Tag Archives: Scottish

Walnut shortbread

There’s no way I can eat a whole cake or batch of biscuits all by myself on a regular basis, so I take most of what I bake into the lab.  Not only are my labmates very enthusiastic taste-testers, but baked goods have the added advantage of being a great way of integrating into the lab.  However, one of the technicians doesn’t eat eggs.  Now something like nuts aren’t usually too difficult to omit from a recipe, but eggs?  Eggs are tough.  (Side note: I find the concept of fake egg rather freaky so I refuse to use egg substitutes).

Thankfully, she doesn’t mind when somebody brings in baked goods with egg in them and she can’t eat any, which is lucky because I regularly bake with eggs since the vast majority of my recipes call for them.  I have to admit that even if she doesn’t mind, I still feel a little guilty, so I’ve been on the lookout for egg-free recipes – I don’t intend to bake egg-free all the time, but at least from time to time so that everybody is included.  I’m well aware that there are plenty of vegan recipes out there, but my initial foray into vegan baking came out rather dry and not particularly presentable, so I’ve yet to be convinced (although I’m open to recipe recommendations).  Plus I’d rather not deprive myself of dairy products without reason.  So anyway, I discovered over the weekend that shortbread is egg-free.  Oooooo…

Now, I’ve never tried making shortbread before, and I’d always been under the impression that it was difficult and technical to make.  Rather than start with basic shortbread, it was thus clearly totally logical to complicate things a little by adding toasted walnuts.  I’m not sure why I thought shortbread was such a challenge, and I’m also not sure why one of the recipes I looked at said that shortbread was “a test of cook’s skill” – it really didn’t seem that difficult to me.  If anybody could enlighten me, that would be lovely.  Of course I’d love to think that I’m clearly just a brilliantly accomplished baker, but that’s really not the case.  Perhaps it’s my Scottish side shining through.  Or beginner’s luck.

Adding walnuts turned out to be a rather fabulous idea – toasted walnut and nutmeg are such wonderfully wintery flavours, and the shortbread itself was the perfect amount of buttery and utterly scrumptious.  They were super popular in the lab, and everybody was able to enjoy them whilst we watched the gymnastics highlights from the Olympics over our coffee break.  Whilst watching those girls do flips and (mostly) managing to land on the balancing beam and bounding and somersaulting across the carpet, we concluded that those gymnasts probably don’t eat much deliciously buttery shortbread.  We also concluded that it was their loss.

Walnut shortbread

Makes about 20 biscuits
Adapted from The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake

Toasting the walnuts really elevates their flavour, so try not to skip that step, even if a little pushed for time – I promise it’s worth it!  If you want to make shortbread shapes I’d try rolling the shortbread dough out to a thickness of 1cm (before the refrigeration step) and using cookie cutters in the shape(s) that you want, then refrigerating the individual biscuits on their trays.  I haven’t tried that method however, so I’m not sure how well it would work.  These will keep for up to a week in an airtight container (though I highly doubt they’d last that long).

Ingredients

50g walnut pieces or halves
260g all-purpose flour
40g cornflour
¾ tsp ground nutmeg
Good pinch of salt
200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

Directions

1.  Toast the walnuts in a small frying pan over a low heat until fragrant and lightly toasted.  Remove from the heat, roughly chop if necessary and set aside to cool.

2.  Sift the flour, cornflour, ground nutmeg and salt into a medium-sized bowl and stir together.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric whisk or wooden spoon.  Slowly add the sugar and cream together until light and fluffy.

4.  Add the flour mixture and the walnuts to the butter and sugar and mix together using your hands until well combined (this may take a little while, but it will come together although it will still be a bit of a crumbly dough).  Shape the dough into a log of about 20cm in length and even thickness and wrap in cling film (since dough will still be crumbly, you may need to gently push it together to compact it enough to make a log).  Refrigerate for 20-30 mins until firm.

