over-egg the pudding

The title is a delightful Britishism PG stumbled upon earlier today while reading an article he deemed too obscure for even him to post (even for him to post?).

From The Phrase Finder:

To ‘over-egg the pudding’ is to go too far in exaggerating or embellishing something – to adorn or supply to excess.

. . . .

‘Over-egg the pudding’ is an English phrase and first appeared in the mid-19th century. It originated as a simple literal phrase alluding to the way that baked foods may be spoiled by using too many eggs.

The earliest examples of the phrase in print that I know of are from 1845 Robert Smith Surtees’ novel Hillingdon Hall, 1845:

‘We mustn’t over-egg the pudding,’ as the Yorkshire farmers say.

Francis Kildale Robinson’s A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Whitby, 1876:

He ower-egg’d his market.

As the first of these refers to ‘over-egg the pudding’ as a Yorkshire expression and the second relates to the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby, it’s reasonable to surmise that the pudding in question is a Yorkshire Pudding.

Link to the rest at The Phrase Finder

And regarding  A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Whitby, from Google Books:

Link to the rest at Google Books

9 thoughts on “over-egg the pudding”

  1. In case you don’t know, Yorkshire Pudding is primarily egg, with a bit of flour to cling to, a little milk and salt, and fat to give it flavor.

    As a literalist, I’m surprised, however, to attribute the phrase used to Yorkshire Pudding. There are 2 ways to serve YP. One is to just pour the batter into the pan underneath the rack-elevated roast whose fat it contains. The other is to use well-greased muffin tins. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to disturb the first version, and the only sin in preparing the 2nd version is to overfill the muffin cups (no more than half) so that they don’t “pop” (as in Popovers, the other name).

    Neither is about too much egg…

    • I think you may have understated the flour a bit: I’d say 2 to 3 ounces of flour, plus maybe one quarter cup (or a bit more) of milk per egg. Too little of these ingredients and you could definitely be over egging it. Always best done in a big rectangular pan rather than your muffin tin. Some nice dripping in the pan of course, but it doesn’t have to come from today’s roast as, since you’re doing Yorkshire Pudding, you might as well throw in a few sausages and do toad in the hole.

      And you should make extra batter as you can use the rest to do pancakes (English style) as your dessert course (though you need to make sure you have lemon juice to go on these once cooked).

      • I will defer to Karen’s and Mike’s greatly-superior knowledge of puddings of all sorts. I expect there are many different ways in which a Yorkshire Pudding can go wrong.

        There is also the likelihood that the art and science of Yorkshire Puddings has advanced greatly since Mr. Surtees wrote Hillingdon Hall in 1845.

        • I appreciate the deference but my knowledge is limited to the puddings my mother served up, most of which were in fact intended as a dessert rather than a main course (the dessert course traditionally being called “pudding”, at least in the upper working class part of south London where I was born). I suspect that dishes such as suet pudding or bread and butter pudding may not be to modern taste.

          As for the art and science of Yorkshire Puddings, I fear it has regressed as you can now by frozen versions ready to pop in the oven: the work of the devil!

      • I would definitely say that Mike is right. And it is possible to ‘over egg’ it and not to use enough flour or milk. My late mum made the best Yorkshire puddings in the county, learning it from my nana, of course. I can make them when I put my mind to it (and we never measured anything) but mine are nowhere near as good as hers. They should be fluffy and soft inside, light brown and crispy outside, and altogether very light and puffy. Too much egg results in rubbery puddings. The trick is to have your fat very hot when the batter goes in. Also you have to let the batter rest for a bit before cooking it. I do this with pancake batter too and that mustn’t be over egged either. The batter for pancakes should be thinner than Yorkshire pudding batter. We often had ‘Yorkshires’ for Sunday dinner, when I was a child – they were essentially a (delicious) way of filling you up and making the roast meat go further and were often eaten first, with gravy from the roast. Now I’m really hungry and it’s 23.30 here! By the way, I still use that expression.

        • You are of course right that pancake batter should be thinner, though you are wrong about your late mum making the best Yorkshire Puds in the country: that would have been my late mum (and today would have been her 120th birthday).

          Your report on Sunday dinner has made me hungry as well, though when I was a kid it was a roast dinner on Saturday, cold meat (the rest of the joint) on Sunday and bubble and squeak on Monday.

          And I’m glad to here you still use the expression, it’s very useful and expressive even if unknown to the yanks.

          • And sorry for a mental arithmetic error: yesterday would have been my mother’s 110th birthday (I’m old but not that old!)

            • Yes – I think all our mums and nanas made the best pies and puddings! Got me thinking about my nana’s meat and potato pie – and the big flat bread cakes called ‘oven bottom cakes’. I bake my own bread, but nothing seems to taste the way hers did!

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