What Is Spotted Dick And How Did It Get Its Name?

Spotted dick is a popular British dish despite its giggle-inducing name. While it has been a traditional dessert across the pond for generations, the name for this English pudding has come up more recently in other parts of the world thanks to the fact it has been featured on "The Great British Bake-Off." As it turns out, spotted dick isn't something that requires an ointment, and pudding isn't always something that's wobbly and eaten with a spoon — not overseas, anyway.

Viewers outside the UK are not only confused by the name spotted dick but also the use of the term pudding as an almost all-encompassing word for desserts. Ultimately, spotted dick is a type of steamed pudding — yes, a moist, dense cake. It is frequently served with a creamy sauce (in essence, a runny custard aka crème anglaise) spooned on top. The spotted name reflects the scattering of dried fruit in the dessert, and dick is nothing more than an old-fashioned term for pudding. It's comforting to know this is a dessert you can talk about around grandma without blushing.

Spotted dick is a British steamed pudding

When Americans hear the word pudding, we automatically think of a creamy lunch box snack in a cup, or a custard-style treat that is enjoyed with a spoon (or the ubiquitous spork given out in many a cafeteria). But what's up with English "pudding?" In Great Britain, the word pudding can refer to all sorts of desserts and savories. Yorkshire pudding is like a popover, sticky toffee pudding is a sponge cake with saucy toffee, and spotted dick is steamed pudding.

Think of a steamed pudding as a perfectly moist cake. It is made with a sweet batter just like a traditional cake, but instead, it is cooked in a special mold with a tight-fitting lid. Then it is steamed in a large pot with boiling water. A few hours later, the lid is opened to reveal a delicious cake.

Spotted dick is a citrus-flavored steamed pudding that is prepared with suet and dried currants. The color difference between the light cake and the dark dried fruit that speckles the surface of the cake makes it appear spotted — thus the name. Traditionally, the cake is served with a warm British custard (this is always a runny sauce, not like thick American custard), and sometimes with a scoop or two of decadent vanilla ice cream. The rich sauce is a perfect pairing with the dense cake, and the sweet dairy gives a bit of punch, a touch of lusciousness, to the dish.

A dick by any other name would taste just as sweet

If spotted dick is simply a pudding or dessert, where does the "dick" part of the name come from? For that answer, we need to go way back to the 19th century when the terms "dick" and "dog" came from an English dialect term for a pudding. Therefore, you might see the dessert also referred to as "spotted dog."

The words "dick" and "dog" were once synonymous with the word "dough." At that time, you might hear someone say "puddick" or "puddog" to refer to a British pudding dessert. Over time the name simply became shortened. However, in Scotland, the dessert is still sometimes referred to as a "spotted dog pudding." To be extra confusing, Ireland has a similar (but not identical!) dish that is sometimes called "spotted dog" and sometimes "railway cake." It is, in fact, not a cake at all, but it's a type of soda bread, speckled with currants. 

It's interesting to note that nowadays, some restaurants have taken the dessert name one step further and renamed it "Spotted Richard." Of course, this air of formality is simply a play on words and a way to save face in public, for those who might not know the true history of the dish — or may who otherwise be embarrassed to utter the word dick in a formal environment, such as Parliament.