Rosa’s Musings: A Good Old British Dessert With A Modern Flair: Spicy Damson Plum Roly Poly

Published by Tuesday, October 4, 2011 Permalink 0
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by Rosa Mayland


Summer fades; the first cold, Northern air
Sweeps, like hatred, through still days –
The August heat now gone elsewhere,
To Southern, bird-filled coasts and bays;
Amid constricting vales of cloud,
A pale and liquid Autumn sun
That once beat down on an empty plain
And may again. And may again.
— Trever Howard, Autum

Lately, I’ve been in an unusually nostalgic, and in a rather morose state of mind. No matter how much I love autumn and look forward to cooler weather, seasonal mood swings always hit me hard when the summer ends. I guess it is something natural/biologic which each of us experiences to a certain degree. This time though, the “blahs” hit me a little harder than usual and I guess this is partly because last week, on the 13th of September, my English grandmother would have celebrated her 85th birthday, that is if she had not passed away last March…

Usually, on that occasion I reached for the telephone, picked up the receiver, dialed her number, wished her a wonderful day and had a pleasant chat with her. Instead, there was no one to call and my day was rather eerie. A strange sensation of emptiness filled me. It is terrible how the deceased leave a void in our lives and hearts. An entire chapter of our existence gets closed forever and it is impossible to press the rewind button. When they die and leave us, our loved ones take much valuable information, memories and secrets with them to the grave.

” Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.”Marc Aurelius

As we grow older, we learn to face the harsh reality of life. We are forced to see our heart get shattered in thousands of pieces, make extremely difficult decisions, stand up for ourselves, accept the fact that our dreams might never come true, start being more cynical and stop fantasizing too much. Otherwise, the sad and distressing events that we have to face as adults would defeat us at every bump in the road if we were not prepared to suffer or deal with disappointment. This is why we’d better be resilient and accept things as they are.

Even though I have embraced the fact that not everything in our existence is fair, acceptable or desired, my first biggest regret as a grownup was to not have been able to go visit granny for the last 13 years; to really have had the opportunity to get to know her better and get to pierce through her hard outer “armouring”; to share some quality time together as equals, and to show her the woman I have become (the last time we met, I was still living at home and was just coming out of adolescence).

Lack of bonding, money issues, weak family ties, and limited communication made it very difficult for me to travel all the way to Derbyshire. My grandmother always asked me when I was going to come over to England, yet when I explained that I was jobless and didn’t have a dime to buy a plane ticket, I never got a response or reaction from her. Not one single answer, just silence. Eloquent silence that was worth a thousand words…

Anyway, even if I doubt she loved me as much as I loved her or cared for me as much as I cared for her, I will not renege on my fondness for her and I will eternally cherish her extraordinary culinary talents. I would never be capable of nourishing any form of resentment towards her, as I am quite aware that people who were born at the beginning of the last century were brought up in an austere fashion and are not accustomed to outwardly showing their emotions. It was quite taboo then, but they just seem emotionally handicapped in the eyes of younger generations. This is what leads me to believe that somewhere deep inside of her, she had a well-hidden soft spot for me. So, to make peace with the past and come to terms with my afflictions, I forgive her for having been imperfect relationship-wise and for not having given me the love I craved/needed.

Since I’ve been missing my other country by birth, Great Britain, a lot lately, and also my Nana, I decided to bake a Jam Roly-Poly to soothe my aching soul. During our stay in this land of rich history, ancient cities, captivating legends, green landscapes, ethereal atmospheres and homey food, my grandma rarely failed to regale us with this humble and comforting speciality. It is the reason why I invariably associate this treat with this beautiful country and this branch of my family.

Jam Roly-Poly (also less glamorously called “Dead Man’s Arm”, “Dead Man’s Leg” or “Shirt Sleeve Pudding”) is a traditional British pudding which was invented in the 1800s and is composed of suet pastry and jam (generally raspberry or strawberry jam). It is a kind of rustic, flattish and ugly version of a Swiss roll. Originally, it was steamed, but nowadays it is mostly baked.

Suet pastry is one of the most English of all pastries. As a matter of fact, it is used in a large variety of dishes such as puddings, dumplings and pies. As it is made with the rendered fat of either lamb, beef or pork, suet-based doughs are definitely not suitable for vegetarians. Since this sort of fat imparts an incomparably amazing and “meaty” flavor to baked goods, it is unfortunately quite difficult to find many animal-free substitutes for it. Coconut butter is the only one I can think of…

So, instead of making the traditional Jam Roly-Poly, I opted for preparing a spicy version of that good old-fashioned pud. In the pastry, I incorporated cardamom powder and I replaced the usual sickly sweet raspberry/strawberry jam (I love those berries, but dislike them when they are transformed into jam) with damson plum (or Italian plum) compote (less sweet and more exciting) that I flavoured with orange peel. Those additions give some dimension and modernity to this dessert, thus bringing it forth into the 21st century.

My Spicy Damson Plum Roly-Poly might not be the prettiest or most photogenic of puddings (I had problems shooting it and nearly lost my temper trying to make it look presentable — I am definitely not a prop artist), but it doesn’t really matter as what counts is its taste, which is certainly not devoid of oomph. The pastry is crisp and flaky on the outside, and smooth, fluffy as well as slightly moist on the inside. The compote adds an extra welcomed moisture to the goodie, and the spices confer a divinely heady fragrance to the whole.


See next page for recipe.


Spicy Damson Plum Roly-Poly

Serves 4


250g flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 Tsp baking powder
60g castor sugar
A pinch sea salt
1/2 Tsp ground cardamom
115g suet (pork), very cold
120ml full-fat milk
6 Tbs (90g) damson compote (or jam)
6g orange zest
Custard sauce, to serve (recipe here)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F).
  2. Cover a baking pan with baking paper.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the flour together with the baking powder, sugar, salt and cardamom.
  4. Add the suet and cut it into the flour mixture.
  5. Bind this mixture with the milk in order to obtain a soft, but not sticky pastry. Gather together into a ball, but don’t overwork otherwise it will get tough.
  6. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 23cm x 32cm (9 in. x 12.6 in.).
  7. Spread with the damson compote, making sure you leave a 2cm border all around the edge and sprinkle with the orange zest.
  8. Moisten the borders with either cold water or milk.
  9. Roll into a tightish cylinder or sausage shape, starting with one short end 23cm/9 in.
  10. Pinch the ends to seal in the jam.
  11. Lay the roll in the centre of the baking paper, making sure the seal is underneath.
  12. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the roly-poly is golden brown.
  13. Let it rest for about 5 minutes before serving.


If you don’t want to use pork suet, you can either replace it with coconut butter (vegetarian) or with cold beef or duck fat (kosher/halal).

By letting the roly-poly rest for 5 minutes, you ensure the jam to not come oozing out of the roll when you cut it.

Serving suggestions:

Eat warm with a dollop of warm custard sauce.

Click here for more pictures and the French version of this recipe.

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