Jan Ellis pudding – a classic South African dessert

Jan Ellis pudding recipe © J Horak-Druiff

Fact:  South Africans love puddings.

And no, I don’t mean the weird English concept of puddings which can include savouries like Yorkshire pudding.  I mean sponge-cakey puddings baked in the oven and usually served warm with some sort of sauce or syrup.

There’s nothing glamorous or sexy about them, and they don’t require any sort of expensive or exotic ingredients.  Mostly, they originated in farm kitchens where the lady of the house had to whip up a pudding from what she had on hand – flour, eggs, butter, sugar and maybe a jam of some sort.  Those redoubtable housewives had a pudding for every occasion, as I discovered in my copy of the Oranje Kook-, Koek- en Resepteboek of 1918, written by the mysterious “Mrs D.J.H.”.

Let’s see… we have ertappelpoeding (potato pudding), armmanspoeding (poor mans’ pudding – a steamed suet pudding with raisins), damespoeding (ladies pudding with currants, jam and brandy), goedkoop en lekker poeding (cheap and tasty pudding – perfect for the credit crunch, perhaps?), jongmans poeding (young men pudding with candied peel and sultanas), oujongnooi poeding (old maids’ pudding), telefoonpoeding (telephone pudding with ginger and apricot jam), skrikkeljaarpoeding (leap year pudding) and vogelnes poeding (birds nest pudding – no birds nests involved though!).

There is also a cluster of puddings which are so similar that some sources describe them as being one and the same pudding.  These are malva poeding (literally mallow pudding), bruinpoeding (brown pudding) and Jan Ellis poeding. All consist of some combination of flour, sugar, eggs, milk, apricot jam and some sort of raising agent, and after the pudding is baked a syrup is poured over it.  However, after combing various sources it appears to me that there are some small distinguishing features.  Malva pudding contains vinegar whereas Jan Ellis pudding apparently does not.  Brown pudding has a syrup that does not contain cream, whereas both malva and Jan Ellis pudding have a creamy syrup.  Small differences, I know, but I’m a stickler for detail 😉  So I am taking the view that Jan Ellis pudding is a discrete entity, but is part of a close-knit pudding family.

Jan Ellis was a well-known Springbok rugby player in the 1960s and 70s, and held the record for most-capped Springbok player of all time when he retired (38 caps).  Legend has it that this was his favourite pudding and to this day it bears his name.  I have to say that the man had good taste.  The pudding itself is a fairly dry, cake-like affair that baked to a nice almost crispy crust.  Still, I was a little dubious about the texture… until I poured generous amounts of the creamy, caramelly syrup over it.  Oh my.  It’s rib-sticking, warming comfort food at its very best and the pudding just soaks up the syrup like a sponge – even my desert-avoiding husband liked it!

I have to confess, though, that I could not leave well alone.  I figured that the traditional recipe (I used one from Pieter-Jasie) as it stood needed a little something to take the edge off all that unadulterated sweetness, and for some reason nutmeg sprang to mind.  I also happened to have a tablespoon or so of grated orange zest left over from another recipe, so into the syrup that went.  The end result was wonderful enough to make me wonder why I had spent so many years faffing about with creme brulees, mousses and crepes – this is pudding as pudding is meant to be.  And I’m immensely proud to claim this piece of pudding heritage as my own :)


JAN ELLIS PUDDING (serves 2-3)


3/4 cup of self-raising flour
1 egg
1 Tbsp apricot jam
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp softened butter
a pinch of salt
a pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tsp grated orange zest

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cream
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp grated orange zest


Dissolve the baking soda in the milk.  Mix all the other ingredients together well, then add the milk and mix well until smooth.  Pour into a baking dish and bake for 30-40 minutes at 180C or until a skewer comes out clean.

Plase all the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat.  Serve each portion of pudding with a generous helping of syrup and some custard.

I am submitting this as my entry for Waiter, There’s Something in My… this month.  Host Johanna has declared the theme to be hot puddings, and they don’t get much better than this hot pud :) You still have a few days to submit your hot puddings to Johanna – so hurry along!

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  1. says

    This is really interesting! I hope you take this the right way, but….I kind of had a really bad impression of South Africans until now. I met a bunch when I was working in Kenya and was very…put off. But I love your blog and learning about this kind of stuff and I think my opinion is going back to neutral and I should re-evaluate.

  2. says

    Well I have had the Malva pudding thanks to your husband dutifully following your directions.I like the apricot in this one.Who knew you all had so many puddings.Thanks for the history and orgins.

  3. says

    For an interesting fact: My father played rugby with Jan Ellis!! We love this pudding and we alternate this one and Malva pudding in the winter months( soon to follow, I hope!!) Love the addition of orange zest. You could also use a tin on Ideal milk in the place to the cream, there can never be enough sauce, right!!!

  4. says

    We used to have a version of this pudding at boarding school back in SA. We called it Elephants Dropping Pudding because it was steamed in those huge KOO Apricot jam tins with a thick, sticky layer of jam at the bottom which turned into the top when it was served with lots of custard. THE BEST! I am going to make your Jan Ellis pudding as a well deserved pregnancy treat later this week to bring back some memories!

