Monthly Archives: January 2013

Scottish Food: Aberdeen Butteries

This is part of a series on Scottish food. See more recipes here!

With Burns Night just behind us, this seems like an opportune moment to try another traditional Scottish recipe, and today I’ve turned my hand to rolls called Aberdeen Butteries (or Rowies) which originate from the North-East of Scotland. If you don’t know Aberdeen, it’s a coastal city where the buildings as made from glistening local stone giving it the nickname The Granite City, and it enjoys some of the most “bracing” winds and some of the chilliest beaches in the country!

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When I was young, there were two sorts of rolls in bakeries. Either the big, round, soft morning rolls, or these – flatter, heaving and a lot richer. Their texture was rather flaky, as the butter was folded in rather than being kneaded into the dough. And when I say “butter” what I actually mean is “lots and lots of butter”.

It is this slightly flaky character which has led people to refer to them as “rustic” or Scottish croissants. Now, I can see why you might make think to make that connection (it’s a yeasted dough to which layers of butter are added) but I don’t think the good burghers of Aberdeen would regard these as having too much in common with those fancy French thingies. Aberdeen Butteries are certainly a bit more robust, and I find them also much more savoury (certainly far saltier), without the sweetness of croissants. That, and they don’t have the delicate shape of croissants! In fact, the method for making them means that they tend not to be very photogenic. Unlike croissants or puff pastry, you don’t need to chill the dough between folding – just roll it out as large as you can, then spread with butter and fold – by the end of the process, there will be butter everywhere! I managed to make six large rolls, and perhaps two of them were presentable. All were delicious though!

Of course, by including all that butter and a good amount of salt, these are not an everyday treat, especially if you’re not spending your days tilling the land or manning a fish trawler. However, calls from a certain TV doctor to ban them sort of misses the point – they’re probably not amazing eaten every day, but as the occasional treat, why not? If you’re off for a day walking in the hills, then all that energy is going to serve you well.

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If you want to make these, they are great enjoyed while still warm, with some jam (no more butter needed!). Being Scottish, I think you want to eat them with something traditional – raspberry jam or thick-cut marmalade would do the trick.

To make Aberdeen Butteries:

Makes 12 small or 6 large

• 340g strong white flour
• 1 teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 240ml water
• 240g salted butter, softened

1. Make the dough. If using a machine, put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water into the bread machine, and run the dough cycle. If making by hand, combine the same ingredients in a bowl and knead until elastic. Leave somewhere warm, covered, until doubled in size.

2. In the meantime, cream the butter until smooth, and divide into four.

3. Roll the dough out to a large rectangle (go as large as you can). Take one-quarter of the butter, and spread over two-thirds of the dough. Fold the un-buttered part of the dough back on itself, then flip again. Repeat the process another three times until all the butter has been incorporated.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Cut the dough into twelve pieces, shape into rolls and lay on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Cover the rolls lightly in cling film, and leave somewhere warm until doubled in size.

5. Bake for around 15 minutes until golden.

Worth making? These have been on my to-do list for a while, and I’m happy to say they are super-easy and delicious. Just a note of caution – watch out for all that melted butter when they’re in the oven!

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Thistle Shortbread for Burns Night

Hoots! Tomorrow is Burns Night, the unofficial celebration of all things Scottish in general, and specifically the life and times of the national poet, Robert (Robbie) Burns. Up and down the land, people will enjoy traditional fare consisting of haggis, neeps and tatties (swede and potatoes). Simple stuff, but usually rounded off with a lot of whisky and followed with a poetry recital and some energetic Scottish folk dancing.

As part of all this national pride, I’ve made some shortbread tablets with that traditional Scottish icon, the thistle. I’ve actually seen this mould sold online as a pineapple (“the symbol of generosity”) but if you know Scotland and the Scots, I don’t think they’re know for their pineapples or their (financial) generosity. Hospitality yes, but don’t expect them to walk around dishing out five pound notes. They’re a bit more “canny” (shrewd) than that.

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I got rather into making moulded biscuits at Christmas, and I’ll admit that I got a bit cocky. I assumed that I had mastered using the smaller Springerle moulds, learning the knack of sprinkling flour onto the dough then pressing the mould into it. However, what works on a cookie this size of a domino fails rather dramatically when you make a large biscuit the size of a side plate. Instead, I had to go back to the instructions that came with the wooden mould, which directed me to press the dough into the well-floured mould, then whack it with quite some force onto the baking tray (“being careful not to break the mould”). Well, it was more farce than force, but after three attempts, it worked, and I got what seemed like a nice, sharp impression.

