Ulysses Queen of Puddings

by Cara Nicoletti on June 15, 2012


For the past year I have tried in vain to find a way to make kidneys palatable. I have soaked them in milk, in gingerale, I have cooked them quickly at high heat and slowly at low heat, I have bathed them in butter, injected them with sherry, coated them in crushed garlic, and all I was left with was a kitchen that smelled like a urinal on a hot summer’s day. I did all of this in the name of Leopold Bloom.


The other day, with Bloomsday fast approaching, I decided to ask a customer who always comes into the shop looking for beef kidneys how he cooks them to make them edible. He’s an older, reserved British man and I had a notion that if anyone knew how to cook kidneys it would probably be an older, reserved British man. So, while wrapping his kidneys I asked him, “How do you cook these to make them taste good?” to which he wrinkled his nose and replied, “I don’t. I feed them to my German Shepherd.”

That night I re-opened Ulysses and started searching for something else to cook.


Tomorrow, June 16th, is Bloomsday–a day in which James Joyce enthusiasts in Dublin celebrate his life by reliving the events of June 16th, 1904–the day that the entirety of the novel Ulysses takes place. Joyce chose June 16th as the date of Leopold Bloom’s wanderings because it was the day of his first date with his wife and muse, Nora Barnacle (was there ever a better name?). The first Bloomsday took place in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the book. It has since become an institution in Dublin, with thousands of people gathering every year to follow Leopold Bloom’s pilgrimage throughout Dublin, drinking at the pubs where Bloom stopped, wearing costumes from the novel, some even holding marathon readings of the entire novel–a process which I’m told can take up to 36 hours.


Unlike a lot of my friends who found the process of reading Ulysses exhausting and brain-numbing I have very fond memories of my first reading of it. I was a junior in college, taking a class on 20th Century Irish writers in a tiny, mahogany and window-filled classroom in  NYU’s Ireland House.  Spring had finally hit New York after a long and dreadful winter filled with gray slush and heartbreak. It was in this class that I met, as Anne of Green Gables would say, my “bosom friend” and it was over Ulysses that we first bonded. After class we drank mugs of beer as large as our torsos and–when we weren’t discussing how dreamy our professor was–tried to make sense of Joyce’s writing.


When people think about food in Ulysses the first thing that comes to mind is always Leopold Bloom’s craving for “a mutton kidney at Buckley’s. Fried with butter, a shake of pepper. Better yet a pork kidney at Duglacz’s.” His hankering for a kidney with butter and pepper presents itself over and over again throughout the novel, but there is also (much to my relief) a plethora of other food in the novel.  In the chapter “The Lestrygonians,” a hungry Bloom wanders in search of lunch, considering roast beef, cabbage, oysters, seedcakes, hundred-year-old eggs,  caviar, sardines, crisp onions, truffles and cheese sandwiches.


In Greek mythology the Lestrygonians (or Laestrygonians) are a tribe of cannibalistic giants. In Homer’s Odyssey they eat many of Odysseus’ men and destroy twelve of his ships. This grotesque image hangs in the background of this chapter of Ulysses, as Bloom ponders how disgusting people often look in the act of devouring food. It is my favorite chapter in the novel, and one that I used to think of often when, exhausted and covered in oven burns, I would watch the hungover masses at brunch shoveling my lovingly-prepared biscuits too quickly into their mouths.


Leopold Bloom isn’t the only character in Ulysses who worries about how grotesque the act of eating can be, Gerty Macdowell also mentions her fear of how unappealing she might appear while eating in the chapter “Nausicaa.” Gerty fantasizes about what a fantastic housewife she will someday make, imagining the praise she will get for her phenomenal cooking–specifically for her flawless rendition of queen Ann’s pudding.


