Scottish holidays, festivals and days out are all the more enjoyable for the sweet traditions that go with them. Here are our favourite Scottish treats.
Black bun…it could be the name of a murderous villain or a thoroughbred racehorse but in fact it’s a rich fruitcake. Sometimes known as Scotch bun, it’s traditionally served on Hogmanay and New Year’s Day. Encased in thick pastry is a dense, dark mixture of dried fruits, butter, sugar, treacle and spices. Custom has it that you gift black bun to your friends and neighbours when you ‘first foot’ them (which is what we call a visit in the early hours of New Year’s Day). This symbolises that they won’t go hungry in the coming year. Both a dram of malt whisky or a cup of tea are excellent accompaniments.
The recipe for Dundee cake goes back two centuries to the founder of the Keiller confectionery dynasty which was based in this city on the east coast of Scotland. The family was once the biggest sweet-making business in Britain. People around the world could purchase their products. Brimming with sultanas; Dundee cake is lighter and crumblier than a rich fruit cake and with the additional distinctive topping of whole almonds.
Another sweat treat that’s traditionally served at new year is shortbread. Nowadays however it’s got nothing to do with a loaf. It was certainly more bread like in medieval times, being the baked leftover dough from bread making. On the other hand it’s now more like a biscuit after being re-imagined during Mary Queen of Scots’ times. Today Scottish shortbread is judged to be the best in the world. A simple combination of butter, flour, sugar and salt; carefully crafted in bakeries across the country.
The tradition of serving shortbread at new year may originate from ancient pagan Yule Cakes. Served on the shortest day each year, the cakes symbolised the sun. Historically shortbread was expensive, a special holiday purchase.
Another misnomer on the Scottish tea table is tablet, which sounds like medicine that would be swallowed more easily with a spoonful of sugar! But this quintessentially Scottish treat packs a sweet punch all of its own. Just sugar, condensed milk and butter make up this confection. It may remind you of fudge but it’s harder and crumblier; so spare a thought for your teeth. After biting through the firm exterior though, you’ll encounter a melt-in-your-mouth middle that’s very moreish.
Tablet – or taiblet in the Scots language – dates back to the 18th century. Traditionally created with only sugar and cream; melted together, then poured them into a baking tray to set. Its resemblance to a tablet of stone is perhaps where the name comes from. Today it’s often flavoured with whisky, nuts and other essences; commonly served at the end of a meal or wrapped up as wedding favours (small gifts for guests).
Thanks to our temperate climate the east side of Scotland is fertile growing ground for soft fruit . Drive through Perthshire, Angus and Aberdeenshire in summer and you can’t miss the acres of polytunnels protecting crops of berries. Consequently you can even pick your own fruit at many farms. Berries often pop up in Scottish cuisine and one such traditional dessert is Cranachan. It’s a luxurious blend of four classic Scottish ingredients; toasted oats, cream, raspberries and malt whisky. Often served in large glasses with a dollop of honey on top for sweetness. Its guaranteed to wow many a dinner table with the red and white fluffy layers; it’s often on the menu at a Burns Supper.
From this ‘King of Scottish desserts’ to a sweetie named after the volcanic rock home of Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh Rock is the crumbly, candy coloured creation of Alexander Ferguson in the 19th century. Legend has it that ‘Sweetie Sandy’ happened on the unique formula by accident. It’s been a feature on the shelves of the capital’s souvenir shops ever since. It’s quite soft and pastel coloured; not the hard, gaudy rock that’s synonymous with other British cities. Above all, it’s easier on your teeth!
If you have a sweet tooth, you’re looking for a gift, or you even want to reminisce about the old days, take the time to pop into one of Scotland’s traditional sweet shops on one of our Highland tours. Many of our guests remember having a few pennies pressed into their palm to buy a bag of sweeties as a child. Among the dozens of sweetie jars you’ll find multi-coloured classics such as sherbet lemons, liquorice, bon bons, pineapple cubes and barley sugars.
Soor Plooms are a boiled sweet whose name comes from the old Scots for sour plums. This rock hard, green sweetie will have you sucking your cheeks in such is its sourness. Look out for Scottish macaroon; a sugary bar coated in chocolate and roasted coconut that used to be made with cold leftover potatoes!