The glorious custard cream

Food & Drink

The glorious custard cream

Although other nationalities have various cookies, pastries and cakes to their credit, no one in the world seems to have such a wide range of mass-produced biscuits as the British. One of the most enduring is the custard cream, handed down to us from 1908.

The custard cream is a type of sandwich biscuit popular in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland filled with a creamy, custard-flavoured centre. Traditionally, the filling was buttercream (which is still used in home-made recipes) but nowadays cheaper fats have replaced butter in mass-produced biscuits. The filling tastes of vanilla and as such is more like the taste of custard made with custard powder than egg custard.

It is believed that the custard cream biscuit originated in Britain in 1908, though further evidence is somewhat sketchy. However, the technology to make such a biscuit was available from about that time - with the similar bourbon biscuit first appearing in 1910.

The biscuits usually have an elaborate baroque design stamped onto them. These markings are said to be Victorian fern fronds which were in vogue in the latter half of the 19th century. The Victorians were also very keen on puddings and the new eggless Birds Custard powder introduced in the mid 19th Century was being referenced in the custard cream.

Higher-quality versions typically have the words CUSTARD CREAM in big letters within the design, joining the Bourbon and Nice biscuit in the club of “biscuits with their name written on them”.

The biscuit probably owes its longevity to its good fit with the mildly Puritanical national character. It's indulgent - but not too indulgent. One could definitely eat several! It also survives dunking in tea. Plus, several can be placed next to a cup of tea in the saucer without melting against the side of the cup. These were once important attributes. However, despite the demise of the cup-and-saucer combination, the custard cream seems to be holding its own.

In a 2007 poll of 7,000 Britons, 9 out of 10 voted custard creams to be their favourite biscuit. In 2009 it was ranked the eighth most popular biscuit in the UK to dunk into tea.

Further reading

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