5.  Butter two baking trays.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C.

6.  Remove the cling film from the dough log and slice into about 20 rounds of 1cm thickness.  Place on the baking trays, with about 1.5cm space between each biscuit.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until firm but still pale.  Sprinkle the biscuits with caster sugar and allow to sit on the baking trays for 2-3 mins before transferring to a wire rack to cool fully before serving.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Student Life, Sweet Foods

Of penguins and porridge

I have serious issues with the Scottish weather.  This isn’t a new development, far from it, but I was particularly reminded of this over the weekend.  At the beginning of March, we had beautiful weather (and in fact at the end of February too, since I managed to end up with a sunburnt nose whilst fieldworking) – granted it wasn’t 25°C let’s-hit-the-beach-in-our-bikinis weather, but it was still warm enough during the day to swap my boots for ballet flats.  This is a major thing for me, because I get cold really easily.  The weather last week was a bit iffy – mostly sunny during the day, with a few unexpected rain showers in the evenings, but the main issue was the cold wind (and associated occasional horizontal rain).  St Andrews is coastal, so it tends to be quite windy anyway, but there were several days where walking down the street felt like you were participating in some sort of wind tunnel experiment.  Consequently, not only did I have to switch back to boots, but I spent most of last week sporting what can only be described as a bit of a macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) hairstyle.  In case you don’t know, this is what a macaroni penguin looks like (from National Geographic Stock):

I know, I know, it’s a HOT look.  Though I didn’t have the yellow-and-black thing going on (how impressive would it be if the wind could do that?!), just the crazy side tufts.  And this is coming from somebody whose hair is usually always at least a little bit messy, and accepts it as such.  So anyway, despite the macaroni penguin hair, at least it was still mostly sunny.  Now I know it can’t be sunny forever, but it’s very nearly officially Spring, and I was quite a fan of this whole it’s-getting-warmer-let’s-pretend-it’s-nearly summer thing.  However, the weather clearly had other plans, because the temperatures dropped and it rained the entire weekend.  In true Scottish style, we were treated to every possible kind of rain – fat rain, misty drizzly rain, sideways rain, etc.  I even got caught in some upwards rain at one point (apparently Scottish weather hasn’t got the hang of gravity yet).  Oh and it briefly hailed, too.

This return to wet, wintry weather resulted in a sudden craving to have porridge for breakfast.  This happens to tie in rather well with this month’s Breakfast Club, hosted by Taste Space, who has chosen the theme “Whole grains.”  I hadn’t really decided what I wanted to do for the challenge yet, but porridge fits the bill perfectly, because guess what?  Porridge oats are whole grains, hurrah!  I get the impression that “Whole grains” were chosen because they are healthy, and we were probably supposed to come up with a healthy breakfast, which this might have been, if I hadn’t been slightly over-enthusiastic with the quantities of honey and whisky that I added the first time I made this (resulting in a great start to the day!).  Oh well.  It’s still whole grain-based.  And whisky is made from barley, and that’s a whole grain, too…  So ya, heather honey and whisky porridge – whole grains all round!  Oh and it’s yummy, too – it’s still raining (torrential at the moment) so I made it again for breakfast today (with slightly more sensible quantities of everything, as in the recipe below).

Heather honey & whisky porridge

Serves 1
Adapted from BBC Food

You could use clear honey and spiced rum instead of the heather honey and whisky.  Or any other combination of flavours.  I suppose the whisky (or rum) is optional, but why wouldn’t you want to add it?  I used Glenfarclas 10 year, because I think it tastes a bit like fruitcake, and I decided that was appropriate for breakfast.

Ingredients

40g porridge oats
2 tbsp double cream, plus extra to serve
200ml whole milk
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp whisky
1 tbsp Scottish heather honey

Directions

1.  Add the oats, cream, milk, sugar and whisky to a small saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally (always clockwise if you’re a purist.  Before you ask, I have no idea why.) until thickened to your liking.