She would care for him with creature comforts too for Gerty was womanly wise and knew that a mere man liked that feeling of hominess. Her griddlecakes done to a goldenbrown hue and queen Ann’s pudding of delightful creaminess had won golden opinions from all because she had a lukcy hand also for lighting a fire, dredge in the fine selfraising flour and always stir in the same directions, then cream the milk and sugar and whisk well the whites of eggs though she didn’t like the eating part when there were many people that made her shy and often she wondered why you couldn’t eat something poetical like violets or roses…


Being from states, I had never heard of queen Ann’s pudding before reading Ulysses. I couldn’t find a recipe for it anywhere but there were lots of recipes for something called “queen of puddings,” which from Joyce’s description sounds like it is essentially the same thing. Queen of puddings is a classic British dessert consisting of a bread pudding topped with either jam or fruit compote and covered in a chewy, toasted meringue. It is absolutely delicious–much better than a kidney prepared any which way.


Gerty Macdowell’s Queen of Puddings

makes 6 individual servings


For the Breadcrumbs:

  • 1 pound loaf of challah or brioche bread, cut into small cubes
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter


Cube the loaf of challah into small cubes. Melt butter in a saucepan and toss bread cubes to coat. Lay them out in an even layer on a sheetpan and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Once they are toasted and cooled place them at the bottom of 6 ramekins until they are about 2/3 full.

For the Custard:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • seeds and pods of 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue and place them in the fridge)


Put milk, cream and the seeds and pods of vanilla beans in a medium saucepan. In a separate bowl whisk eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Heat milk and cream until almost at a boil then slowly whisk in the egg yolks/sugar mixture, whisking vigorously the whole time so the eggs don’t scramble. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, pour over even breadcrumbs in six even batches and let them sit for about 10 minutes, or until the bread has absorbed much of the liquid (it doesn’t have to absorb it all). Place ramekins in a hot water bath that reaches about 1/2 way up the sides and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until almost completely set but still slightly wiggly. While the pudding is setting make your cherry compote.


For the cherry compote:

  • 1 pound of sweet cherries, pitted
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon


Place pitted cherries, sugar and zest into a medium saucepan and let them simmer over medium-low heat until most of the juices are released and slightly thickened. Once pudding is set and cooled pour cooled cherry compote into the ramekins evenly (you may have a little bit left over, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing). Now prepare your meringue.

Meringue Ingredients:

  • Whites of 5 eggs, cold
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of your mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high speed until whites start to foam. Slowly add sugar and continue to whisk until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Once this happens, remove from mixing bowl and transfer to a piping bag. Pipe meringue onto each of the cooled puddings and place them in the oven at 350 for about 7 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown.


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Leave a Comment

Your Bosom Friend June 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Welp, you’re my bosom friend. and I don’t need to tell you, this made me cry.

(also these are some of the best photos ever)


baconbiscuit212 June 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Oh my gosh. You nailed it! Joyce’s Ulysses is the reason why I was never able to enjoy kidneys. The way he described them, the tang of urine, stuck in my head so much that I think that it just becomes the only thing that I focus on — and not in a good way!

Did you hear the interview that Oliver Sacks gave on Radiolab? He was talking about how he eats the same meal for months and months on end, and one meal was kidneys. He would place an order at the butcher, pick them up, and eat them for a week. But one week, something happened to the order and he ended up with something like 20 pounds of kidneys. And he ate them all.

I don’t think he has had another kidney since, but when I heard that story, I was thinking that he must have something wrong with his sense of smell.

In terms of kidneys, I have had them in steak and kidney pie and thought they were not as noticeable.

I love your puddings!


yummybooks July 1, 2012 at 5:24 am

I didn’t hear that interview but I’m definitely going to search for it now! I just had my first steak and kidney pie the other day and I have to say, it was lovely. But saying something tastes good because it doesn’t taste like what it actually tastes like is a strange thing (did that make any sense?). Regardless, I ate the whole thing.


baconbiscuit212 July 1, 2012 at 9:49 am

It’s true. Sometimes I think steak and kidney pie is kind of a cop out since you can’t really taste the kidneys. Still very good!

