Tag Archives: treacle

Scottish Food: Parlies (after a fashion…)

Hoots! Tonight is Burns Night, the official 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 if you’ve managed to moderate the whisky intake.

I’ve been looking around for an interesting Scottish recipe, and from time to time I’ve seen a reference to biscuits called “parlies”. I must admit that parlies are not something that feature in my knowledge of Scottish baking, and it seems that I’m not alone. Most people think about shortbread and Ecclefechan tarts, perhaps with the occasional empire biscuit thrown in there, but parlies don’t feature much on blogs. So when it came to making these mysterious “parlies” I was pretty much guessing how they would turn out.

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Before I get to the baking, a little history lesson is helpful. The name parlies come from the word “parliament”, and they are also known as Scottish parliament cakes. The story goes that these ginger biscuits were purchased by the members of the original (pre-1707) Scottish Parliament from a tavern on Potterrow behind the University run by a Mrs Flockhart (who was also know as “Luckie Fykie”) , and were enjoyed with a tot of whisky. Parlies themselves were square in shape, and she also sold “snaps” which were round. In fact, you can read more about her in this extract from Traditions of Edinburgh written by Robert Chalmers in 1825. The title pages explain that it concerns itself with “conspicuous characters of the last century” and promises “the old-town ladies of quality”, which I can assume only refers to how they ran their hostelries. But remarkably, this book talks about her, the location of her tavern, and there is even a reference to parlies in there! However, I have not yet found a source that confirms whether these were enjoyed by any particular side of the house or they enjoyed cross-party appeal.

Armed with this knowledge, I knew that I was making some sort of ginger biscuit. I like ginger, so that was a plus. But what I quickly realised is that there is no one single way to make them. Given they seem to be at the very edges of the national baking consciousness, there is no single ideal to bake towards. Eeek! I knew what this meant – I might be facing baking failure, and I might end up in one of those kitchen frenzies when I’m trying recipe after recipe to get something that I deem acceptable. Yes, that happens sometimes!

All recipes I was able to track down used brown sugar, butter, flour, ginger and black treacle in varying quantities. Some used egg, others didn’t. There were also different ways to make them – some involved melting the butter, some involved the creaming method. While I am far from a baking expert, I knew this risked differing results. There was also a dearth of raising agents in the recipes I managed to find, which did make sense as the original parlies first popped up at a time when there was no baking powder, and other raising agents might have been hard to come by.

I bit the bullet and started with a recipe that involved mixing up the dry ingredients, then adding melted butter and an egg to make the dough, but with no raising agent. The dough looked good – it was fairly stiff, and once chilled it could be easily rolled into balls, then flattened and baked. I even added a criss-cross pattern with a fork, which provided a sort of portcullis look on the top of them. While they looked pretty good, and the flavour was decent, the lack of raising agent meant that they were thick and tough – these were not going to melt in the mouth, and I doubt that soaking them in tea or whisky would help soften them. Next!

My second attempt used the creaming method – whipping the butter and sugar, then mixing in the egg before adding the flour, ginger and treacle. This time the mixture seemed lighter and softer, and I assumed that the air I had beaten into it would mean that this batch would come out crisp and light. Well, nope. The spoonful of dough just baked into an unappealling lump of brown. I did try to rescue the dough with a spoonful of golden syrup and a teaspoon of baking soda, but the result looked horrible, and managed to taste worse than it looked. Next!

By my third attempt, I realised that since I had no clue what I was actually aiming for, I should go back to what I know about ginger biscuits. The mixture reminded me of gingernuts, but without any raising agent. I felt that the lack of anything to give them a lift might have been authentic, but it was also grim, and we live in a modern world where we don’t need to eat grim biscuits. I needed something for lift, and decided on baking soda. So my version of parlies are actually gingernuts, but with the sweet golden syrup replaced with the dark, spicy and tangy black treacle, and a bit of chopped cyrstallised ginger for extra spice.