2.  Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, stir in the honey and drizzle a little bit of extra double cream over the top.  If you like your porridge really sweet, sprinkle a pinch of brown sugar over the top.

Enjoy!

PS – Dear Scottish weather, could you please stop raining now?  Thanks ever so much.  Yours, etc., M.

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“Auld Alliance” cranachan

Tomorrow (January 25th) is Burns Night, a celebration of the life and works of the Scottish poet Robert Burns on the day of his birth.  I’m not actually sure what there is to celebrate about his life (apparently he was basically a drunken misogynist and racist) or his works (not having been to school in Scotland I never studied any of his poetry, but I have been assured by various friends that it was a lucky escape), but as far as I’m concerned, it’s an excuse for a dinner party, or Burns Supper, so I’m all for it.

If you’re going to do a Burns Supper properly, there are a whole set of traditions associated with it, including a piper and a heck of a lot of speeches.  Including the Address To a Haggis.  Yes, that’s right, an 8-verse poem in Scots dialect recited to a stuffed sheep’s stomach.  So anyway, I don’t happen to have a piper on hand and (despite being Scottish) I sound ridiculous attempting to pronounce any Scots words, so I think we’ll be skipping most of those traditions (shock horror, I know), though perhaps I’ll attempt to convince one of my friends with an actual Scottish accent to do the Address.  We shall see…

Now that I’ve rambled a bit, I’ll get to the point: food.  Well, more specifically: dessert.  One of the traditional Burns Supper desserts is cranachan, a concoction of oats, whipped cream, honey, whisky (depending on who is making it) and raspberries.  I’m not sure why there are raspberries in a dish that is usually served in January – they’re not exactly in season – but we’ll gloss over that.  I’m not a huge fan of oats though (I find them rather boring), so I was looking for an alternative and suddenly it hit me – use a macaron base to get a bit of crunch just like the oats!  Genius!  Using a macaron base would be a perfect way to introduce some extra colour, too…

I also discovered that this month’s Mac Attack (#15 – MacInspirational) was all about incorporating macarons into your favourite dessert.  So ok, cranachan isn’t my favourite dessert, but here was the perfect excuse to try out my idea. I’ve done a trial run, which I’m quite happy with and am only planning a few minor adjustments – making the bases bigger and slightly “puffier” and also crumbling macarons over the top to create a bit more crunch.  So I give you the “Auld Alliance” cranachan – a perfect Scottish-French partnership (I know, I know, I am just so witty):

“Auld Alliance” cranachan

Serves 8
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!
The topping was made from my imagination

The shells can be prepared the day before, but to get maximum crunch, it’s best to add the topping just before serving, otherwise the cream soaks into the shell and softens it.

Ingredients

For the macarons shells:
150g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
100g caster sugar
180g ground almonds
270g icing sugar
Pink & purple food colouring paste (optional)

For the topping (these are all very approximate measures – definitely refine them to your tastes):
550ml double cream
20 tbsp icing sugar
20 tbsp whisky
15 tbsp heather honey (or just normal set honey if you can’t get heather honey)
300g raspberries

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle (a wide nozzle is best to make the large shells).

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!)  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add a good dollop of pink food colouring paste and a few drops (splodges?) of purple just before the end and mix well (this is totally optional, but it just adds a bit of colour to the dessert, and it’s also kind of fun).

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 10cm but I’m going to try 15cm next time. Make sure you make at least 8 – any extra shells can be crumbled and used for decoration at the end).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet – because these are big shells, a bit longer might be required).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 10-15mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays.

To make the topping:
8.  Add the cream, icing sugar and whisky to a bowl and whip into stiff peaks.  Once this is done, add the honey and mix into the cream (heather honey is set, so use the electric whisk).

9.  Spoon a thick layer of the whisky-honey-cream onto the macaron shells (you could also pipe it into a pretty pattern if you are feeling enthusiastic/have the time).  Decorate with raspberries and crushed left-over macaron shells before serving.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods