacé cherry is worth a go. Just imagine the entrance you’d make at your socially distanced picnic with this thing in tow. There’s an excellent recipe video that Roman has made to run you through the steps. Hers uses Nilla wafers (an American product that’s not readily available in New Zealand) but a thin shortbread could work in its place. For a Polynesian approach to a banana pudding, try a Tahitian banana po’e. While the pudding in its traditional form is wrapped in banana leaves and baked in an ahima’a (earth oven), your kitchen oven will do as a substitute. Bonus points if you incorporate banana leaves into your serving bowl.

Eton mess

Eton mess is traditionally made with strawberries, whipped cream and crushed-up meringue – almost like a backward pavlova. But you could combine the latter ingredients with any fruit you wish for a deliciously messy bowl. Last month Vogue uploaded a video of singer Adele trying a range of British foods while blindfolded. There’s a wonderful moment in the video where Adele delightedly realises she’s eating an Eton mess. “It always sounds posh to me,” she says. She goes on to recount her first memory of eating it in London, where a family in their humble shared roof terrace made an Eton mess to share. That seems to capture part of what’s so appealing about the dessert: while it sounds pretty posh, it’s actually rather casual and perfect to share.

Riz bi haleeb

This Levantine rice pudding tends to be served in small bowls, but I think the recipe could easily be adapted to a big bowl instead. Garnished with chopped pistachios and dried rose petals and flavoured with rose water, orange blossom water and sometimes mastic gum (which you can buy here), it’s a more elegant and crowd-friendly alternative to the immensely comforting tinned rice pudding some of us grew up with.


Go classic with a compote of rhubarb, or go your own way with summer berries, orange or gooseberries (if you can track them down). Swirl through a mass of whipped cream and you’ve got yourself a delicious and extremely old-school recipe – the dish potentially dates back to the 15th century. Because this calls for cooked fruit, it can be a way to use up any frozen fruits you’ve got hanging out in your freezer.


The mousse stands out for being both cold and therefore perfect for summer, while maintaining the comforting luxuriousness of the winter-type dessert. Make a big bowl to share at a picnic or to keep in your fridge to chip away at throughout the week. You can, of course, keep it as simple as you like, but a mousse is lovely spiked with liqueur and bejewelled with tinned cherries, blueberries or candied fruit peel.

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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