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The word pudding is believed to come from the French boudin, originally from the Latin botellus, meaning "small sausage", referring to encased meats used in Medieval European puddings.
In the United Kingdom and most Commonwealth countries, pudding can be used to describe both sweet and savory dishes. However, unless qualified, the term in everyday usage typically denotes a dessert; in the UK, "pudding" is used as synonym for a dessert course. Dessert puddings are rich, fairly homogeneous starch- or dairy-based desserts such as rice pudding, steamed cake mixtures such as Treacle sponge pudding with or without the addition of ingredients such as dried fruits such as Christmas pudding. Savory dishes include things such as Yorkshire pudding, black pudding, suet pudding and steak and kidney pudding.
In the United States and Canada, pudding characteristically denotes a sweet milk-based dessert similar in consistency to egg-based custards, instant custards or a mousse, often commercially set using gelatin or similar collagen agent such as the Jello brand line of products. In Commonwealth countries these puddings are called custards (often shortened to curd) if they are egg-thickened, blancmange if starch-thickened, and jelly if gelatin based. Pudding may also refer to other dishes such as bread and rice pudding, although typically these names derive from the origin as British dishes.
The modern usage of the word pudding to denote primarily desserts has evolved over time from the almost exclusive use of the term to describe savoury dishes, specifically those created using a process similar to sausages where meat and other ingredients in a mostly liquid form are encased and then steamed or boiled to set the contents. The most famous examples still surviving are blood sausage, which was a favourite of King Henry VIII, and haggis.
The original pudding was formed by mixing various ingredients with a grain product or other binder such as butter, flour, cereal, eggs, and/or suet, resulting in a solid mass. These puddings are baked, steamed or boiled.
Depending on its ingredients such a pudding may be served as a part of the main course or as a dessert.
Boiled or steamed pudding was a common main course aboard ships in the Royal Navy during the 18th and 19th centuries. Pudding was used as the primary dish in which daily rations of flour and suet were prepared.
Steamed pies consisting of a filling completely enclosed by suet pastry are also known as puddings. These may be sweet or savory and include such dishes as steak and kidney pudding.
The second and newer type of pudding consists of sugar, milk, and a thickening agent such as cornstarch, gelatin, eggs, rice or tapioca to create a sweet, creamy dessert. These puddings are made either by simmering on top of the stove in a saucepan or double boiler or by baking in an oven, often in a bain-marie. These puddings are easily scorched on the fire, which is why a double boiler is often used; microwave ovens are also now often used to avoid this problem and to reduce stirring.
This pudding terminology is common in North America and some European countries such as the Netherlands, whilst in Britain egg-thickened puddings are considered custards and starch-thickened puddings called blancmange.
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