Scot­tish flavour

Iced gin­ger­bread for Hal­lowe’en by Shirley Spear

Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK -

MANY Scot­tish gin­ger­bread recipes have been handed down through fam­i­lies over gen­er­a­tions. Delectably yield­ing, trea­cly sweet and spicy, it’s per­fect to have on-hand for any guis­ers knock­ing at your door on Hal­lowe’en. Cut into chunky squares, or sliced thickly and but­tered lib­er­ally, it’s glo­ri­ous on a cold win­ter’s day.

Some recipes are named af­ter Scot­tish towns, such as Fochabers, In­ver­ness and Kir­riemuir. Orkney gin­ger­bread, called Broonie, con­tains oat­meal as well as flour. Par­lies, or Par­lia­ment cakes, were sold on Ed­in­burgh’s streets in the 1800s, earn­ing their name from their pop­u­lar­ity among the judges, lawyers and busi­ness­men who en­joyed one with a whisky, rum or brandy as a mid­day pick-meup. Per­haps the hot ginger flavour helped to keep out the cold as they walked around Par­lia­ment Square in solemn dis­cus­sion about the day’s busi­ness and pol­i­tics. Eaten with a stiff drink, this must have been the orig­i­nal shiv­ery bite.

Pass­ing through the town of Kir­riemuir in An­gus a few months ago, I de­cided to try to find out more about the ori­gins of its fa­mous gin­ger­bread. The ladies in the li­brary were ex­tremely help­ful, even though they couldn’t find the orig­i­nal recipe, said to have been given to lo­cal baker Wal­ter Bur­nett by a trav­eller. Younger mem­bers of the fam­ily later sold the recipe to a larger man­u­fac­turer in the 1940s and the prod­uct has been made on a grand scale ever since.

I couldn’t help but think that the neat rows of dark red stone cot­tages in this lit­tle town – home of JM Bar­rie, au­thor of Peter Pan – re­sem­bled gin­ger­bread houses. It would have been lovely to find a tea shop tak­ing pride in mak­ing and sell­ing its lo­cal gin­ger­bread, but alas, this was not to be.

No-one I met knew much about why Kir­riemuir was fa­mous for gin­ger­bread, in­clud­ing the at­ten­dant at the in­ter­est­ing, lo­cal mu­seum. I won­der if this is a sim­i­lar story in Fochabers or any of the towns which lend their names to well-known Scot­tish prod­ucts such as, for ex­am­ple, Selkirk Ban­nock, or Ec­cle­fechan Tart. Per­haps we should be tak­ing more no­tice of these items and pre­serv­ing their names for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to en­joy as some­thing lo­cally made and de­li­cious, rather than mass-pro­duced in a fac­tory, far from their orig­i­nal home.

The recipe be­low is one I have baked since I was a teenager. In a bid to make the res­tau­rant more prof­itable, we went through a phase in the mid-1990s of serv­ing af­ter­noon tea as well as lunch and din­ner ev­ery day. It was a gru­elling sched­ule to main­tain and in­volved a huge amount of ex­tra prepa­ra­tion.

This gin­ger­bread was a pop­u­lar choice on the menu and when I went to find the recipe, I dis­cov­ered an old note stuck to the page of my book, mak­ing the quan­ti­ties up to four times the amount, from the days when we baked in large batches. I have to ad­mit, my heart skipped a beat at the thought of bak­ing it on such a scale again, along with many other items for the tea trays. Thank good­ness those hec­tic days are over for me.

ICED GIN­GER­BREAD (Makes one large cake)

400g self-rais­ing flour 225g soft, dark brown sugar 225g salted but­ter (plus ex­tra for greas­ing tin) 150g black trea­cle 100g golden syrup 2 tbsp hot water from a boiled ket­tle 3 large eggs 2 heaped tsp ground ginger 1 heaped tsp ground cin­na­mon 50g crys­tallised ginger pieces, or stem ginger in syrup


1. Lightly grease a 23cm square cake tin and line the base with non-stick bak­ing parch­ment pa­per. Pre­heat oven to Gas Mark 3, 170C. 2. Sieve flour and ground spices into a large mix­ing bowl. 3. Rinse the crys­tallised or stem ginger pieces un­der warm water to re­move sugar or syrup coat­ing and chop into small pieces. Add to bowl. 4. Take a small plas­tic jug or bowl and sit on top of your scales. Ad­just scales to zero. Pour the trea­cle and syrup into the jug or bowl un­til scales mea­sure the quan­tity re­quired. Us­ing a plas­tic bowl scraper, trans­fer the trea­cle and syrup to a saucepan. Add the warm water to the bowl or jug and swirl around to take up any re­main­ing trea­cle and syrup, and pour this into the saucepan. 5. Chop the but­ter into smaller pieces and add to the saucepan to­gether with the brown sugar. Heat gen­tly un­til melted, stir­ring to­gether with a wooden spoon. 6. Pour the melted in­gre­di­ents over the dry in­gre­di­ents and mix thor­oughly un­til it re­sem­bles a thick bat­ter. An elec­tric hand mixer makes the job a lit­tle eas­ier. 7. In a sep­a­rate bowl, whisk to­gether the eggs. Add the eggs to the cake mix­ture and beat with the wooden spoon (or elec­tric mixer) un­til thor­oughly com­bined. 8. Pour the mix­ture into the pre­pared cake tin and place in the cen­tre of the pre-heated oven. Bake for up to 1 hour un­til well-risen and firm to touch in the cen­tre. Test with a me­tal skewer or cake tester by gen­tly pierc­ing the cen­tre of the cake. If the skewer re­moves cleanly, the cake will be cooked. Do not al­low it to burn around the edges of the cake, as this will be­gin to make the cake dry. Re­move from the oven and leave to cool com­pletely in the tin. Be­fore ic­ing, re­move from tin and sit upon a cool­ing rack over a flat bak­ing tray.

For the ic­ing

110g ic­ing sugar 50g crys­tallised ginger, or 2 balls of stem ginger in syrup 10-20ml cold water to mix


1. Sieve ic­ing sugar into a bowl. 2. Grad­u­ally add enough cold water to make a thick, spread­able mix­ture. If it gets too thin, add more ic­ing sugar. 3. When cake is cold, spread ic­ing over the sur­face us­ing a pal­ette knife. It doesn’t mat­ter if it drips over the sides. 10. Scat­ter with ginger pieces and dec­o­rate for Hal­lowe’en if liked. Keeps well, wrapped in grease­proof pa­per, in a lid­ded tin for at least one week. Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chim­neys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www. three­chim­

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