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A 'platinum pudding' fit for the queen: How the U.K. found its official jubilee dessert

Jemma Melvin beat out almost 5,000 rivals in a special bake-off to find an official dessert for Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, which the country is celebrating this week.

LONDON — Britain is getting ready to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign with a party replete with reminders of royal history and displays of the aging monarch’s modern relevance.

And proof that this jubilee will be a very British combination of old and new lies in the layers of Jemma Melvin’s “platinum pudding,” which bested almost 5,000 rivals in a special bake-off to find an official dessert to mark the occasion.

Her winning entry is a seven-layer lemon Swiss roll and amaretti trifle, a modern twist on a traditional dish that dates to the 1700s. 

“I wanted it to be easy to make,” Melvin, 31, told NBC News earlier this month. “I wanted it to be summery. I know the queen likes lemon flavor.” 

Melvin, a copywriter from the seaside town of Southport in northern England, said she found out the queen had lemon posset at her wedding to Prince Philip in November 1947, so she decided her recipe should be based on that. 

“I hope she does like it,” Melvin said of the monarch.

The recipe, which calls for the trifle to be topped with whipped cream and crumbled cookies, has been posted online as organizers hope people across the country might serve the winning dessert at the thousands of street parties being held as part of this week’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

While contents of a trifle can vary, the layered dessert is traditionally made with sponge fingers soaked in sherry or another fortified wine. It also contains fruit, either included separately or in gelatin, which are then topped off with custard and cream. Some use chocolate and other ingredients instead of fruit. 

The trifle may be best known in the United States for character Rachel Green’s ill-fated effort at making one on a Thanksgiving episode of “Friends.”   

It was Melvin’s contemporary take on the old dessert that helped sway those tasked with deciding the winner, according to one of the judges, Regula Ysewijn.

“We were looking for a new classic, something completely new,” she said. “But then when we had the trifle in front of us, I think everyone got goose bumps because it’s such a traditional British dish. It is so old. It’s so significant. And then the flavors completely surprised us.”

Ysewijn, a Belgian culinary historian and author, said the first recipe for trifle dates to the 16th century, although it did not contain any layers then. They appeared slightly later, “and it’s been evolving ever since,” she said.      

Jemma Melvin’s Platinum Pudding.
Jemma Melvin’s Platinum Pudding.NBC New

Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to have a cake or pudding created for a jubilee, when she celebrated 60 years on the throne in June 1897, Ysewijn said.

“A 10-foot cake was created by a London baker called Gunther,” Ysewijn said, adding that people were always fascinated to know what royalty was eating and liked the idea of being able to create it at home themselves.

The tradition continued, and when Elizabeth was crowned in June 1953, a special dish known as coronation chicken was created, according to Ysewijn’s fellow judge Roger Pizey. 

The dish, which still appears on British menus, is made with mayonnaise, a reduction of red wine, along with sultanas, almonds, curry powder and mango chutney, said Pizey, the executive pastry chef at Fortnum & Mason, a luxury London department store founded in 1707 and known to some as the “queen’s grocer.” 

He added that the judges had whittled down the thousands of entries to 150 before deciding that Melvin’s was best. 

“It’s a fantastic dessert,” he said, adding that it was “amazing” that she made all the ingredients herself. One of the criteria for the judges was that the dessert could be made at home easily, he said.   

He said that pictures of her trifle and the recipe had been sent to Buckingham Palace, and he believed it was “a given” that at some point the queen would try the trifle.   

“Some people said that she’s very fond of chocolate. And I think she does quite like a trifle,” said Pizey. 

While the queen will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee at Buckingham Palace, Melvin, whose win was announced by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, on BBC television, said she would be joining her partner, James Fletcher-Jones, 37, dog Bella and her neighbors in Southport for a street party. 

“Everyone brings food and drinks,” she said. “A lot of bring your own and put it in the middle. I think you call it a ‘potluck’ in America.” 

As for her trifle, Melvin said, “I just want everyone to make it and if people make it around the world then that is amazing.”