Open season for Haggis – ideas for a Burns supper

January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today is 25 January, Robert Burns’ birthday which means that the traditional Burns supper of haggis, neeps, tatties (mashed swede and mashed potatoes)and of course plenty of Scotch whisky will be served up to Scots both at home and abroad tonight.  We Sassenachs got in on the act early this year, on Saturday night in fact, when we were invited to a Burns supper at nearby Manchester Grammar School.

You might well ask why would anyone voluntarily go and spend an evening eating school dinners?  In fact the school did us proud and produced food of a high standard. Pride of place went to a splendidly proportioned haggis (Macsweens of course – I did check with the catering manager!) which was preceded by a bagpiper and ceremonially stabbed with the Skean dhu/Sgian Dubh (the dagger a Scotsman tucks into his sock).  You can clearly see the victim’s entry and exit wounds…

I realise this picture may not look appealing to those of a nervous disposition but, honestly, it was delicious.

Eating my meal on Saturday night, it occurred to me that hosting a Burns supper at home would be a fun evening and the food would be pretty straightforward.  To start, the obvious choice would be Scottish smoked salmon.  You could serve this as a canapé beforehand on tiny oatcakes and dispense with a starter if that suited.  Smoked venison too with redcurrant or, better still, rowanberry jelly would be good if you could source some.  A smoked loch trout or kipper pâté with oatcakes would be another option.  Don’t turn your nose up at kipper pâté – it may not sound glamorous but I can still remember some that I ate in Tiddy Dol’s (sadly now closed) restaurant in Mayfair some 20 years ago – velvety smooth and absolutely delicious with just a hint of  a peaty malt whisky in the background.

The main course would obviously be a haggis (there are vegetarian versions too to cater for all tastes) and the aforementioned neeps and tatties – these can be prepped in advance and heated through when you are ready to serve.  A little whisky poured over the haggis is all the sauce you need but you could serve a little gravy (or jus as restaurants insist on calling it) if you liked.  I like Francis Bissell’s idea from her book “Entertaining” of serving haggis Parmentier, a Scottish take on the bistro classic hachis Parmentier (a French version of shepherd’s pie). Cooked haggis, carefully spooned out of its casing forms the based of the dish with a smooth mixture of mashed potato and swede forming the top. Some finely shredded curly Scots  kale, steamed for just a minute or two to retain its vibrant greenness, would make a good accompaniment.

Pudding is a little bit of a challenge given the quantity of food you will already have consumed.  Cranachan (a combination of whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, whisky, heather honey and raspberries) would be traditionally Scottish and you could use very acceptable frozen Scottish raspberries.  If you wanted something very light and refreshing then a raspberry water ice or sorbet would fit the bill.  An individual baked or steamed pudding made with whisky and Dundee marmalade would be good for traditional pudding lovers.  My final pudding thoughts would be a Caledonian ice cream as served at Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip.  This is a witty take on a French style praline ice cream with frugal toasted oatmeal taking the place of the usual almonds.  You could serve this with a sauce of melted Mars bars – a nod to that other most traditional of Scots puddings, the deep-fried Mars bar….

I also give a recipe for an oatmeal shortbread biscuit as featured in the BBC Great British Menu programme.  Chef Jeremy Lee turned them into a neat stack with cream and raspberries but they are a good crisp biscuit either to eat on their own or to  provide a contrasting texture to a creamy pudding.

Recipe for Caledonian ice cream

This is a recipe from Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip restaurant brought to the masses by Delia Smith in her Summer Collection book.  Serves 8.  I’ve tried this recipe at home and it works well with our without an ice cream maker.


For the caramelised oatmeal

3 oz (75g) caster sugar
4 tablespoons water
2 oz (50g) pinhead oatmeal

For the syrup

4 oz (110g) caster sugar
4 tablespoons water

For the ice cream

1 pint whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Start by making the caramelised oatmeal. Put the caster sugar and water into a small saucepan over a low heat and leave it for 5 minutes. Then take a medium sized frying pan, place it on a medium heat and when the pan is hot, add the oatmeal and swirl it round the pan constantly so that it browns evenly – which it will do in about 5 minutes. Remove the oatmeal to a plate to prevent it becoming over-brown. By now the sugar in the saucepan will have dissolved so you can turn the heat up and let it boil. Watch it very closely until it becomes a rich brown caramel colour. Stir in the toasted oatmeal, remove from the heat and quickly pour the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Put to one side to get cold and firm (about 15 minutes).  Then take off small pieces at a time and pound them in a pestle and mortar until they are the size of large salt crystals (you could do this carefully in a food processor too but don’t overdo it and reduce it to too fine a powder).  Put to one side in an airtight container until you are ready to make the ice cream.

