Teacakes: Homage to Tunnock’s – festive or otherwise

Teacakes, of the marshmallow and chocolate variety, may not appear to be the most obvious choice for a festive post.  Pimped up appropriately however, they can become so, lending themselves quite obviously to the form of a Christmas pud.

I am attempting to redeem myself having almost entirely missed the opportunity for a festive post.  Storms have resulted in no broadband for 6 days and hence an enforced break from blogging over the festive period, ironically, the first time in months I have had more time to prepare food and post than usual.  So, belated Merry Christmas to all those who sent good wishes, sorry I have been slow to reciprocate.

Festive challenges

The storms here, as elsewhere in the country have had considerable impacts.  We were very fortunate not to lose power on Christmas day, and the Christmas Eve storm was not quite as fierce as it was forecast to be. We also had a turkey-cooking contingency plan.  A friend kindly offered a gas oven should the power go off which thankfully it did not, other than for a couple of minutes.  That said, it was windy enough to affect the radio signal.  We spent Christmas day without broadband, our phone line still is not working and to top it all off, no radio signal.  We felt disappointed not to be able to communicate with friends and family freely, or to listen to Radio 4, as we enjoy doing, on Christmas Day.

That said, our issues felt trivial compared with those unfortunates in the south of England with no power, properties and possessions ruined by flooding and no certainty of when normality may return, with further unsettled weather forecast and flood warnings in place. This really put our minor issues in perspective and our thoughts were with people who will have had a very unpleasant Christmas.

For us, Christmas, in all honesty is no biggie, although we do enjoy the relaxation, chance to catch up with friends and family (although many are dispersed and far away) and indulge.  I know, it is a bit bah humbug, but I cannot help but reflect on the fact that for many people, Christmas is a very difficult time.  This is especially the case for those who have suffered loss or whose loved ones are missing. Many people are not surrounded by family and friends but spend Christmas isolated and lonely.  This must be amplified for many by the general media portrayal of the cliched scenario that Christmas Day is all about multiple generations of family coming together to harmoniously and joyously celebrate around a table groaning with food.  I commend Radio 4 and Channel 4 for reflective coverage of the more difficult but realistic side of this time of year for many people. This year, I have lost my Uncle, a friend, a neighbour (another friend) and, sadly, last week, a work colleague. My thoughts are with those most affected by these losses. Much as I am not at all prone to nostalgia, I will certainly not be looking back on 2013 fondly, and look forward positively to what 2014 may bring. And so, back to food….

A seasonal food summary

While it may be a bit late now to recount in full those seasonally appropriate recipes here, I summarise. Christmas Day was straightforward and traditional.  We enjoyed Eggs Benedict with parma ham on homemade muffins for brunch.  Canapés included slices from a side of local peat smoke roasted salmon we purchased from the Hebridean smokehouse, conveniently only 2 miles from the house. A bit of luxury and well worth it. We also enjoyed goose rillettes, made from confit wild greylag goose legs, another local luxury which only cost me my time to prepare.

Dinner was traditional – local turkey and all the trimmings.  We still enjoy an annual Christmas turkey, something we very much missed when we were vegetarians. Turkey seems to be a bit passé just now, with goose or capon trending, but we regularly eat wild goose, so a free range very local turkey from our neighbour was a much bigger treat. Literally. Dessert was a simple refreshing orange panna cotta with a sharp blackcurrant compote, made during the summer fruit glut and kept in reserve for mid winter.

Dinner was a relaxing affair, but for the point half way through the meal when we turned round to see the Christmas tree lights flicker and a cascade of smoke drifting upwards from a melting light housing on the tree! The Man Named Sous took quick action to unplug the tree and avert disaster. Phew! A new set of lights required for next year.

On the baking front, I made good old traditional mince pies, topped with almonds and frangipane, filled with homemade vegetarian mincemeat I made back in November. The frangipane topping idea is courtesy of Richard Bertinet, the recipe can be found here. The pastry was wonderfully crisp and thin. These mince pies were devoured hot from the oven by our ever eager visiting musician friends just before Christmas.

mince pies 1

mince pies 2

mince pies 3

Stollen also featured, currently trending as the seasonal cake of choice this year.  It was reassuringly solid, about the weight of a breeze block, an indication of its authenticity. It was also delicious with a swirl of marzipan, added non-traditional cranberries and a good hit of ground cloves and nutmeg. This was a gift for a friend and stollen aficionado, and was well received. This was Mr Hollywood’s Christmas GBBO stollen recipe. Darwin also assists as a prop in the photo, looking longingly at the stollen.


Tunnock’s Teacakes – legendary Scottish product

Finally, a more quirky offering as a tribute to Tunnock’s teacakes. For those not aware of these products of legendary significance for Scottish gastromony, a Tunnock’s teacake should not be confused with the traditional English teacake, an enriched dough sweet pastry roll with dried fruit and spices, usually served toasted and spread with butter.

