Scot­tish Flavour

Black bun for Hog­manay by Shirley Spear

Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK -

CHRIST­MAS cakes and pud­dings are tra­di­tion­ally pre­pared well in ad­vance to give them plenty of time to ma­ture and de­velop their in­tense flavour. They also re­quire long, slow bak­ing. It is great to have ev­ery­thing made ahead of time, sav­ing on last-minute prepa­ra­tions as Christ­mas and New Year ar­range­ments de­scend upon all of us.

In Scot­land, we have a very old tra­di­tion of mak­ing black bun for Hog­manay, though these days this is rarely baked at home. I have to ad­mit I’ve only made it once be­fore and it was in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar with peo­ple of my own age who re­mem­bered it as part of the cel­e­bra­tions in their child­hood. They also re­mem­bered it last­ing for weeks ahead into the new year, packed in work lunch boxes, or taken on win­ter walks or as emer­gency ra­tions on a long jour­ney.

I found a ref­er­ence to a black bun recipe baked in the 1700s. This was pre­pared in a way sim­i­lar to a strudel, but us­ing a thin layer of bread dough to en­case the fruit and spices, which was then baked quickly in a hot oven. The recipe changed from bread to pas­try over the years and at one time it was de­scribed as plum cake and ex­ported to Eng­land by Scot­tish bak­ers dur­ing the run-up to Christ­mas.

Back then, Christ­mas was frowned upon by strict Protes­tants and the cel­e­bra­tions cen­tred round Twelfth Night, which is part of the old Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar. Black bun was also de­scribed as Twelfth cake and served at this time of year.

Ev­ery com­mer­cial black bun baker had his own spe­cial recipe for the ul­ti­mate mix­ture of fruit and spices. Some used trea­cle, oth­ers used dark brown sugar. Ja­maica pep­per, or all-spice – very pop­u­lar in tra­di­tional Scot­tish cook­ing – can be dif­fi­cult to find, but search it out and make the most of its spe­cial qual­i­ties.

Below is my own adap­ta­tion of an old recipe, with a few per­sonal ad­di­tions, such as the gin­ger pieces and my home­made Talisker mar­malade. Orig­i­nal recipes usu­ally spec­ify brandy, but as this is a very Scot­tish fes­ti­val, I feel that noth­ing less than a good dash of your favourite Scotch will do.

Serv­ing a slice of black bun with a gen­er­ous dram to first-foot­ers on Hog­manay has long been tra­di­tional in Scot­land. So make it at home and en­joy creat­ing it from scratch. For some ex­tra fun, an old six­pence or a few sil­ver charms could be added to the mix­ture be­fore bak­ing. BLACK BUN (Uses one 23cm round, deep cake tin) 500g short­crust pas­try 785g currants 675g raisins 225g med­jool dates, stoned and chopped to same size as currants 110g crys­tallised gin­ger, rinsed of syrup or sugar and chopped to same size as mixed peel 225g good qual­ity, chopped mixed cit­rus peel 225g blanched al­monds shopped into thin sliv­ers 110g chopped walnuts 110g dark, soft brown sugar 1 level tsp ground cin­na­mon 1 level tsp ground gin­ger 1 heaped tsp ground all­spice ½ tsp ground black pep­per ½ whole nut­meg, freshly grated 450g whole­meal self-rais­ing flour 2 heaped tbsp coarse cut, Seville or­ange mar­malade 2 tbsp whisky 2 large eggs or bind­ing the fruit to­gether 4 tbsp milk 1 large egg for seal­ing the pas­try Method 1. Mea­sure all in­gre­di­ents (ex­cept eggs, pas­try and milk) into a large bowl and mix to­gether thor­oughly. Us­ing your hands is prob­a­bly the most ef­fec­tive way to do this. Cover with a clean cloth and leave overnight to al­low the flavours to meld. 2. The next day, pre­pare the cake tin. Cut the short­crust pas­try in half. Set aside one half to line the sides of the tin. Di­vide the other half into two pieces and roll each one into a cir­cle 24cm in di­am­e­ter. 3. Grease the base and sides of the tin lightly and place one pas­try cir­cle on the base of the tin, with the edge ris­ing up the side a lit­tle. Brush the edge of this with beaten egg. 4. Roll the sec­ond large piece of pas­try into two long ob­longs, to wrap around the in­side of the tin, sit­ting one edge along­side where the pas­try base rises up the side of the tin. Where the two ob­longs over­lap, brush the edges, to en­sure a tight seal. 5. Chill the lined cake tin in the re­frig­er­a­tor for 30 min­utes, with the sec­ond cir­cle of pas­try sit­ting on top of a plate to chill along­side. 6. Pre­heat oven to 150°C, gas mark 2. 7. Whisk two eggs with the milk and mix into the fruit mix­ture to bind it to­gether. The mix­ture will seem quite dry in com­par­i­son with a usual cake mix­ture. Keep dig­ging deep into the mix­ture to en­sure the liq­uid per­me­ates as far as pos­si­ble. 8. Pack the mix­ture tightly into the pas­try case, to al­most the top of the cake tin. Fold over the re­main­ing edges of pas­try which are lin­ing the side of the tin and brush with egg. Brush around the edge of one side of the sec­ond cir­cle of pas­try with egg and lay it on top, cov­er­ing the whole sur­face and press down around the edge to en­sure a tight seal. Pinch the edge to­gether with the back of a din­ner fork. Brush the whole of the sur­face with the re­main­ing egg and prick the sur­face all over with a fork. Fi­nally, take a skewer and pierce 6 holes at even in­ter­vals right through the black bun from the pas­try top to the base of the tin. 9. Wrap the whole tin in a pro­tec­tive layer of brown pa­per or news­pa­per and tie it with string. Place on the lower shelf of the pre-heated oven and bake for at least 3½ hours, be­fore test­ing with a skewer. If the skewer re­moves cleanly from the cake, it is ready. If not, con­tinue bak­ing for at least 30 min­utes. Leave to cool in the tin be­fore re­mov­ing it care­fully. 10. Wrap in grease­proof or parch­ment pa­per and store in an air­tight tin to ma­ture for as long as pos­si­ble be­fore Hog­manay – or even for a whole year ahead. Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chim­neys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www.three­chim­

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