No one made any snide comments about the choice of a French dessert to follow my very British main course (which went down extremely well, by the way) – maybe people don’t think of it as being French but rather a fairly international dessert.
It’s a type of baked custard.
When I hear the word custard, I certainly think of hot vanilla-flavoured sauce poured over some very British dessert: apple crumble, spotted dick, treacle pudding… The French serve it cold and call it crème anglaise (which the Germans took over as Englische Creme, so they must have thought of it as typically British/English at some point, though I can’t find any more comment on the etymology of this.
The term custard has a wider meaning of course, ranging through various kinds of egg-thickened milk or cream concoctions, whether used for filling eclairs (as confectioner’s custard) or quiches (a savoury form). Many of these forms date back to the Middle Ages, when egg and milk mixtures were popular for filling flans and tarts – in fact the word “custard” is a corruption of crustade, an old word for a pie or pie crust (cf. French croustade). Classic French cuisine, meanwhile, has no specific word for custard, using the more general term crème instead. Maybe it was conceptually more important to the British, since they at least had a word for it.
Europeans took a wealth of custard recipes with them to the New World, though sometime in the nineteenth century the terms “custard” and “pudding” became confused in the United States, so that to this day “pudding” in American English denotes a set milk pudding. This new meaning of the word came back over the Atlantic and settled in German as Pudding. Cue confusion and strange looks when, as a Brit, you start talking to people in this country about Christmas pudding, steak and kidney pudding or black pudding, or even if you simply ask “What’s for pudding?”…