The Tunnock’s Teacake is a dome of chocolate filled with marshmallow, similar to Italian meringue, sitting on a shortbread-like biscuit base (also encased in chocolate). The packaging is iconic and distinctive, each teacake encased in striped silver and red foil (milk chocolate) or silver and blue foil (dark chocolate, less common/popular than the milk version).

The Tunnock’s factory is in Uddingston in Lanarkshire and their products even inspired traditional fiddler John McCusker to pen a tune entitled ‘A Mile Down the Road’ in honour of Tunnock’s since he lived close to the factory at one time. Apparently, there is a 2 year long waiting list for tours of the factory, which churns out 10 million biscuits a week including another biscuit icon, the Caramel Wafer.  However, the teacake is not my personal favourite, I always preferred Tunnock’s coconut and chocolate-coated Caramel Log. Controversial.

My attempt to make teacakes came about because of the affection others have for this enigmatic sweet treat (you know who you are!). Pressure came to bear when contestants were set a technical challenge of making them on the Great British Bake Off and a Paul Hollywood recipe was posted online. I was gifted a silicone teacake mould, the caveat being I had to, of course, make some.  I was delighted with the gift and happy to oblige.

Home made teacake homage

I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe.  I usually use very high quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, but stuck to his advice to use lower cocoa solid chocolate, to avoid discolouration / cracking.  It worked very well.  I made a second festive batch with milk chocolate, as a gift for a friend who is a Tunnock’s teacake lover, but prefers milk chocolate.  I used 50% cocoa solid milk chocolate (Co-op Fairtrade), and was surprised how much more delicate and hard to work it was than the dark Bournville I used for the first batch. For the second festive batch, I also reduced the amount of salt to 1/4 teaspoon as I could detect too much salt flavour in the first batch.

teacakes 1

The recipe also wisely advises the turned out teacakes should not be handled as the shiny exterior is easily marked with fingerprints.  Also, they should not be put in the fridge as they will lose their shine.  So, best eaten fresh.

teacakes 2

teacakes 3

Although time consuming and a bit fiddly, the recipe gave good results and they were great fun to make.  Even better, they were very much appreciated and enjoyed by the teacake lovers.  I don’t have a sweet tooth, and this became very apparent when I sat down to eat the teacakes with a few aficionados. The presentation of the teacakes had a sense of occasion and anticipation.

Firstly, these teacakes are massive compared with Tunnock’s. By the time I got half way through, everyone else was finished eating theirs, commenting on the delights of the teacakes and thinking of going for a second one. I however, was feeling slightly queasy at the thought of eating the second half of mine. It was simply too big and sweet for me. The others though there was clearly something wrong with my palate, or the wiring of my brain. One muncher commented with an air of disappointment that he was not able to get the whole thing in his mouth at once, as you could a Tunnock’s (!). There were also heroic tales of entire boxes of 6 being consumed in one sitting. Finally, they are extremely messy to eat, so prepare to roll your sleeves up and to wear meringue from ear to ear.

teacakes 4

The milk chocolate versions were given a festive twist, a dollop of melted white chocolate and some marzipan coloured with natural food dyes transforming them into Christmas puds, giving them that bit more bling required for a gift.  I stopped short of including a blob of mincemeat within each, although I was tempted.  Maybe next year….

festive teacake 2

festive teacakes 1

Hogmanay is almost here, so Happy New Year, all the best for 2014, see you on the other side!

Biscuits with Bartok 3 – Spiced orange blossom and chocolate cookies

I’ve had a pretty hectic week, not least because I was away for work for half of it.  As a result, my indulgence in the blogosphere has been restricted to access on my phone on the go – and my backlog of draft posts is growing.  The opportunity to write posts relevant to Shrove Tuesday and Valentine’s Day passed me by.  We enjoyed a couple of very nice venison-based meals that I did not photograph so I let them slip by for our own personal indulgence only. I will make these again, so there will be other opportunities to write a post for these recipes in the future.

We also have the good fortune to be benefiting from the adaptive management programme initiated to reduce greylag goose numbers and limit the significant damage they are currently doing to crops here.  Geese are being shot under licence and we are very grateful to receive another 6 wild geese, all in excellent condition, to keep our freezer stocked. Of course, this means considerable time preparing the goose, so we also had to get this done on my return.

I arrived home on a morning flight a couple of hours before the musicians were due to play, so I didn’t have time to make my 3rd biscuit of the series for them.  I decided to go ahead anyway as I wanted to try a biscuit flavoured with orange blossom water, an itch I just had to scratch.

Signs of spring

Despite the inconvenience of the snow on the mainland, here spring is showing signs of progression.  On my return, I heard the first song thrush singing from the corner of our garden.  A chipping snipe in the marshy grassland around the house means I will most likely enjoy the sound of the first drumming snipe imminently. If I stood outside for long enough at dusk, I would probably hear one – usually around Valentine’s Day each year we hear the first.  I can see the lapwings beginning to assemble again on the croftland in pre-breeding readiness.