  5. says

    Definitely going to try this when it cools down again here! I hadn’t heard of it either but we have done Malva pudding loads of times, so it’ll be interesting to see the difference, subtle as it might be!

  6. herschelian says

    Ooh – Jan Ellis he was one hell of a player! It was a real shock when he was shot in 2001, I don’t know if he survived, he was on life-support that I do know.
    I always thought that Jan Ellis pudding was just another name for Malva Pudding as that was what JE loved eating. I must go and check my Hildagonda Duckett to see her recipe for Malva pudding.

  7. says

    good heavens, this looks stellar. to me, it looks like it was originally intended to be eaten with a fork, but you’ve done such wonderful things to it that now, a spoon is required. awesome. :)

  8. Johanna-Maria Wagner says

    wow what a wonderful array of mysterious desserts… youngman’s pudding? i am assuming this is your entry to WTISM this month? anyone else who wants to participate (bellini valli?) please send your entries ASAP!

  9. Johanna-Maria Wagner says

    wow what a wonderful array of mysterious desserts… youngman’s pudding? i am assuming this is your entry to WTISM this month? anyone else who wants to participate (bellini valli?) please send your entries ASAP!

  10. Johanna-Maria Wagner says

    wow what a wonderful array of mysterious desserts… youngman’s pudding? i am assuming this is your entry to WTISM this month? anyone else who wants to participate (bellini valli?) please send your entries ASAP!

  11. Chef Keem says

    Johanna of thepassionatecook sent me here to check out your (fabulous) blog. It’s fabulous! Yup. Twice.
    Growing up in Germany, emigrating to the USA in 1981, I’ve known puddings only as “the egg custard kind”. An English baker here in Austin, Texas is very successful with her “English Toffee Pudding”. This introduced me to a different meaning of the word pudding. Turns out, this is one of my favorite ways to eat dessert – a sugary, saucy, juicy, cakey, eggy, creamy, perhaps lemony substance in my mouth…I’m happy. Am I a brute? I can’t eat anything like some people do – one component at a time. I always have to fill my mouth with cake and cream and sauce and frosting and filling and berries…see what your pudding does to me – get’s me all dreamy and carried-away. Off to explore…

  12. says

    I always thought Jan Ellis pud and Malva pud were the same thing – you see, visiting Cooksister is always educational ;-)! I’ve never made Jan Ellis pud, I always turn to my tried and trusted Malva recipe when the weather is cold and grey and I absolutely have to have a warming pud to see me through, but I think next time I will give this recipe a try – I like the addition of the orange zest.

  13. says

    *cries* Brazil doesn’t have, at all, in any way, apricot jam. Do you know how many South African delectables contain apricot jam?? Never mind the fact that it tastes divine on fresh, hot bread slathered in butter *sigh* For that matter, Brazil doesn’t have apricots either. Your pudding looks heavenly though and I have a serious craving going.
    Heck, I even miss ‘floor polish’. Remember that red jam? The mixed fruit? Did you also call it ‘floor polish’ at school?

  14. robert says

    i make this pudding quit often, this is how i do it.
    you can halve the water for the syrup and add brandy to replace the water that you removed.
    you must add the brandy just before serving.
    as soon as the pudding comes out of the you can pore the hot syrup over the pudding to allow the syrup to draw into the pudding. as ive said before you can substitute some water for brandy but you must add the brandy to the syrup just before you pore it over the hot pudding, you can also substitute the brandy with orange juice or sherry.

  15. Stu says

    I agree it’s a fantastic pudding. It’s been my favourite since I was a young child. I’m not sure about the origin of the name, however. My grandmother was making this same pudding before I was born (pre-1967) as Jan Ellis pudding and we thought it was a family recipe (her maiden name was Ellis) so I was very surprised when I came to London and saw Jan Ellis pudding mentioned the SA shops. Therefore I think it was named after an earlier Jan Ellis.

  16. Mike says

    Hi, there is another difference between Malva and Jan Ellis. Malva has some brandy in the sauce and Jan Ellis has none. The “malva” in malvapoeding originates from malvasynwyn (almost like brandy). But still it is a great treat and goes very well with the holy trinity of Boerekos: Rys, vleis en aartappels

  17. Lize Becker says

    We have had jan ellis pudding in our family for many years my grandmother showed me how to make it as well as so many others, it so very nice to see people still calling it by its proper name Jan Ellis as so many keeps trrying to corect me and say no no its Malva and its not, many thanks on corecting people, keep on writing love your site

    • Jeanne says

      Hi Lize – thanks for your lovely comment! It was so fascinating when I started dong some digging, the subtle differences between the different Afrikaner puddings. It’s also wonderful to read all the old names – like telefoonpoeding! Gotta love that :) Thanks for reminding me that I need to post a few more “poedingresepte”! Made a killer malva pudding over the summer too…