This time, they worked like a dream – just mix all the dry ingredients, work in the butter, then add the treacle. The dough is easy to work and roll into balls, and in the oven, then collapse, take on an attractive random cracked appearance. Once cool, they are light and crisp. Perfect!

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So there you have it – my take on parlies! They might not be authentic, but I like to think that Mrs Flockhart might have approved (she did sell the round ones too, after all!). And I think they make a passable attempt and the black treacle is a definite nod to the original, and it adds an interesting flavour to them. If you’re not a fan of black treacle, you could use sweeter molasses, or if you like things very sugary, just use golden syrup and call them gingernuts. That still sounds rather Scottish, doesn’t it?

To make parlies (makes 20):

• 110g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 40g soft brown sugar
• 50g butter
• 1 teaspoon candied ginger, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons (50g) black treacle or molasses

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the flour, baking soda and ground ginger in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, then rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the chopped ginger.

3. Add the treacle and mix to a stiff dough.

4. Divide into 20 pieces (roll into a sausage of 20cm, the cut into 1cm pieces). Roll each piece into a ball, then place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly. They will spread out, so leave plenty space between them. It is easier to bake them in batches.

5. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the cookies have spread out and have a cracked appearance. They will be soft when they come out of the oven, but will go hard once cooled.

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Royal Baby: Gingerbread Acorn Biscuits

More on the theme of the royal baby, I’m afraid! Normal summer food will resume next week, but for the moment, we’ll still share in the national joy of the arrival of HRH Prince George of Cambridge.

Clearly a lot of people have decided to mark the event in various forms of cute cakes (myself included). So what else could I come up with that was interesting but not too twee or obvious. Cupcakes? Done. Cake pops? Not a fan. Macarons? Hmmm….

Then it came to me – what about gingerbread? Very traditional biscuits, with their rich spiciness said to have medicinal and healing properties. During the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth I, gingerbread figures covered in gold leaf would be presented to court visitors, so these biscuits also have royal pedigree. I also tweaked my spices by adding some aniseed, given its traditional association with new births. I also happened to have a rather nifty acorn cookie press, symbolising both new life (from little acorns mighty oaks do grow…) as well as the family crest of the Duchess of Cambridge’s family. With that, a perfect idea was born!

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Never one to do things by halves, I’ve had a go at two different sorts of gingerbread biscuits (and no, this time there was no pink version just in case…). First is one darker gingerbread, which is vegan. Cocoa and treacle give them a rich, deep colour.

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The lighter gingerbread is made in the more traditional way – lots of butter and syrup, as well as generous amounts of ground ginger. Both recipes are below so you can choose the one that you prefer.

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While these look very different from what you might usually associate with a new baby (being neither pale pink nor baby blue), I think they are rather striking. The flavour is also superb – they have a real depth of flavour from the spices and treacle but not too sweet.

Some tips for baking – the darker gingerbread uses oil, so it’s important to make sure it is very fresh and light-tasting. If it’s been lurking in the cupboard for a while, you’ll find that it affects the flavour of the finished gingerbread (or play it safe and use melted butter). I also found that the biscuits kept their shape better if they were put into the freezer for 10 minutes before baking. It’s not vital, but it seems to help make the details a little sharper. Finally, you can give these gingerbreads a nifty scalloped edge using a fluted cutter – I think the finished effect looks something like medallions.

If you’re keen to have a go at these biscuits and want to get presses of your own, you can buy them online from House on the Hill here.

To make light gingerbread medallions:

• 500g plain flour
• 4 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoons baking soda
• 225g butter
• 170g soft brown sugar
• 1 large egg
• 120ml golden syrup
• 2 tablespoons black treacle

1. Sift the flour, spices, salt and baking soda into a large bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until soft and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, then the syrup and treacle.