The lighter nights mean I have no excuse to get out for a run after work, or start getting more serious about the garden other than whimsically reviewing my seed collection and plans for 2013.

My last long run (12km) had the usual smattering of Uist-based incidents.  I spent about 2 miles running behind a sheep flock being herded by a land rover and a collie from fields and along the roads to a fank.  Nice waft of urine all the way along the road, followed by copious amount of fresh sheep droppings in my trainer treads.  I opted to turn back when I caught the sheep up at the fank as I didn’t want to scatter them and the scene looked chaotic enough with one sheepdog doing his best to filter a large, tired flock into the fank.

On the way back, I passed a croft and a collie ran out to greet me. Sometimes they nip your heels as if you are a sheep but this one was friendly, too friendly, in fact.  She followed me all the way back to my car, about 5 km.  She had no road sense and although not much traffic passed us on the single track road, I had to keep stopping and grabbing her and had to wait on the verge until cars passed.  They probably either thought I was an idiot for taking a dog with no traffic-sense out on the road for a run, or were possibly laughing, having recognised the dog as local and saw it had tagged along with me.  I had to put her in the car and drive back to the croft.  I did this just as the crofter was getting in his tractor to look for her.  Not the first time apparently.

Where Eagles Dare

I was glad to get back and into my usual routine of dog walking over the moor near our house. Friday was a beautiful clear day and there was some bird activity up there too.  The dogs flushed a couple of snipe and a woodcock and a pair of ravens passed noisily overhead.  As we were coming over a rise, I could see another bird in the distance.  The profile initially looked like a raven, but then it became apparent it was very much bigger and was in fact a golden eagle.

It is not uncommon for us to see golden eagles, or sea eagles around this area.  It is part of a local golden eagle territory and there is a regularly used nest not too far away.  The first job I had when I moved to Uist was a role for a certain well known NGO that involved checking golden and sea eagle nests.  Golden eagles are much shyer than sea eagles and tend to keep their distance.  I know this pair have a regular plucking spot overlooking a loch on the walk and I often see the silhouette of an eagle there.  The pair regularly fly together over the hills surrounding the loch prior to settling down to breed.

The eagle was unusually inquisitive and passed directly overhead before turning and circling.  Since it was directly above me and at a height of about 15 metres and began circling, I decided it would be pertinent to keep the dogs close.  Though there was only an outside chance that an eagle would come down so close to a person and attempt to take a dog, it’s not unheard of.  I had known of a falconer’s dog to be killed by a golden eagle they were working. The eagle stayed with us, circling close overhead continuously for about 3-4 minutes before heading back over its territory to the hill near the nest.  Certainly a new experience for me. I managed to capture a few shots on my iPhone as it circled.  It was certainly an unusually close and spectacular view of this beautiful raptor.

eagle 2eagle 1Spiced orange blossom biscuits with chocolate

I wanted to incorporate orange blossom water into a biscuit, as I plan to with other aromatic flavourings such as lavender and rose and I thought orange blossom was probably a safe place to start experimenting.  I had some ingredients I wanted to incorporate including some lovely spiced orange slices given to me as a gift, golden sultanas and I also wanted to add a decadent garnish of candied orange. I had just made some to incorporate into Turron ice cream, the recipe courtesy of David Leibovitz. Cointreau was added for additional oranginess and decadence.

I added chocolate because there’s no denying that the marriage of chocolate and orange is tried and tested.  I don’t often use milk chocolate, hence the inclusion.  The Co-op’s Fairtrade milk chocolate is reasonably good, with 30% cocoa solids. I based the quantities of the basics of the dry ingredients on Ottolenghi’s spiced cookies from ‘Jerusalem’, but there is significant variation from that recipe.  The biscuit-making stabilisers aren’t quite off, so wanted to use the basis of the recipe to ensure success.


125g golden sultanas

2 tbsp cointreau

240g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp salt

75g golden caster sugar

75g light muscovado sugar

125g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp orange blossom water

zest of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1/2 orange

1/2 a medium egg

1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice

100g milk chocolate

3 slices of preserved spiced oranges (optional)


  • Soak the sultanas in the cointreau for 10 minutes.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices and salt together in a bowl.
  • Put butter, sugar, vanilla and zests in a food mixer and beat for 1 minute.
  • Add the egg, slowly while the machine is running and mix for another minute.
  • Add the dry ingredients, then the soaked raisins.
  • Divide the dough into roughly 50g balls and place a couple of cm apart on a lined baking sheet.
  • Rest in the fridge for about an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and drizzle over the cookies. Top with candied orange just before serving.

spiced biscuit 1

Candied orange

Making this is vaguely reminiscent to marmalade-making and the resulting candied orange will keep for a couple of months in the fridge and can be added to cakes, biscuits and ice cream.


