Lisa’s Letters Home: A Very Comforting Jam Roly Poly

Lisa’s Letters Home: A Very Comforting Jam Roly Poly

There are quite a few traditional English desserts that I haven’t attempted to make yet and there are some that I’m convinced are named solely as a joke for tourists (“…and then the Americans will ask us for Spotted Dick! HAHAHAHA!”) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the English do desserts very, very well.

There are desserts for teatime, desserts for birthdays and other celebrations, and desserts that remind people of their childhood. The latter are often referred to as nursery pudding; “afters”  that would have been served at schools during lunchtime. What I love about these desserts is that they are still served in school cafeterias today – often just as badly prepared as they were 40 years ago.


Even the names evoke comfort: blancmange, semolina pudding, bread and butter pudding, and steamed treacle pudding. They wobble, are full of stodge, and many were the result of wartime rationing and limited supplies. How else can you explain the motivation behind lining a bowl with stale bread and filling it with seasonal berries, then squashing it all down with a plate and a large tin?

In my quest to blend in with the locals, I’ve been trying out a few classic desserts (and also, I just really like cake. A lot.) Jam roly poly is such a jolly name for a pudding, I had to give it a go. It’s essentially pastry with jam in the middle, steamed in the oven, sliced and served with custard. It’s a school dinners staple, and my kids were very keen to test out the homemade version.

It seemed fairly easy to make, although lots of things seem like brilliant ideas when you’ve not had much sleep. I came across a jam roly poly recipe in one of my Nigella Lawson books that calls for store bought shortcrust pastry (i.e. unsweetened pastry like you’d use in a chicken pot pie), which you certainly could use in place of making your own. As I was sleep deprived and a little bit delirious, I opted for the recipe that called for homemade. You will need to find suet (either regular or vegetarian), which may prove tricky outside of the UK. Apparently you can find it in the freezer section of Canadian supermarkets or ex-pat shops. If you can’t find it, then just use the store bought pastry. Use the time you save to have an extra glass of wine or something.

Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s steamed and not baked. Somehow, you still get a crunchy, golden brown crust on it despite the steam. I don’t know how it works; it’s obviously some sort of British voodoo.

Serve it warm from the oven or at room temperature, with homemade custard or shop bought. It keeps well in lunchboxes, minus the custard. My kids gave it the thumbs up, with Jack remarking, “It’s way better than the one we get in school!”

Just a word of advice beforehand: be careful when you open the oven when it’s got the water-filled tin in it. Otherwise, you may get a face full of scalding hot steam – but on the plus side, it steam-cleans your oven. (No joke. It’s win-win.)


Lisa’s Letters Home: A Very Comforting Jam Roly Poly


  • 1/4 cup (50g) salted butter (or you can use unsalted and add a pinch of sea salt), cold and cut into chunks, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 cup (250g) self-raising flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1/4 cup (50g) shredded suet
  • 2/3 cup (150ml) milk
  • 1/2 cup (100g) raspberry or any other jam you fancy
  • Custard, to serve


Put a large tin on the bottom shelf of the oven and fill two-thirds with boiling water, then carefully slide it back in.

Heat the oven to 350 F or 180C/160C fan-assist.

Tear off a large sheet of tin foil and greaseproof paper (about 30 x 40cm). Sit the greaseproof on top of the foil and butter it.

Tip the butter and flour into a food processor, and pulse until it turns into a sandy consistency.

Put the flour and butter into a large mixing bowl and stir through the suet.

Pour in the milk and cut through it with a butter knife until you get a sticky dough. (You may need a drop more milk, depending on your flour.)

Tip the dough out onto a floured surface, quickly pat together to smooth, then roll out to a square roughly 25 x 25cm.

Spread the jam all over, leaving a gap along one edge, then roll up from the opposite edge.

Pinch the jam-free edge into the dough where it meets, and pinch the ends roughly, too.

Carefully lift onto the greased paper, join-side down (you might find a flat baking sheet helpful for this), loosely bring up the paper and foil around it, then scrunch together along the edges and ends to seal.

The roly-poly will puff quite a bit during cooking so don't wrap it tightly.

Lift the parcel directly onto the oven shelf above the tin and cook for 1 hr.

Let the pudding sit for 5 mins before unwrapping, then carefully open the foil and paper.

Serve in thick slices with a jug of warm custard.


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  1. Laura
    May 03, 09:27 Reply

    I use suet in my Christmas Pudding and I have no trouble finding it in Canada – Maple Leaf Foods makes it and you’ll find it in the frozen food section. In the US, you have to ask the butcher – he’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind … and probably give it to you for free.

  2. Lisa Durbin
    May 03, 10:11 Reply

    Hi Laura, yes that’s the one I meant when I mentioned looking for it in Canadian freezer sections. 🙂

  3. Lisa Durbin
    May 03, 10:13 Reply

    Although having said that, I wonder how easy it would be to find in places like Quebec? (Having lived there for 11 years and knowing the food items can be quite different compared to places like Toronto!)

  4. Charlotte
    May 03, 13:42 Reply

    Haven’t had one of these for ages, will have to try soon, looks yummy and brings back fond memories.


  5. Lisa Durbin
    May 04, 09:13 Reply

    It’s so easy and comforting – especially with a big jug of custard on top. 🙂

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