Once I was in Seville and I was intrigued by this massive jar of pickled kidneys on the bar. Like how pickled eggs are sometimes there for patrons. So I screwed up my courage and asked for some.

Nasty. Just. Nasty.

I’ll take my kidneys in pie form!


Seymour Salett June 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm

the pudding looks and must taste delicious. I’ve been wondering what you do with these great food that you cook. I can give you some ideas as to how to cook beef kidneys, I sold lots of them. I also think that they’re best suited for dogs.
Keep up the good work,


yummybooks July 1, 2012 at 5:27 am

Hi Seymour,
The puddings were delicious! I would love to chat with you sometime about how to cook kidneys, perhaps in a lounge chair by a pool?


glamorous glutton June 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

I think Kidneys must be an acquired taste, I remember having kidneys for breakfast when I stayed with a friend as a child. I loved them. But had been brought up with steak and kidney pie. Just a hint of kidneys, but the urine taste and smell – I don’t remember that. Anyway your Queen Of Puddings looks delicious and I’m sure is a much more popular option. GG


yummybooks July 1, 2012 at 5:05 am

I think you’re right, it must be something that you acquire a taste for when you’re young, otherwise the taste can be a little shocking! I’m in England right now for the first time ever and had my first steak and kidney pie the other night–I loved it! Have been reading your blog quite a bit while staying in London, it’s absolutely wonderful. So glad you commented so I could find it!


Elizabeth June 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Yes, I said, yes, I will, yes.


yummybooks July 1, 2012 at 5:09 am

he said I was a flower of the mountain yes


ntreber June 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Awesome post! But you had me imagining Harold Bloom bloviating on the canon whilst eating a plate of kidney. (I think you meant Leopold Bloom, ha ha.)


yummybooks July 1, 2012 at 4:56 am

I cannot believe you were the first person to notice this! I am so embarrassed! I did the exact same thing on my thesis paper in college, I can’t believe I did it again. 40 pages about Leopold Bloom and every mention said “Harold.” You should see me try to differentiate between Harold Bloom and Harold Mcghee…


baconbiscuit212 July 1, 2012 at 9:46 am

Haha! I’ve made that mistake too! I can’t believe I missed it. I think I just got so caught up with the kidneys!


mayihavethatrecipe July 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Great recipe and great article too! We didn’t grow up in the United States but your article makes us want to check out the book just as much as we want to check out the food :)


yummybooks July 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm

love your beautiful blog! Thank you for stopping by Yummy Books I hope you’ll be back!


Craig Howling July 31, 2012 at 8:51 am

Yes lovely recipe, Thanks very much


sunidhi August 28, 2012 at 5:14 am

lovely blog. i always follow ur recipe. its a great plesure to have this type of recipes. thank u very much.


Beans December 9, 2012 at 10:27 am

This pudding looks fantastic, I got excited about cherries being on sale recently, taking home a bigger haul than one person should ever eat, so this is a great way to put some of the excess to good use! As always, thanks for sharing the connection between food and books with us!


Nicki Mok December 10, 2012 at 11:17 pm

These photos are STUNNING! I am drooling..thank you for sharing!!


Brad December 11, 2012 at 11:06 am

Wow! Just wow. Not sure if my skills are up to snuff enough to make these, but I’ll keep them in my back pocket for a future cooking adventure!


Jean | DelightfulRepast.com October 4, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Cara, in case you’re still hoping to find a way to cook kidneys to your liking … I’ve not been in the same room with a steak and kidney pie/pudding since early childhood, but I remember my mother and grandmother (English) making it. I never ate it myself, but supposedly it was excellent. I recall the first step being to poach or boil the kidneys in plain water (this was the stinky step). Then, I believe, the cooled kidneys were cut into bite-size pieces and soaked in milk for a time.


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