Zest of 4 large oranges

500ml water

200g sugar

1 tbsp glucose syrup

Pinch of salt


  • Using a veg. peeler, remove 3 cm strips of peel (no pith) from the oranges.
  • Slice length-ways into very fine strips, no wider than a toothpick.
  • Place the strips in a pan, cover with a few cm of water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle boil for 15 minutes.
  • Combine the water, sugar, glucose and salt in a pan. Bring to the boil, add the peel and cook at a low boil for 25 minutes. Add a sugar thermometer and when the mix is at 110C, take off the heat.  Store the peel in the syrup in the fridge.

spice biscuit 2

Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart with bramble ripple ice cream

As a dessert for Burns Night, I wanted to avoid the obvious traditional options. Much as I love cranachan made with raspberries, it is out of season. I enjoyed the local favourite of caragheen pudding at last year’s Burns supper but this year I was looking for something, well, a bit more luxurious.

I opted for a chocolate tart, incorporating the darkest of dark chocolate (81%), a dram and to my mind that definitively Scottish wild fruit that I have adored for all of my life – brambles. Some of my freezer stock of precious brambles from last autumn’s harvest was included in the tart and was also made into a coulis, swirled through vanilla ice cream to form a bramble ripple.

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Although I nod to the traditional by including whisky in the tart, I must admit I am not a whisky lover. Even the finest malts, notably those from the islands (Islay in particular) have the whiff of TCP about them.  I am told if I persevere, I too will enjoy them one day.  Olives are often cited as an example.  During my PhD, my whisky connoisseur supervisor would arrive from Oxford and together with my other Edinburgh Uni supervisor,  we would head out with our research group of an evening to their favourite hostelry, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society members only premises in Queen Street, Edinburgh. There was much discussion about peatiness, tobacco, petrol and however else one choses to describe drinking TCP.  I was the Philistine at the bar requesting a gin and tonic.

Feeling the burn, post Burns

Yes, the duo of dyspepsia did as predicted and in truth, we could not face our lovely dessert after the haggis on Burns night – it containing yet more pastry (bit of an oversight there).

I was in danger of lethargy after haggis-eating and knowing I had proposed a 10km run, and despite the deteriorating weather, I decided to bite the bullet and get out there.  I had just walked the dogs and considered although there was a bit of a breeze, the weather window was good enough.  I elected to run around the picturesque island of Grimsay, a few miles south. The west end of the island acts as a stepping stone for the causeways that link North Uist and Benbecula. Circumnavigation of the island is a convenient 10 km.

View of Eaval from grimsay on a nice day

View of Eaval from Grimsay on a nice day

It was raining by the time I got out of the car and I could see, as is typical of these islands, that within a few minutes the situation would deteriorate quickly. Weather fronts were building to the south and banks of cloud were rolling towards me.  Nonetheless, I opted to run round the island south to north to take the worst of the weather along the exposed southern single track road first.  There were two observations that suddenly struck me about Grimsay.  I have driven but not ran around it before and it is a bit hillier than I recall.  Secondly, the south road is indeed very exposed to the elements.  I spent the next 6 km running into a pretty gusty headwind and needle-like rain with the occasional side gust that knocked me into the verge.

Once I got just over the half way mark, I got a tremendous tail wind as I turned north and the rain battered off my back, no longer in my face. Occasional gusts almost knocked me off my feet, but after feeling the burn initially, things got easier and I made it back to the car not too much over my predicted time.

Round the whole route, I only saw 2 people, both dressed in waterproofs, rushing out and hurriedly taking in washing, cowering in the squawl.  I was only passed by 5 or 6 cars, none which I recognised.  However, no doubt they had a good look and identified me as ‘That woman who is married to (we are not married) the violin-maker’ (as I have been referred to since my other half’s vocation is much more interesting than my own somewhat cryptic occupation) and questioned ‘What on earth is she doing running round here in this weather?’ Good to give people something to talk about other than the weather, at least!

Having recovered back at home, I could say that I unequivocally deserved a slice of chocolate tart with ice cream – and to watch a fun film – ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’, another gem from Aardman Animation. It is a silly sea-faring yarn, of not too competent pirates featuring a parrot that is in fact a dodo and a rather scheming Charles Darwin.  Plenty of pithy one-liners but it is easy to miss a lot of content first time round. I won’t need any encouragement to watch it again, very good fun and a change from our usual film choices.

Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart

A nod to the traditional, containing a dram, with added richness and silkiness. The ganache for this tart is sublimely super-smooth and rich.  Thank you to Michel Roux for the basis of this recipe. It is based on his chocolate and raspberry tart.

Pastry is pate sucree as used for passionfruit and orange tart.  I also elected to coat the base in melted chocolate again.  The brambles were moist from being soaked in whisky and also having been frozen, so I wanted to safeguard the pastry from sogginess.

The ice cream was vanilla, the same recipe used to accompany said passionfruit and orange tart, except this time, I made bramble coulis to swirl through it.