3. Add the flour mixture to the butter and mix to a soft dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

5. Take slices of the chilled dough and place on a lightly floured worktop. Roll out to around 1 1/2cm thick, then dust the top lightly with flour and press the mould into the dough. Use a fluted cutter to give the gingerbread a fluted edge. Transfer each to the baking sheet as you go.

6. Bake the biscuits in batches of 12 – they will take around 10-12 minutes to bake, until they are just golden at the edges (you may need more or less time depending on size so you might want to experiment with the first couple of biscuits).

7. When baked, allow the gingerbreads to cool for a minute, then transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.

To make dark gingerbread medallions (from House on the Hill):

• 325 cups plain flour
• 50g cocoa powder
• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 100g soft brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed
• 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 120ml vegetable oil

• 120ml treacle
• 120ml golden syrup
• 2 tablespoons water

1. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a large bowl. Sift to ensure everything is properly combined.

2. In a bowl, stir the treacle, golden syrup, oil and water until smooth. It doesn’t look it, but it will come together and turn smooth.

3. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, mixing well until you have a solid dough. Add a few drops of water if necessary. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate overnight.

4. The next day, preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

5. Take slices of the chilled dough and place on a lightly floured worktop. Roll out to around 1 1/2cm thick, then dust the top lightly with flour and press the mould into the dough. Use a fluted cutter to give the gingerbread a fluted edge. Transfer each to the baking sheet as you go.

6. Bake the biscuits in batches of 12 – they will take around 10-12 minutes to bake, until they are slightly puffed (you may need more or less time depending on size so you might want to experiment with the first couple of biscuits).

7. When baked, allow the gingerbreads to cool for a minute, then transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.

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Fourth of July: Boston Baked Beans

Today it’s the Fourth of July – so let’s make something traditionally American, the good old-fashioned Boston Baked Beans!

Well, I say “good old-fashioned” but actually, I don’t know very much about them other than I like their name, so I thought it was about time to give them a bash. And a recipe from The Well-Cooked Life looked just perfect.

I know some people get terribly snobbish about baked beans and don’t like the tinned ones, but I’m not one of them. One of life’s greatest pleasures is a Saturday morning involving toast covered in cheese, grilled and then topped with baked beans. Delish.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea of making beans from scratch that had a bit more pep to them. A few minutes on Google told me that they are normally made with salted pork and molasses, so you’ve got a powerful savoury/salty yet sweet flavour. Clearly the pork was not going to happen in my case, so I added a bit of soy sauce instead to get more “savoury” than just salt would contribute. The other ingredients also promised something rather grand – lots of spices, hotness from sambal (my preferred way of adding heat to a dish), sweetness from molasses and fried onions and sharpness from some cider vinegar.

Boston Baked Beans are also a complete doddle to make, albeit a little planning is needed to make sure that the beans are properly soaked and cooked, but it’s mainly a case of soak, boil beans, mix sauce, bake.

One little wrinkle that affected my beans – I didn’t have dinky little beans (like you get from the tinned ones) so I used the ones I had in my cupboard, which were crab-eye beans. They were a little larger, and stayed a little firmer when cooked. They were still delicious, but when I make these again, I’ll be using the smaller beans in the future.

What you do need to be prepared for is that these beans are not a neon orange hue – all that molasses or treacle makes the sauce a rich red-brown colour. However, the flavour is completely, totally, utterly sensational. The sum is greater than the individual parts – and actually, that makes this a rather fitting dish for Fourth of July.

To make vegetarian Boston Baked Beans (adapted from here):

• 350g beans
• water
• 3 tablespoons oil
• 1 clove garlic, chopped
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 white onions, chopped
• 2 heaped teaspoons paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 2 large pinches ground cloves
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• 2 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
• 1 teaspoon of chili or sambal
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 240ml treacle or molasses

• 120ml cider vinegar

1. Soak the beans overnight in cold water.

2. The next day, cook the beans according to instructions on the packet (how long you boil and simmer depends on the type). When cooked, drain the beans.