To make the sugar syrup, measure the sugar and water into a small saucepan, place it over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved – about 5 minutes. Then remove from the heat and allow to become completely cold.

To make the ice cream, pour the cold syrup into a mixing bowl along with the whipping cream and vanilla extract.  Whisk with an electric whisk or mixer until the mixture just begins to thicken and hold its shape. Then pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions until firm but still pliable.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker, freeze the mixture until firm but pliable in a large plastic container, beating vigorously every half hour or so with a wooden spoon. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the oatmeal mixture, fold it in then spoon the ice cream into a loaf tin 7 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches.  Cover with a double thickness of foil and freeze until needed.

To serve, remove from the freezer to the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you need it. Dip the base and sides of the loaf tin into hot water for 10 seconds or so, loosen round the edges with a palette knife, then turn onto a plate.  Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water, cut into neat slices.

Recipe for almond shortbread thins

The original recipe title is for raspberry shortcake but I think this is confusing as shortcake to me means the American scone type soft cake.  It comes from The Great British Menu Cookbook accompanying the BBC TV series of the same name.  This recipe was cooked by chef Jeremy Lee.  Jeremy is a native Scot who is the longstanding head chef at London’s Blueprint café.  I have tried this recipe at home and it does work – the biscuits are delicious. It makes about 20 biscuits from memory (recipe says serves 4).


125g soft unsalted butter
40g caster sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
40g best quality blanched almonds such as Marcona ground in a food processor quite fine but still with some texture
40 g toasted white breadcrumbs (from 70g bread chopped up, crusts on, baked at 150 degrees C/fan 130 degrees C/gas mark 2 for 30 minutes or until lightly toasted then processed to crumbs in a food processor)

To serve

250 ml double cream, softly whipped; a great bowl of raspberries, a small bowl of caster sugar, a little icing sugar for sifting

Beat the butter and sugar together well until pale. Pop in the orange zest and beat very well. Add the flour, ground almonds and breadcrumbs, and mix thoroughly into a soft dough.

Cut a large piece of baking parchment. Place the dough at one end of the paper, then roll it in the paper to make a sausage shape roughly 5cm in diameter. Seal the sausage in the paper and chill for a few hours or ideally overnight.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C/fan 150 degrees C/gas mark 3.  Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut the roll of dough into 3mm thick slices (about the thickness of a UK £1 coin) and lay them on a baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool and become crisp.

You can eat them as they are or sandwich 3 of them together with raspberries and whipped cream to form a neat stack for pudding.

Producer/other details

Macsween’s haggis

Stockan and Garden oatcakes from Orkney

Glasgow’s Ubiquitous Chip restaurant

Please do leave a comment if you have Burns supper experiences or Scottish recipe ideas to share

‘Twas the night before Christmas

December 25, 2009 § 3 Comments

Which means it’s time to bake mince pies and finish decorating the Christmas cake.

With a bit of arm twisting, making mince pies becomes a family affair.    It’s certainly more fun with three helpers in the kitchen and don’t let anyone tell you children don’t like mince pies. You can watch us by following the link below:

I always plan to have my Christmas cake finished by mid December, but it ends up inevitably a last minute job on Christmas Eve.  To be fair, the marzipan went on a couple of days ago.  I give below my recipes for apricot glaze, marzipan and royal icing.  I used to buy both marzipan and roll-out icing as they do give a perfectly smooth surface but the taste (I make a point of adding no flavouring whether almond or vanilla to the marzipan to let the taste of the almonds speak for itself) and texture of home-made are far superior even if the decorated cake looks a little home-spun.

I make the marzipan then divide it into two.  Half is for the top of the cake and the other half for the sides. (In fact accurately and greedily because we have two cakes, I make one and a half times the marzipan recipe and divide it into three as one cake is fully decorated whereas just the top but not the sides of the second cake are decorated.  I begin with the top of the cake, coating it with apricot glaze (not the sides yet as otherwise you will get sticky fingers when you pick the cake up).  I roll out a piece of marzipan to a rough circle shape approximately the same size as the cake and invert the cake onto it.  I then trim the edges neatly whilst the cake is still upside down.  Keep the trimmings to mould into marzipan fruit if you’re feeling creative or to stuff Medjool dates with if you’re not.

Next, I turn the cake over and place it in final position on its board.  I then prepare a template out of greaseproof paper, a strip to go round the outside of the cake.  I cut the strip in half as the cake sides will be covered in two pieces of marzipan.  I roll out the second piece of marzipan to a rough rectangle the same shape as my template pieces stacked on top of each other and cut 2 pieces of marzipan using the template as a guide.

