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Issue 37 - Cakes and bakes

Scotland Magazine Issue 37
March 2008

 

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Cakes and bakes

Sue Lawrence considers some classic Scottish treats.

There is an old-fashioned little tea shop at the corner next to my bank, every time I go there I have to stand still and sniff the air. The smell coming through the door is so reminiscent of my childhood, it is sweet, sugary and buttery; it is shortbread being baked for tea. I can almost taste the crunchy sugar on top and the buttery sweetness underneath. There is no smell quite like it. In my opinion, you can forget the aroma of roasting coffee if you want to sell your house; do some home-baking instead.

I have lived and breathed baking since I can remember. The homely smells of freshly baked Scotch pancakes, treacle scones, jam and coconut tarts and of course shortbread were in the air as I walked through the door after school.

The cake tins were filled with sultana cake and ginger cake for visitors popping in. It was just part of growing up in Scotland. It was no coincidence the famous Scots writer F.

Marian McNeil wrote in 1929: “If every Frenchwoman is born with a wooden spoon in her hand, every Scotswoman is born with a rolling pin under her arm.” Baking is in our blood.

And although there are still – thankfully – many fine home bakers in Scotland, there are also many excellent commercial producers of cakes and shortbread, so good it can almost be passed off as home-made.

One such is Dean’s the shortbread maker.

The town of Huntly in rural Aberdeenshire is where, back in 1975, Helen Dean decided to bake shortbread to raise money for the Huntly pipe band, but it was so popular, Helen opened her own small bakery and eventually, some 15 years ago, moved to a purpose-built bakery on the outskirts of town. What is so good about this shortbread, as oppose to some other commercial shortbread is that at Dean’s, it is made just like at home.

Just like home-baked, at Dean’s salted Scottish butter is brought to room temperature, before being beaten with the sugar, then plain flour and a little cornflour are added and mixed until ready. It is then pressed into large baking trays, trimmed by hand, then large rollers with prickles on it are rolled all over, to give the shortbread its characteristic pricks.

There are also moulds for petticoat tails, the classic round shape of eight thin wedges with their prettily scalloped border. The name petticoat tails allegedly hailing from the 16th century, the wedge shapes are identical to the individual gores of the full, bell-hooped petticoats worn by the ladies at the Court of Mary Queen of Scots.

The shortbread is baked slowly, just like at home, so it is evenly cooked, buttery and soft and yet crisp outside. This is what good Scottish shortbread is all about: three basic ingredients, slowly mixed and then baked even more slowly.

And although this is one of the best commercial ‘shorties’ around, there is no denying that the sugary warm smell from baking cakes and shortie in your own kitchen is hard to beat.

SCOTS SHORTBREAD
175g / 6 oz slightly salted butter, softened
85g / 3 oz golden caster sugar and extra
to sprinkle
175g / 6 oz plain flour, sifted
55g / 2 oz cornflour, sifted

1. Cream the butter and sugar together
until creamy and pale: this will take 4-5
minutes in a food mixer (longer by hand).
2.Now add the combined flour and
cornflour a tablespoonful at a time, only
add more when incorporated. When all
mixed in, beat well for a minute (on full
speed if using a mixer).
3. Bring together with your hands,
clingwrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes
to firm a little.
4. Cut into two and pat each out into circles
the same size as your two buttered baking
tins: 18cm / 7”. Level the surface then prick
all over with fork.
5. Place in a preheated oven (150ºC / 300ºF
/ gas mark 2) for 40-45 minutes until a pale
golden brown. Remove the tins to a wire
rack, cut each into eight triangles and
sprinkle over some sugar.
6. Leave for 15-20 minutes or so then
remove from the tin while still a little warm
but firm enough to be lifted. Leave on a
wire rack until cold.

MOIST GINGER CAKE
This wonderful recipe is adapted from
one I tasted at Anta’s café in Tain, Rossshire
(on the far north-east of Scotland).
It is served there regularly, made by
brilliant baker Margaret Williamson
175g / 6 oz butter
250g / 9 oz dark muscovado sugar
6 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp black treacle
450g / 1 lb plain flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large egg, beaten
275 ml / 9 1/2 fl oz milk

1. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle
in a pan over a low heat, stirring well.
Do not boil.
2. Place all dry ingredients in a large bowl
and slowly pour in the pan mixture, with
the egg and milk. Beat well until mixed.
3. Pour into a buttered, lined 24cm / 9”
square cake tin and bake in a preheated
oven (160C / 325F /Gas 3) for 70-80
minutes, or until a skewer inserted into
the middle, comes out clean.
4. Remove to a wire rack to cool
completely before removing from tin.