Perfect Shortbread (and a pretty sunset)


I didn’t used to be good at making shortbread.  Sure, I could whip up a decent base for Strawberry Shortcake or Millionaire’s Shortbread but I had never produced a biscuit that I thought was good enough to eat unembellished with a strong cup of tea.  This had to change once I had accepted the invitation to teach a Scottish cookery course in the USA, of course.  Scotland = shortbread,

So I tried out some recipes.  A LOT of recipes.  Recipes from books, from blogs, from friends and from family and, though some of the latter ones were hugely successful in those individuals’ hands, they just didn’t work for me.  And then I tried The Three Chimney’s recipe.

For those of you who don’t know, The Three Chimney’s is a restaurant on the west coast of Skye (pics of Skye here and here).  I’ve only eaten there once and, having gone for the 9 course tasting menu plus matching wine flight, it almost bankrupt us.  Totally worth it though!  The food was amazing, the restaurant is beautiful, the service friendly and helpful,  and after 5 hours of wining and dining, I left feeling like the large amount of money we had spent had been a bargain.

Now I don’t remember if I had the shortbread when I ate at the restaurant but my lovely Aunt Anne gifted me the cookbook last year and it was here I found the Three Chimney’s recipe.  And it was perfect.  Delicate, melting, buttery and not too sweet.

I can’t, in all good conscience, reproduce the recipe here as I didn’t alter a single thing.  You can find it here, however.

Try it; you won’t regret it.

Stovies

I am rather particular when it comes to stovies.  Sometimes when we’re out for a walk on a chilly day, we’ll stop in at a pub for some lunch.  If there are stovies on the menu (a hearty Scots dish of potatoes slowly cooked with dripping and onion), I’m always tempted to order them.  They are perfect cold weather fodder.  Problem is some folk have funny ideas about what makes stovies and, more often than not, I’m disappointed by what I’m served.

Now, these “folk” with their “funny ideas” do, admittedly, tend to simply be from areas of Scotland other than Aberdeen.  Usually, I’m all for regional variations, variety being the spice of life and whatnot.  But, really, who puts sausages in stovies??

Stovies should be moist but not runny.  The potatoes should be sliced thickly and disintegrating, not chunky or mashed.  And the meat, the meat should be shredded beef or lamb; it should not be chicken or corned beef or – splutter – sausages.  Finally, stovies should be served with oatcakes and beetroot.

Do stovies this way and you’re doing them right.  :)

Stovies (to be made the day after a roast dinner)

(serves 4)

2 tblspn dripping or butter

3 onions, sliced thickly

800g floury potatoes, peeled and sliced 1cm thick

100-200g leftover meat, shredded (lamb or beef)

2 tblspn meat jelly

1/2 cup of lamb or beef stock 

Salt and pepper

  • In a heavy based pan, fry the onions in the fat until soft and just starting to turn golden.  Remove pan from heat and pour onion and fat into a bowl.
  • Build layers of potatoes, onion/fat and meat, adding a little sprinkle of salt and pepper each time.  Once all the potato etc has been layered add the stock and meat jelly and place back on the heat.
  • Heat until the liquid starts to boil then reduce heat to low, place lid on the pan and cook gently for an hour.  Check occasionally to make sure they haven’t dried out and add a splash more stock if they look like they might.
  • Serve with oatcakes and fresh or pickled beetroot.

Selkirk Bannock

Selkirk is a town somewhere in the Scottish Borders.  I’m not entirely sure where.  I’ve heard it’s lovely but I’ve never been there and I know only two things about it.  1.)  It’s the home-town of my friend and the artist who designed my banner, Faye Anderson.  She’s an extremely talented artist.  Animal lovers, you may want to check out her work here.  And 2.) I have this town to thank for my favourite tea loaf.

Selkirk Bannocks are enormous fruit loaves which were traditionally made with leftover bread dough.  In Scotland (and possibly the rest of the UK?) we call this type of enriched, sweet bread a “tea loaf”.   I’m guessing this is because a slice of this spread with butter or jam or both would typically be eaten with a cup of tea mid-morning or afternoon.   It makes a lovely breakfast too though.

I tend to make a smaller loaf than is traditional as there are only two of us in the house.  That said, it keeps well for a couple of days and can be eaten toasted for a good few days after that.

Selkirk Bannock

450g bread flour

Pinch of salt

1 tspn dried active yeast 

30g caster sugar

250ml luke warm milk

75g butter, cut into cubes and softened

200g sultanas

1 small egg, beaten

  • Add the yeast and sugar to the warm milk and stir.  Leave for 15 mins until yeast froths slightly.
  • Meanwhile, add flour and salt to a large bowl.
  • Stir the yeasty milk into the flour and stir to form a sticky dough.  Knead well for 10 mins adding a little more flour if necessary.
  • Place dough in an oiled bowl and leave to rise in a warm place for at least an hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  • Remove dough from the bowl and pull out into a flat shape.  Gradually add a little of the butter and some of the sultanas and knead through thoroughly.  Repeat until all the butter has been amalgamated and the sultanas and evenly spread through the dough. This is a sticky, greasy process.  It does amalgamate eventually, I promise!
  • Shape dough into a ball and place on a floured baking sheet.  Cover with a big bowl that won’t touch the dough and leave in a warm place to double in size again.
  • Meanwhile heat the oven to 180oC.
  • When dough is risen, brush generously with the egg glaze.  Place in the oven and bake for 45 mins or until golden all over and hollow sounding.
  • Cool and serve sliced and smeared with butter and/or jam.