Chocolate tart with brambles


200g brambles

50 ml whisky of your choice

For the ganache:

200ml whipping cream

200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

25g liquid glucose

50g butter, cubed into small pieces


  • Soak the brambles in the whisky for a couple of hours.
  • Make pate sucree as per outlined in my previous post, coating the pastry case with melted chocolate to seal it.
  • Strain the brambles from the whisky and arrange on the tart base.
  • Prepare the ganache: bring the cream to the boil, take it off the heat, stir in the chocolate until smooth using a balloon whisk, add the liquid glucose, then the butter, a few cubes at a time.  The glucose adds to the smoothness, as does the butter and which also gives the tart sheen.
  • Pour the ganache into the tart case and over the fruit and allow to cool for a couple of hours.
  • Put in the fridge and take out half hour or so before serving.
  • Cut the pieces with a warmed knife to get a nice clean cut through the silky-smooth ganache.  Serve with the ice cream.

Chocolate tartChocolate tart whole

Bramble ripple ice cream

Using the previous recipe for vanilla ice cream, make a bramble coulis and swirl this through the ice cream once it is churned by your ice cream maker.  Fold it in at the end of churning if you are making the ice cream by hand.

Bramble coulis

  • Make a stock syrup by boiling 150g caster sugar and 120 ml water together for 3 minutes.
  • Take 50 ml of the stock syrup and blitz it in a food processor together with 150g of brambles.  Add any leftover whisky-flavoured juice from the brambles added to the coulis.
  • Sieve and stir through the ice cream.

Bramble ripple ice cream

And let again the final word go to Burns:

Let other poets raise a fracas
“Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names an’stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro’ wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name!

Robert Burns – Scotch Drink, 1785

Chocolate tart and ice cream

Festively nutty

Of all the meals I prepare over the festive period, Christmas day dinner is often the simplest, most relaxing and least taxing.  The objective of the day is to be as sedentary as possible (almost sessile if I could manage it), chill out, dogs snoring at our feet in front of the stove while we read and listen to music or the radio (glass of fizz in hand, of course).  It is quite an unusual event for us to sit down for any length of time and relax and to be honest, I never find it easy to sit still for very long.

Hence, a roast bird, in this case a free range bronze turkey was the very traditional choice.  For one thing, nothing could be easer to cook, get your prep and timing right, and there is very little to attend to until gravy is required while the bird is resting.  Ideal.  Turkey is also still something of a novelty for us since we have only been post-vegetarian for the last few years, so it still retains its annual appeal. We prepared minced meat stuffing from the venison we butchered earlier in the year, as well as chipolatas, so there was little prep required, except a few roasters and veg – what we had available in the storage and the garden.  Sadly, this is the end of our stored carrot supplies, but a fitting one.

Carving the bronze turkey - showing the contrast with the rich, dark venison stuffing.

Carving the bronze turkey – showing the contrast with the rich, dark venison stuffing.

I am not about to recount how one should go about roasting turkey and trimmings for the traditional meal on Christmas day – that has been done to death with a plethora of never-ending tips and suggestions being available about this subject everywhere you look online.

The real challenge on Christmas Day for us is not that of cooking the meal but an exercise in moderation.  We almost achieved this, although a sensible but difficult decision was taken to omit cheeseboard. What a couple of lightweights we have become!

The dogs also got the opportunity to appreciate Christmas dinner – the one day in the year when they get to eat something else other than their own food. It was very difficult to get them to sit for this photo as Darwin (at the front) kept enthusiastically swinging his paw up in a powerful left hook to indicate he was ready to receive!

Hector and Darwin's christmas meal. Please Sir, can I have some more?

Hector and Darwin’s Christmas meal. Please Sir, can we have some more?

Hazelnut Heaven

The favoured nut featured in a somewhat makeshift dessert of bits and pieces, which turned into an unintentioned Hazelnut-Fest.  The highlight was our favourite ice cream, one for which I am eternally grateful for discovering in David Leibovitz’s book ‘The Perfect Scoop’, the quintessentially Italian Gianduja – hazelnut and milk chocolate. This is the only ice cream I find difficult to stop eating.  It is super-smooth, rich, creamy sumptuous and decadent.

Gianduja Gelato

Traditional gianduja chocolates, with the same basic mix of hazelnuts and good quality milk chocolate contained in this ice cream, are made in the Piedmont region of Italy where some of the world’s most flavoursome hazelnuts are grown. Even if you don’t have an ice cream maker, if there is any ice cream worth the effort of hand churning, it is this one to re-create the lush flavours of this Italian classic. Make sure you source good quality milk chocolate with at least 30% cocoa solids.  The Co-op’s own Fairtrade milk chocolate works well and is 30%. The original recipe suggests discarding the nuts after infusing, but this is wasteful and keep them to include in a cake.