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I was keen to use a recipe that didn’t puff up in the oven. I like light shortbread, and while it can be nice if a little airy, when you’re making a moulded biscuit like this, you want to be sure that it will remain pin-sharp after baking. As you can see from the picture, the image is not incredibly sharp after baking, but I rather like the rustic look that they have. If things turn our too perfect, you may as well buy them.

There’s also a little superstition about shortbread tablets – it is said that if given as a gift, you need to make sure that they are presented whole, and never broken up. The reason for this is that the shortbread symbolises luck, so a whole tablet is good luck and a broken piece is like shattering the mirror in someone’s front room and then blaming the cat. Alright, this is not quite accurate – the tradition only applies when presenting a shortbread to a new bride just after her marriage, but I think it could hold true whoever the recipient is. It’s also fun to bring it to the table and give someone the honour of breaking it into pieces.

If shortbread’s not your thing, then there are a few other pieces of Scottish culinaria that you could try. On the drinks side, you’ve got time to magic up a batch of Atholl Brose, the preferred tipple of Queen Victoria when she was in the Highlands. It is made from oats, honey, cream and whisky, and has a flavour not unlike Bailey’s. I made it last year for Hogmanay and it went down well indeed.

If that is not your thing, you could try another Scottish dessert – fresh orange slices with their own juice, a little honey and a dash of whisky. Very simple, but wonderful and so welcome after a heavy meal! Alternatively, you could make cranachan (with oats, cream, raspberries and honey), Scottish macaroon bars (lots of sugar and, eh, potato), tooth-achingly sweet tablet or the famous Ecclefechan butter tart. If sweet things are not your thing, some savoury options are good old-fashioned oatcakes or clapshot (a tasty mixture of potato and turnip/swede). Go forth and explore the cuisine of Scotland!

Wishing you a Happy Burns Night 2013!

To make shortbread:

Makes 2 shortbreads

• 175g plain flour
• 50g cornflour
• 50g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
• 115g salted butter, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F). Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper (all the butter in the dough will ensure it does not stick, no need to grease).

2. Sift the flour, cornflour and sugar into a bowl. Add the butter and work with your fingertips until you have a soft dough. It will come together eventually. You can add a drop or two of water if you need to – but only a drop (and I didn’t use any).

3. Shape the dough – either press into a shortbread mould, or roll out and cut into fingers, or use biscuit cutters to shape the pieces. Place the shaped shortbread onto the baking sheet.

4. Bake until the shortbread a pale golden colour (around 40 minutes for a large pieces, smaller biscuits may cook in as little as 10 minutes). Remove from the oven, sprinkle with caster sugar, and leave to cool completely. Once cooled, shake off any excess sugar.

Worth making? This is a rich, short, simple biscuit which is one of the classics of Scottish baking. Lovely in small pieces after a meal or just with a cup of tea.

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Winter Slaw Salad

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been trying to empty the fridge and cupboards after the excesses of Christmas. This often prompts a strange array of dishes with a random festive ingredient, or what can seem like an endless supply of Clementine juice…and there is that stray jar of mincemeat that needs to be used up…somehow!

Today’s recipe addresses this, as it allows you to use up a few winter vegetables to make a colourful and healthy coleslaw salad, full of raw vegetables with lots of fibre, which makes for a comforting side dish. The sort of thing that works very well alongside baked potatoes with butter. It is, after all, snowing outside, and that’s not the sort of weather that you want to eat only cold raw veggies, is it?

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I have to fess up to the fact that I’ve seen a few versions of winter slaw around recently, so this is something of an amalgam of those ideas. However, I’ve made this recipe based on what I had in the cupboard (I’ve tended to buy very little since Christmas other than milk and bread!), and lends itself to endless tweaking based on what you have to hand. I’ve just used some red cabbage, Brussel sprouts, fennel, carrot and apple, and the sauce is made from mayo and sour cream that has been enlivened with some spicy harissa paste and allspice. Sometimes just going with what you have to hand is a great way to come up with exciting flavour combinations. But you might just want to stop short of crumbling some left-over Christmas pudding on top, eh? The only thing I would suggest you make sure you do is to shred the veg as finely as you can – it means all the sauce will get mopped up, and of course it looks all the more dramatic on the table. If you want to go even further, top with some chopped fresh herbs (dill being a bit of a seasonal favourite at the moment) or some chopped toasted almonds or pistachios.