3. In the meantime, make the sauce. Fry the onions in the oil until golden. Add the garlic, cook briefly, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Mix the cooked beans and the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

5. Pour the beans into an ovenproof dish. Cover and bake in the oven at 160°C (320°F) for 2-3 hours until the sauce is thick and the beans are soft. If the beans get too dry, top up the water.

Worth making? This is a complete flavour explosion, and utterly delicious. The basic recipe should appeal to most tastes, and you can tweak and adjust the spices to suit what you like. Definitely worth having a go at.

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Halloween II: Treacle Scones

Like anything Halloween-themed, there needs to be a sequel!

So today, I’ve been thinking about Halloween traditions – what are yours? Dressing up as a cat, a skeleton, a sexy shepherdess (yes, I have seen “Little Ho Peep” offered in a central London costume store…’nuff said!) or a vampire? Maybe you like to smile and ask for sweets, or prefer to run around and threaten strangers with a good pelting of eggs if they don’t dish out the sugary stuff?

Well, here is a little flavour of what we traditionally got up to in Scotland. First, and at the risk of sounding like a bad Blackadder sketch, we didn’t carve pumpkins, we carved turnips. Yes, turnip lanterns. And you know what? I really like them. They look much more like odd little goblins. Pumpkins look cute, but turnips actually look much more fitting for Halloween.

In fact, these may be the ancestors of the carved pumpkin. This was apparently a Celtic tradition to ward off evil spirits in late autumn. When those hardy Celts from Ireland and Scotland ended up in America, you can imagine that this tradition was easily applied to pumpkins, and a new tradition (and Halloween as most of us know it) was born. Surprisingly, they throw out the most amazing golden light, so you can see why people thought there was something magical about doing this.

Next, the idea of “trick or treat” was quite novel to me. Up north, we called it “guising” and the idea was children would dress up in a disguise. Guisers would go door to door and perform a party piece – sing a song or tell jokes – and you would get some nuts or pieces of fruit (oranges or apples – very healthy!). Inevitably, the attraction of sweets without the need to earn it has seen trick-or-treat take off…

And finally, we used to have treacle scones! I’m going to stick my neck out here and guess that unless you are from Scotland, you’ve never heard of this before, but of course it’s pretty easy to to guess what this involes…or at least most of this will be clear. You take a scone, cut it in half, spread each half with treacle…

…then you tie it to a string to eat it! Alright, so this final step is one for the brave, the willing and the foolish. And as you can imagine, it gets pretty messy very quickly. The sticky scone will swing back and forth, hitting you in the face and making sure you are well-covered in treacle.

You can make this even more fun by tying a string across the room, and then hanging the individual scones on other pieces of string from the main rope – the effect of this is that any swinging effect is amplified, making it more fun and increasing messiness by around 150% (note: no actual reasearch into messiness levels has been undertaken). It is, however, rather advisable to keep a damp cloth to hand, and make sure you do this either above a wooden or tile floor, or put down lots of newspapers. Treacle and cream carpets tend not to go too well with each other.

Just a note if you do decide to give this a try – tie up the scones first, then put on some treacle just before the games begin. It turns out to be rather difficult to tie up a sticky scone…

When I revisited this tradition, I did a little thinking about what to put on them. Was pure treacle the best thing to use? Well, I tried it straight up – the proper black-as-tar stuff that comes in the traditional Lyles tin.

I have to admit, it is pretty strong and actually it was not all that much fun. So I did a little experimentation, and worked out that you actually want to have a mixture of one part treacle to one or two parts lovely golden syrup. This gives you all the spiciness and complexity from the treacle (it’s surprisingly like liquorice when you mix it), but the taste is milder and is likely to prove more popular with kids. If you’re feeling very ambitious and want something that is a little less like a syrup and more like a caramel, add a little melted butter and a pinch of salt. But I assure you, it all end up in a giant sticky mess whatever you do!