185g hazelnuts

250ml whole milk

500ml double cream

150g sugar

1/4 tsp coarse sea salt

115g milk chocolate, chopped

5 large egg yolks

1/8 tsp vanilla extract


  • Toast the hazelnuts in the oven at 170C for 10-12 minutes, let them cool and rub off most of the papery skins with a tea towel.
  • Blitz them in a food processor until quite finely ground.
  • Warm the milk with 250 ml of the cream, sugar and salt in a pan.  Once warm, remove from the heat and add the hazelnuts.
  • Cover and let the nuts infuse in the mixture for at least an hour (I sometimes leave this for several hours to intensify the flavours).
  • Chop the milk chocolate and put in a bowl.  Heat the remaining 250ml of cream until almost boiling and pour over the chocolate, stir until it melts into the cream. Set a sieve over the top of the bowl.
  • Pour the hazelnut-infused milk through a sieve into a pan, squeezing the nuts to extract all the flavour. Re-warm this mixture.
  • Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl and slowly pour the warm hazelnut mixture over the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mix back into the pan.
  • Stir constantly over a medium heat with a spatula until the mix thickens to coat the spatula.
  • Pour the thickened mix through the sieve and onto the cream and milk chocolate mix, add the vanilla.

Cool over ice and refrigerate before churning either by hand or using an ice cream maker.

For the ultimate hazelnut overdose, I served the gianduja ice cream with my home-made muscovado and hazelnut meringues and Frangelico, hazelnut and cranberry biscotti (recipes will be subject of future post).  I added a Lindors hazelnut praline chocolate on the side and accompanied the whole indulgence with Frangelico hazelnut liqueur.  OTT hazelnut heaven.

Hazelnut paradise

Hazelnut paradise – gianduja ice cream and assorted hazelnut accompaniments.

Festive Fiery chocolate truffles – with Tequila?

I have just returned home having been away for 10 days or so on a pre-Christmas  circumnavigation of Scotland, visiting family and friends, As ever, we try to cram in a lot (possibly too much) while we are away, including the inevitable Christmas shopping. It has a plus side at this time of year when we have the excuse to indulge in luxury items from the likes of Valvona and Crolla and Mellis Cheese shop in Edinburgh. We managed to squeeze in an overnight and some fine dining at the Michelin starred The Peat Inn, Cupar (to be reviewed in due course), and I roamed the Stirling foothills trying to find the right farm to collect our bronze free range turkey for Christmas dinner.

Good to be back home after so much frenetic activity of an extraordinary sort, although the temperature in the house of 9C has taken some time to get to a balmy 19C. Festivities are upon us, the tree is up, at last, and some amaretti biscuits are in the oven.  The view from the kitchen window at 1600 hours yesterday served to remind me just what a big sky Uist has (I just don’t notice it in quite the same way on the mainland), and how I missed the tranquility of home.

View from our kitchen window - temple, sunset, sheep

View from our kitchen window – temple, sunset, sheep

As ever, while visiting my parents, my mum came up with some fine recipes – a casserole of pork cheeks with prunes, a refreshing lime parfait, which it might have been good to consume after her chilli chocolate truffles.

What better indulgent delight to make in our cold house than my mum’s Fiery Chocolate Truffles?  Even better, they are festively sparkly too!

I was limbering up for a weekend of indulgence in Glasgow, including tequila tasting at Lupe Pintos Mexican deli in Glasgow, a gig and curry, so what better way than with chilli inspired petits fours. I plan to make these again with a dash of tequila. Mi dios están calientes – perfecto! Gracias mamá!

Fiery Chocolate Truffles

Not subtle, but I do love a big chilli hit and many chocolate and chilli concoctions don’t deliver and have left me disappointed with a view that the combination is a little over-rated.  I re-evaluate my thoughts in light of this recipe.  Cuidadoso – adjust the amount of chilli powder to your palate.


200ml double cream

200g dark chocolate (70%)

25g butter

1tsp hot chilli powder (less, if your palate dictates)

dash of cognac or tequilia

edible glitter/cocoa powder to dust


  • Bring cream to the boil and allow to cool slightly while melting the chocolate and butter in a Bain Marie.
  • Add the chilli powder to the melted chocolate and butter.
  • Pour the cream over the chocolate and butter mix and beat until well combined.  Add a splash of cognac – or tequilia – my choice for the next batch.
  • Chill before rolling into small truffles.  Coat in cocoa or alternative festive coating of your choice.  These will keep for about a week stored in the fridge.

Fiery chocolate truffles

Tequila tasting – Lupe Pintos Deli, Glasgow

I must admit, my knowledge of tequila is limited to only a few facts; it is produced from agave, a succulent plant native of Mexico, parts of southern USA, Central and South America that is pollinated exclusively by bats; tequila never contains a ‘worm’ (it is actually a moth larva), but mescal traditionally does come “con gusano” (with worm).

My experience of drinking tequila is even more limited and essentially stereotypical of many who, with youthful exuberance, overindulge in uncouth slammers with masses of salt and lime and vow never to touch the stuff again thereafter.

Digression warning – Recollections of Ecuador

The last time I drank it was over 10 years ago in a bar in Quito, Ecuador, in slammer form, shortly before our student contingent realised the bar we were frequenting was also a brothel.  Here, I must confess to a propensity for stumbling upon brothels in Ecuador.