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To make winter slaw:

For the slaw:

• 1/2 small red cabbage
• 1 small fennel bulb
• 2 large carrots
• handful of Brussel sprouts
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 lemon, juice only

For the sauce:

• 2 large tablespoons mayonnaise
2 large tablespoons sour cream
• 1/4 teaspoon harissa or chilli paste

• squeeze runny honey
• 1/2 teaspoons mustard
• 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
• 1/8 teaspoon allspice
• pinch ground mace
• salt and pepper, to taste

1. Start with the sauce – put everything into a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.

2. Prepare the slaw – put the olive oil and lemon in a large bowl (you’ll add the vegetables as you go, and tossing in the lemon juice will stop them from getting brown). Peel the carrots, then use the peeler to slice the carrots into thin pieces. Trim the fennel and cut lengthways into very thin pieces. Peel and core the apple and finely slice. Peel the sprouts and shred. Last of all, finely shred the cabbage as thinly as you can. Put everything into a large bowl with the olive oil and lemon juice, and toss gently to ensure the vegetables are coated.

3. Just before serving, pour the sauce over the slaw and toss gently to make sure all the vegetables are coated.

Worth making? Nice and easy, and a great way to use up a glut of veg. The sauce is the place where you can get very creative – allowing you to make sure the slaw sits well with other dishes.

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Candied Pomelo

Are you familiar with the pomelo? If not, you probably just recognise it as a large citrus fruit, about the size of a large cabbage, that you may have seen in Asian greengrocers. The sort of fruit that looks interesting, intriguing, tantalising…but you just don’t quite know what to do with it.

Well, I finally got round to buying a pomelo and doing something with it. It seems that candied pomelo peel is a thing. So I set off on my way. I cut the thing open and spent ages picking out the flesh from the central segments. I expected it to be a juicy, messy, sticky affair, but it was actually quite easy – the membranes come away from the juicy parts, leaving a large bowl of pretty much intact pomelo flesh. I did this in the morning, so was able to sit down to to a bowl of what I expected to taste like grapefruit. I was all set for something sweet but tart and slightly bitter, but here was the first surprise – it doesn’t taste as you expect. Indeed, pomelo is sweet – sure, there is a hint of sweet grapefruit in there, but it certainly is not bitter, even if it doesn’t have the sugary hit that you would get with orange juice. I can see how this works in some savoury dishes too, where you want something to add a citrus tang, but without adding to much moisture or excessive sweetness.

Once the edible parts of the pomelo had been finished off (providing a welcome shot of vitamin C and fibre in these dark, snowy days), I set to actual preserving the peel. It’s a case of removing the white pith to leave the yellow peel, then boiling the peel a few times in clean water to remove any residual bitterness, before cooking the lot in sugar syrup until all the water has gone and the sugar end up in the peel. And it looks something like this:

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As you can see, I left the peel in quite wide strips with pointed ends. It makes it look rather dramatic when compared with the thin strips of candied peel you usually see.

The flavour of this candied peel is also stronger than the stuff you can buy (which is always the much-hoped-for perk of making something at home) and I think that pomelo peel is probably best enjoyed as a single flavour, for example, in a cake. You can use the same technique to preserve orange peel, which is of course fantastic when paired with dark chocolate, but I suspect pomelo doesn’t want to get involved in all that tempering-and-dipping business.

And finally, for fun, I presented it in a glass. Looks a little bit like the crown of Jadis the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia, don’t you think?

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To make candied pomelo:

Makes 30-40 pieces

• 1 pomelo
• 300ml cold water
• 200g white sugar

1. Cut the peel from the pomelo. Remove as much of the white pith from the pomelo peel as you can. Slice the pomelo peel into strips of about 1cm (1/2 inch).

2. Put the strips into a saucepan of hot water. Boil for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water. Squeeze out as much water as you can. Repeat this process at least four times – this should remove any bitterness from the peel.

3. Put the no-long-bitter pomelo peel, cold water and sugar into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then simmer on a very low heat for around an hour until the peel looks translucent and the syrup has been absorbed by the peel.

4. Transfer the peel to a wire tray to cool. If desired, roll each piece of peel in caster sugar (this will give is a sparkling appearance). Leave to dry – if you want to hurry things along, place the rack on a tray in the oven at the very lowest temperature you can (around 50°C). You want to dry the peel, not cook it.

5. Store the peel in an airtight container and enjoy as and when you want!

Worth making? This is a fun thing to do with citrus peel if you have some spare – it doesn’t need to be pomelo – and can then be used in all manner of culinary delights.