That, and many a Scottish granny would frown on such frivolity when good old-fashioned treacle would do!

Happy Halloween!

To make treacle scones (makes 6 large or 12 small scones):

• 275g self-raising flour
• 75g butter
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 egg, beaten
• 125ml milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Rub together the flour, baking powder and butter until it resembles rough breadcrumbs.

Mix the egg and milk, and add to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined – be careful not to over-mix. It will be quite soft and wet.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll out to around 2 cm thick. Use a cutter to form the scones. Place on a well-floured baking sheet a few inches apart and brush the tops with a little milk.

Bake for around 15 minutes until the scones are risen and golden.

Serve the scones with butter, jam and honey, or with a side of treacle or 50/50 treacle mixed with golden syrup.

Worth making? This is a super basic scone recipe. But go on – there is a part of you that really wants to try eating them, covered in syrup, hanging from a string. You know you do.

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Swedish Limpa Bread

I’ve blogged about the freezing winter weather we had recently, but I can honestly say that it was nothing compared to the average Swedish winter I lived through a few years ago when I lived in Stockholm. That was much colder, but I think the real difference was the fact that Swedes embraced the cold weather as a fact of life, and were both prepared for it and got on with things. So we’ve just passed Easter and it’s still freezing…

So the point of all this is that when I was in Stockholm (a beautiful city which I really recommend visiting), I also developed a real soft spot for Swedish food. I like the simple savoury salads with dill, fresh vegetables in summer, wonderful dairy produce (such as filmjölk, a type of thin yoghurt) and their cinnamon-cardamom buns. On of my favourites was a bread called limpa which is made with rye, syrup and sometimes filmjölk, as well as spices. Even with the syrup, this bread still works very well for savoury open sandwiches or as a companion to a spicy soup. Making it is also a pleasure – once you’ve put the orange peel and crushed spices in a bowl, the aroma is wonderfully fresh. Plus, this is a nice chance to post about something other than sweets and cakes.

For the limpa loaf:

• 220g  plain flour
• 60g rye flour
• 1 package dry yeast
• 1 tablespoon dark sugar
• 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds
• pinch ground star anise
• 125ml water
• 60ml low-fat yoghurt yogurt
• 3 tablespoons black treacle or molasses
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Mix the flours, yeast, sugar, orange peel, salt, crushed seeds and star anise in a large bowl.

Add the water, yoghurt, butter and three spoons of treacle to a saucepan and cook until the butter melts. Add the coffee granules and stir well.

Now pour the warm liquid into the dry ingredients, and start to combine. The mixture will can be very sticky, so if this happens, add more flour to get the mixture but we do not want a ball to form – if this happens, you added too much flour and the loaf will be dry. Knead for around 7-8 minutes until elastic.

Lightly oil a large bowl and put the dough in it, covering with a damp teacloth. Leave somewhere warm for 1-2 hours until almost doubled in size.

Next, punch down the dough, roll out to a rectangle in a floured surface, and then roll up the dough like a swiss role. Tuck the ends underneath the roll, and place into a lightly oiled bread tin. Leave the loaf somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size.

In the meantime, set the oven to 175°C. Once the loaf has risen, bake for 40-45 minutes. If you want to, after 20 minutes,  brush to top of the loaf with diluted treacle (50-50 treacle and water), and repeat 10 minutes later.

Once the loaf is cooked, allow it to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Worth making again? This is not the sort of loaf that you would have for everyday use (for example, it doesn’t work too well in a bread machine), but it is nice from time to time when you have a spare morning and don’t mind coming back to it. I probably do this three or four times per year. The taste is quite unusual – the spices and orange make it aromatic, and there is a sweetness to it that isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I find it goes well with cheese in sandwiches. Or go the whole hog and make a smörgås (Swedish open sandwich) with cheese, dill and pickles.

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