After spending 2 months working in pristine cloud forest further west in the shadow of the Andes, myself and a friend had been joined by a jet-lagged Man Named Sous and we three decided to take a trip to to the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, a rainforest reserve of note for it’s unique combination of biodiversity in the north east Oriente region, in Sucumbayos Province. It is close to the border of both Columbia and Peru.

After an 8 hour slow bus ride from Quito snaking lower down towards the tributaries of the Amazon along hair-raising hairpins of mountainous roads, accompanied by the usual blaring salsa music of choice on such bus journeys across the country (copious Tijuana horns mandatory), we arrived at Lago Agrio, the capital of the province in the evening, just after dark.

Lago Agrio (officially called Nueva Loja but this name is never used) had the definite feel of a frontier town, which it is, being only 20 miles from the Columbian border. It is a key area of oil exploitation in Ecuador, so its position close to the Columbian Border results in a mixed bag of occupants.  These consist of oil workers and locals as well as a smattering of Colombian guerrillas and drug smugglers.  Definately a place to keep your head down.

There’s not a lot to recommend for the tourist here, save for it being the gateway to one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. A polite description of the place would be unkempt.  Threatening would be more accurate. Quickly taking stock of the atmosphere of the place, us three very obvious Gringos opted to walk right up the middle of the main drag, very much being watched from the shadows of doorways of the many seedy looking bars, grills (agouti is a favourite grill meat here) – and brothels. We found a hotel and hid for the night before meeting with our tour guides in the morning.

A lorry took us and some American tourists along tracks cut throught the rainforest to make way for the oil pipelines originally installed by Texaco (beginning in the mid 1960’s) to access oil reserves in the area. We were shocked and distressed at the extent of the destruction of what was primary rainforest as we passed for hours through many miles of cleared forest, the lorry snaking along the route of the oil pipeline towards the entrance to Cuabeno National Park.

This year, Chevron (who now own Texaco’s interests in the region) were fined by Ecuadorian courts to the tune of $19 billion in compensation for environmental damage relating to its operations in the Lago Agrio area after a long battle with local indigenous people and settlers.  Serious pollution from oil spills and deforestation due to clearing for access roads, exploration, and production activities over 30 years resulted in one of the largest such fines handed out to date.

Leaving the oil fields and tracks behind, we were confronted with the dichotomy of immersion into pristine primary rainforest.  We then entered dug-out canoes and spent several hours travelling deep into the rainforest, spending a week at a makeshift camp next to one of the many lagunas along the Cuyabeno River.

Cloud forest had done little to prepare me for the breath-taking array of spectacular wildlife and plantlife on show, as we made our way along the river involuntarily shouting out observations to each other,  Anaconda! Macaws! Caimen! Dolphins! Morphos! (butterflies – huge irridescent blue dinner plates).

This culminated in a moment of utter euphoria for me when I saw my first hoatzin.  I had been obsessed with this enigmatic bird since I was a child.  I knew this gregarious species were found in the Oriente’s riverine forests, but never imagined I would see one, in fact, they were ubiquitous along the river.

The fascination for me stemmed from comparisons of the anatomical features the hoatzin superficially shares with one of the earliest known birds – Archaeopteryx (from whence the obsession stemmed – essentially a lizard with feathers – every child loves dinosaurs). Hoatzin chicks have two claws on each wing which help it grip branches and clamber. This is the feature that has led the species to be compared to Archaeopteryx, information I gleaned from David Attenborough’s marvellous ‘Life on Earth’ series which has fantastic footage of both adult and young hoatzins. I was smitten by this series and became a budding 8 year old zoologist. I received the book accompanying the series from my parents. It was a much treasured possession for many years, notably for hoatzin references.

The taxonomy/phylogeny of the species is subject to much contention, and the species looks evey bit as confusing as it’s DNA suggests. It is pheasant-sized with a crest, blue featherless face and red iris with a lumbering, ungainly flight and a call consisting of hisses, wheezes, grunts and groans. It is also exclusively vegetarian, having a digestive system more akin to a ruminant than a bird. An evolutionary quandary indeed.

The engimatic Hoatzin

The engimatic Hoatzin.  Copyright: 2000 Bill Rydell

At 100% humidity being right on the equator and accompanied by the dense vegetation of the forest canopy that almost obiterated light, the atmosphere within the forest was oppressive, especially at night when the calls of birds, mammals and insects reached an almost deafening crescendo.  We went on night walks around the camp which were fascinating with marsupials, monkeys, owls and weird and wonderful insects in close proximity – not to mention caimen along the laguna shore, tightly lined up like yachts in a marina, eyes shimmering in our torchlights. I though how easy it would be to get lost and was reminded of the astonishing account Benedict Allen gave in his book ‘Mad White Giant’ of his first solo expedition in the Brazilian Amazon when he did get lost. The trip almost killed him and he was in part saved by eating his dog.