Now it’s time to coat the sides of the cake with apricot glaze.  Once this is done, I stick the two side pieces neatly to the cake, trimming and smoothing the seams. I then use my (clean) hands to pat and smooth the marzipan over the cake.  This is what the end result looks like.  Good enough for a wedding cake rather than the rough snow I plan to plaster over it.  Also pictured are my last minute decorations – the sugar pearls I picked up in Paris earlier in the year and some white chocolate snowmen, reflecting the snowy weather conditions outside – it’s all set to be the first White Christmas in ages.

I made the royal icing following my usual recipe.  This is what the starting sugar and egg white mixture looks like before whisking.  The recipe advises that you should add icing sugar to the egg whites “until the mixture falls thickly from a spoon”.

And here is the same icing after 10 minutes’ whisking.  It now holds its shape and forms little peaks.  My long serving Kenwood mixer makes light work of this job.  I think you do need electrical assistance here, whether a hand-held whisk or free standing mixer with whisk attachment.  The icing dries to a deliciously powdery and crisp texture thanks to the air it contains.  Don’t forget the teaspoon of glycerine to avoid the icing setting to a tooth-breaking plaster consistency.

Here’s the finished cake taking pride of place on the Christmas dining table with the white chocolate snowmen gazing out onto the snowy scene outside.

Time to get on with the Christmas dinner preparations now and finally enjoy a little time off.  I’ve concentrated on Christmas baking on the blog this year so you’ll just have to imagine the goose roasted to mahogany crispness appearing out of our oven on Christmas day…

Merry Christmas!

Recipe for apricot glaze

This recipe (which is hardly long enough to deserve the name!) is my own.  It makes enough to cover an eight inch cake, top and sides with some leftover.  Spread what’s leftover on some toasted panettone for a Christmas breakfast or mid-morning treat.


Half standard jar of apricot jam (look for conserve or extra jam with a high fruit content)
2 tablespoons apricot brandy (or your favourite spirit)
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Melt the apricot jam and apricot brandy together in a small saucepan.  Add the lemon juice and stir well.  Rub the mixture through a sieve using a wooden spoon, pressing hard so that as much fruit pulp as possible goes through.

Reheat in a small saucepan boiling until the right consistency is achieved if the cooled glaze looks too runny.

Recipe for cooked marzipan

This comes from Leith’s Cookery Bible, and as the book says, it gives a softer, easier to handle paste than the more usual uncooked marzipan.  A hand held electric whisk is I think essential before you embark on this recipe.  I have removed the suggested almond and vanilla extracts from the list of ingredients in the original recipe as I like the natural taste of the almonds themselves to shine through unadorned.

I have found that the texture of the finished paste is variable.  Sometimes it comes out just right, sometimes a little too soft for rolling.  Presumably this is because of variations in the size of the eggs and the age of the ground almonds.  If this happens, simply add more ground almonds, caster sugar and sifted icing sugar in a 50:25:25 ratio (as per recipe) until the paste is the right texture for rolling out.

This quantity of paste is just enough to cover an 8 inch cake, top and sides.


2 medium eggs
170g/6oz caster sugar (I use the golden variety)
170g/6oz icing sugar, sifted
(if you find, as I did, that there is nothing except granulated sugar in your cupboard and the shops are closed, fear not! I ground the sugar into a coarse powder in my electric liquidiser and used this rather than a mixture of caster and icing sugar.  The end result was good – perhaps even better than using different sugars)
340g/12 oz ground almonds
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Beat the eggs lightly in a heatproof bowl.  Sift the sugars together and mix with the eggs.  Stand the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until light and creamy or until the mixture just leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted.  Remove from the heat and whisk until the bowl is cold.

Add the ground almonds and lemon juice.  Check consistency and adjust if necessary as described above.  Lightly dust a board or scrupulously clean work surface with sifted icing sugar.  Carefully need the paste until just smooth.  Do not overwork as the oils will be drawn out resulting in a greasy paste.  Wrap in cling film and keep at a cool room temperature until you a ready to use.

Recipe for royal icing

This recipe comes, like the fruit cake it covers, from Delia Smith’s “Complete Cookery Course”.  The addition of  a little lemon juice which cuts the sweetness of the icing ever so slightly is my own.  I wouldn’t attempt this without an electric mixer of some kind.  Don’t be tempted to add more glycerine than suggested as otherwise your icing may not set.


3 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Approximately 1 lb 2 oz  (500g) icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon glycerine

Place the egg whites in a perfectly clean grease-free bowl.  Stir in the icing sugar, a spoonful at a time, until the icing falls thickly from the spoon (see picture above).  You will probably not use all the icing sugar you have sifted – just spoon it carefully back into its box.

At that point, stop adding any more sugar and whisk with an electric mixer for 10 minutes or until the icing stands up in peaks.  Then stir in the glycerine.  Spooned into a jar, the icing will keep happily in the fridge for several days.

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