It is Burns Night on January 25 which means that, if you go in for that kind of thing, cullen skink, haggis complete with neeps and tatties, and cranachan, are sure to abound.
Much to my sweet-toothed sadness, cranachan is rarely the star of the show. For the uninitiated, cranachan is a Scottish pudding traditionally served on Burns Night, a whisky-spiked cream with muddled raspberries and toasted oats, sweetened by honey.
The reality is cranachan has a few little hurdles to overcome. Its place in Burns Night celebrations is unquestioned, but also its downfall. It sits in a difficult place, coming after the pomp and circumstance of the haggis. No one really works their way through a plate of offal and two types of carbohydrates and thinks, ‘do you know what I fancy as a palette cleanser? A bowl of alcoholic cream’. No one addresses the cranachan with poetry mid-meal, like they do the haggis. Always the bridesmaid, never the haggisy bride. And that needs to change. I promise, if you make this, it will.
This isn’t playing around with a classic pudding for the sake of it. It picks out the traditional sweet flavour of cranachan and combines it with that most Scottish of treats: proper shortbread, glazed with Scottish honey and sprinkled with sea salt. You’ll wonder why you ever ate cranachan in any way other than messily squidged between two sweet-salty biscuits.
This is a nice dish to make in advance: the shortbread is low-effort, relatively quick and will keep well for a couple of days, and the cranachan cream can be whipped up in advance. But don’t assemble the sandwiches until just before serving or they’ll go soggy.
It goes like this…
Cranachan Shortbread Sandwiches
Makes: 6 sandwiches (plus a couple of extra biscuits)
Takes: 25 minutes, plus cooling
Bakes: 25 minutes
For the shortbread
160 grams plain flour
50 grams rice flour (if you don’t have rice flour, just add 50g extra plain flour)
100g runny honey
1 scant tablespoon sea salt
For the filing
1 tablespoon of Demerara sugar
1 shot of Scotch whisky (or to taste)
300ml double or whipping cream
1. First, make your shortbread. If you have a food processor, put the flour, sugar and butter into the mixer and pulse until the mixture comes together as a cohesive, if crumbly, dough. If you don’t have a food processor, using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until they form an even, sandy mixture. You should now be able to pat the crumbs into a ball that will just about hold itself together. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead very briefly, just until you have a lump of dough. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill for fifteen minutes.
2. Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin, and briskly roll the dough as thin as you dare. You don’t want to overwork the dough, because this will cause the gluten to activate, and stop the shortbread being crumbly. Use a palette knife if you have one to help you lift the shortbread discs onto a lined baking tray. Chill for a further 10 minutes in the fridge.
4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150°C and, once chilled, place the biscuits in the oven for 15 minutes.
5. Pour the honey into a small container, and if you have a microwave, pop it in for 20-30 seconds. I sometimes put mine in the oven for a couple of minutes, but it’s perfectly possible to use it without doing this. Remove the shortbread from the oven and paint the honey onto it; sparingly sprinkle the salt across all of the shortbread, as evenly as you can. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
6. Allow to cool for 10 minutes on the trays, and then gently lift onto racks to cool completely.
7. Place oats in a pan over a medium heat. Sprinkle with the sugar and allow to toast. Move the oats around (the sugar will melt slightly and caramelise them). Take them off the heat as soon as you can smell them.
9. Pour the whisky into the cream and whisk the cream to soft peaks (so that when you pull the whisk out of the cream, it will hang slightly limply off the whisk, and attempt to stand up straight in the bowl, but drunkenly flop over).
10. Mix all but six of the raspberries into the mixture, so that they break down very slightly and fleck the cream with pinky swirls. Stir in the toasted oats.
11. Take two cooled shortbread biscuits and open them out so that the honey glaze is on the outside of each. Put a heaped tablespoon of the cream mixture onto the non-glazed side of one of the biscuits. Place a whole raspberry deep into the middle of the cream. Top with the other biscuit. Serve immediately.
12. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
These make a lovely pudding, whether you’re celebrating Burns Night or not, and look surprisingly elegant on a small plate with a cake fork. But, in all honesty, we ate them with our hands. Yes, the cream filling makes a bid for freedom when you bite into the two biscuits. Yes, you end up with the cream all down your face. Yes, it’s glorious.