After our spending a week taking in these wonders (I passed hours watching leaf cutter ants purposefully going about their caste chores), we and the rest of the group reluctantly headed back to Lago Agrio.  It was evening again and we did not relish a night there.  Against our better judgement, we took the risky night bus (strickly warned against in the guidebooks due to risk of kidnap near the Columbian border).  The view of our fellow American travellers was safety in numbers – we all get on the night bus.  My view was somewhat different when I envisaged the delight of guerillas as they realised they had the bounty of not one or two but ten foreign hostages.

In any event, bus internal lights dimmed, the salsa cranked up again to the max, we headed back to Quito.  A couple of hours later, the bus was stopped and a few bods in fatigues walked on with rifles, took everyone’s passports and papers and frog-marched us off the bus.  I was reasonably certain these were Ecuadorian officials, but had a stash of dollars to hand, just in case – bribes were not uncommon. We walked through a check point where an officer barked a few questions at us in Spanish and returned our passports.  We got back on the bus, no harm done, save for the shattered nerves of a few tourists.

We were very relieved to arrive in Quito, albeit in the middle of the night.  The same Americans we were travelling with (who suggested we take the night bus – we should have known better) took us to a hostel they knew would accept us in the middle the night.  ‘It’s great’ they said, ‘only $3 a night’.  Yes, but it quickly became apparent it also had a sideline as a brothel.  We left the hostel very early next morning.  It was called the Happy Volcano. ‘Nuff said….

Tequila – at last!

The tequila tasting session may have brought back vivid memories of Ecuador, but just as importantly, it made me re-evaluate my feelings about drinking tequila.  I must admit I was a little apprehensive when I saw 11 bottles of tequila lined up for the tasting.  This was especially since I don’t drink neat spirits.  In fact, I rarely drink them at all save for the occasional gin or Zubrowka (Bison Grass) vodka and tonic.

Tequila tasting with superb host and

Tequila tasting with superb host and botanas

I needn’t have been concerned, particularly given that the shots were served with a fine range of mexican botanas, all made in house, including cornbread, tortilla, meatballs, salsa (and chips, of course).  We also had fresh fruit with tajin – ground chilli and lime salt, a first for us and delicious and a perfect match for the tequila.

Tajin  - perfect with fruit and tequila

Tajin – perfect with fruit and tequila

This deli really is fantastic, not least because it is the only place in Scotland where you possibly hope to try an extensive range of tequilas. The owner of the deli took us through the history of tequila.  The Spanish Conquistadors began distilling from the agave plant, after being introduced to native fermented drinks such as pulque, reputedly when their brandy supplies ran out.  Tequila can only be called so if it produced in the state of Jalisco and we discussed it’s provenance relative to the more variable quality mescal.

Our chosen tequila - Herradura

Our chosen tequila – Herradura

I was surprised by the variability of available brands. Two categories exist; mixtos (no less than 51% agave) and 100% agave. it is bottled in one of five categories.  These include Blanco or Plata (white, unaged, usually bottled straight after distillation), Resposado (rested – aged for a minimum of 2 months, but less than 1 year in oak barrels and Anejo (aged – 1 to 3 years in barrels).

The 100% agave blancos have the most distinctively agave flavours, as one might expect, and it was these (smooth) examples I preferred – the aged Resposado and Anejo had an edge that was too reminicient of whisky for my liking.

My preference was for a smooth grassy, peppery flavour, hence I chose to buy the fine quality Herradura (£32). I would highly recommend these tastings at Lupe Pintos as you will get no better insight into tequila in Scotland.  You will also learn the secret to making the perfect margarita, which was way more potent, delicious and authentic than those from your average cocktail bar.

Devin Townsend – ABC, Sauchiehall Street

No weekend would be complete without a good gig.  The Man Named Sous and I were very regular gig goers when we lived in central Scotland and it is regrettable (although I’m sure our hearing has benefitted) that we do now have to be much more selective and can only attend a few a year, so they have to count.  However, a Devin Townsend gig should not be missed. If extreme music is your thing, at least.

Hevy Devy has been prolific since his days from Strapping Young Lad to the present and his output is ever changing but the quality remains undiminished.  Yes, it is essentially metal, with the influence of grindcore and industrial metal such as the supporting act, Fear Factory (great support – heaviness went down well with the crowd), but it also includes elements of Zappa and pop rock. He is in fact unique and in a genre all of his own.  His music is intelligent and crammed with ideas and is usually ornate, can be dense, over-the-top, complex, brutal and challenging as well as beautiful, uplifting and humourous. I would say, it’s also probably not everyone’s cup of tea – some of it isn’t that accessible and can be exhausting to listen to.  Importantly, he is a great live performer with an amazing voice and a great rapor with the audience.  I was delighted that the encore included ‘Deep Peace’ from arguably his Magnum Opus ‘Terria’.  A fitting end to a tremendous gig.

Devin Townsend - indefinable extreme music without boundaries

Devin Townsend – indefinable extreme music without boundaries

Random subject matter aside, normal service may be resumed for the next post. Probably.

Best wishes for the festive period.  I think it’s time to begin over-indulging….