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Beetroot Caviar

New Year, new challenges. And strange as it may sound, I am intrigued by the idea of caviar. It is one of those foods that are seen as impossibly glamorous and thus very expensive, and things like amber salmon roe do look pretty. However, I am also not that into the idea of even trying it – I mean, it’s basically fish eggs! Yuk…

That aside, I recently came across an intriguing technique  that allows you to make small spheres out of pretty much anything by using like (see here). Basically you just mix agar agar with your liquid of choice, then allow it to cool, fill a pipette, and let drops fall into a tall glass of chilled vegetable oil. At this point, chemistry and physics take over. As the droplets are denser than the oil, they sink to the bottom of the glass. The almost-set agar solution coupled with the chilled oil means that the droplets set, and you end up with a glass filled with lots and lots of little spheres. As the oil also acts to prevent all the spheres lumping together into a single mass, you end up with something that looks pretty amazing indeed. In my case, I used beetroot juice, and ended up with a mass of garnet-like pearls.

I used this technique at a recent dinner to make canapés – I used small Dutch buckwheat pancakes (poffertjes) as blinis, added some of the beet caviar, then topped at the last minute with sour cream and dill. I think they looked rather jolly, and they were certainly something unexpected from a vegetarian kitchen!

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This technique looks a little like the molecular gastronomy technique of mixing liquids and powers to produce liquid pearls that burst on the tongue, but it’s great for the novice like me, as the use of agar agar makes the process easier, and the result is more robust – as the spheres are made from a gel, they can happily be rinsed, moved around and even stored until the next day.

As an aside, I’ve tried using the more “scientific” approach to spherification using sodium alginate and calcium lactate. It was a disaster. I had grand plans to present a spoon with pearls of Swedish akvavit topped with dill as a palate cleanser during a dinner. Great in theory, but I used the wrong powders in the wrong order, and the whole lot ended up as a bit of a mess in a bowl, and I managed to achieve little other than wasting some perfectly good akvavit. I doubt I’ll be trying that technique again…

My approach might be a bit more low-tech, but it works for me and I love the result. I think I’ll be inflicting fake caviar in various guises on various people for the foreseeable future. However, I’ve learned a couple of things that are worth keeping in mind.

First, what flavour are you going for? You’re not going to be consuming these spheres in huge quantities, so it’s worth going for ingredients that offer a bit of a flavour hit. Remember that the agar agar makes a gel rather than holding a liquid, so you won’t get a pop and a burst of something as you might get with molecular gastronomy techniques. If a flavour is mild, you might want to allow it to concentrate down before use. You may also want to think about the oil you use – I opted for flavourless sunflower oil, but olive oil might be a good idea if you want that flavour to come across in whatever dish you are making.

Next, how much agar agar should you use? I tried this with half a teaspoon per half-cup of liquid, and you get very soft spheres. I found that one teaspoon of flakes worked better (note – flakes, not powder!). However, while these were more robust, they still went ever so slightly out of shape when left overnight in the fridge. I didn’t mind, but if you really want spheres that hold their shape, you might even want to increase the amount of agar agar you use.

Finally, think about colour. I used pure beetroot juice, which does make the most wonderful deep ruby-red spheres. However, if you go for something this intense, remember that the colour of the juice will affect other ingredients, so be warned that if you want to put this on top of blinis with sour cream, the tell-tale beetroot pink colour will start to appear after a few minutes. However, you may prefer to go for lighter hues so that they catch the light. Whatever you prefer!

To make beetroot caviar:

• vegetable oil
• 120ml beetroot juice (or other liquid)
• 1 teaspoon agar agar flakes

1. Fill a tall glass with vegetable oil. Chill in the freezer for around 40 minutes.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the juice and the agar agar flakes. Bring to the boil, whisking occasionally, then boil for two minutes. Remove from the heat, take the oil from the freezer, and allow the agar agar mixture to cool to just lukewarm but still liquid.

3. Using a pipette, allow drops of the liquid to fall into the chilled oil. They will sink and form spheres! (If the agar agar mixture gets too thick, you will need to re-boil the liquid. If you just use the liquid as it gets thick, the resulting spheres will be too fragile).

4. Remove the spheres with a spoon, or pour everything through a sieve. Use however you want! You can save the oil and re-use for cooking or more spherification.

Worth making? This is a really fun challenge to try your hand at in the kitchen. There is an element of trial-and-error in getting quantities to work if you’ve got something specific in mind, but the results are superb and allow you to make some really smart-looking dishes.

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