Category Archives: cake

Cooking Challenge the Second

Before the lamb there was a different challenge, one that my heart was definitely in, but my head a bit reluctant to take on:

The Traditional Clootie Dumpling

(distantly related to the great haggis, which is hunted each fall in Scotland)

So why clootie dumpling, you ask? Why not flapjack (a delicious treat bound with honey I discovered courtesy of Mull Magic) or a proper baked bread like the Selkirk Bannock? Why choose a fruitcake-dumpling hybrid that needs to be half-boiled, half-steamed, then dried, all with equipment that looks like foreign instruments of torture (this may be a slight exaggeration, but the unfamiliar can be terrifying)?

Well, that’s what you’d be asking if you already knew about my weakness for British sweets. If you didn’t yet know about that, welcome. Have a look around the place.

Actually, I can pinpoint the source of my determination to make Clootie Dumpling: my visit to the Culloden Visitor Centre cafe, one cold August day in 2011. (P.S. I tried those haggis crisps on my most recent visit, verdict: tasty, but not habit-inducing)

Problem Ingredients: Suet & Sultanas

I did a fair amount of research (read: hemming and hawing) before actually committing to making it by buying ingredients. There was the issue of suet, for one. What was it, and was it necessary? After reading through a goodly number of British pudding recipes, I concluded it was. No messing about with Italian olive oil, French butter, or American margarine. You can read about the animal fat and its uses here. Also, what about sultanas? They seemed to be another elusive ingredient States-side, at least going by the local co-ops and natural foods stores.

A question to a Whole Foods employee was answered with the fact that if they were golden raisins, they wouldn’t carry them because the processing of drying grapes for raisins darkens their color, and any chemical means to stop this process for a golden color would not be allowed by their store. Whoo-ee! Well it’s an answer, anyway.

mise en place clootie dumpling

The pound or so of suet was divided into cup-size amounts and frozen. It was very different to handle, kind of like a malleable candle wax that was stuck in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth part of course was some fibrous netting of muscle fibers or something, but I didn’t look up the physiology to be able to tell you what, exactly. Sorry/ you’re welcome?

Now for the recipe. I had plenty of possible ones to choose from, Scottish cookbook hoarder as I am, the question was which one to use?

I ended up going with the common elements in each, and improvising along the way as to cooking times. The dough seemed to come together in a ball well enough, so I floured up the cheesecloth and plonked it into the boiling water.

dumpling before clootie

Problem Process: A Heatproof Plate

Here’s what was supposed to happen in the large pot. Turn a heatproof plate upside down in the water so the dumpling will have something to rest on, and not come into direct contact with the bottom of the pan. Plus, don’t tie the cheesecloth too tightly, as the dough will expand a bit.

There, in two instructions, lay my undoing. I didn’t have a plate I wanted to risk breaking, since I was none too sure about the heat conducted by air in the oven and that conducted by water in a pot. I went for a ramekin as the sturdiest item I did have, but the ball of dough was already too big to sit nicely on that. Curses!

‘Not too tightly’ then turned into ‘not tightly enough’ as the rowdy bubbling of the water made the ramekin pitch and toss and turn the ‘clootie’ this way and that, loosening the tie and letting some of the sugar and spices leak out to color the water, as you can see. (Maybe if I had a sailor to show me how to tie knots?)

Afterwards I went to ask the staff at Kitchen Kaboodle about the heatproof question, and two ladies both thought any plate that worked in the oven should work in boiling water. Hmph! All that , and I should have just asked sooner. Well, now YOU know!

And by the way, ‘clootie’ comes from the Scots word for cloth: ‘cloot’ which was used to tie up the dough. You didn’t think you’d be learning this much from this post, did you?

trouble in the pot clootie dumpling

You can also see my attempt to prevent the chaos from continuing, the long wooden spoon balanced on top and piercing the knot to hold the open part up and away from the water. However, the roiling, boiling water was too much and ended up pulling the spoon down into the pot too, many times over the several hours needed.

It reminded me of the adventure in canning tomatoes, actually. I took a class for it, then made a successful attempt at canning some glorious tomatoes from DC’s harvest last summer. They are still in my cupboard, waiting for the right moment. (Now that I’m moving again, that would have been last week, but oh well. We do what we can, right?)

I finally settled on putting a cloth over the pot lid, both to keep the steam in better (since the spoon let it out), and provide some friction to prevent the spoon from falling, but I had to keep tending to it every 15 minutes for almost three hours. This was the reveal moment:

unveil of clootie dumpling

And it was none too pretty, so I didn’t take a photo!

But down below is when I got it into a low-heat oven to ‘dry.’ This was traditionally done in a basket or pot by the fire. (Not in Portland, OR though)

roasting clootie dumpling

Verdict: Delicious

Finally! The pale, mushy outside could have been due to either the water getting in or not drying it long enough in the oven, or both. It did NOT look like the pictures of clootie dumpling that I’d seen, with their smooth, dark surfaces, so I do have that to aspire to next time.

However, the inside was very good, with the fruity flavor of raisins and currants mixed with sweet dark notes of sugar cane.

finished clootie dumpling

It even worked well as leftovers, heated in a microwave with water-speckled paper towels as is my wont, and drizzled with cream, since I couldn’t be bother to knock up a custard (see first definition here, for all you Americans with dirty minds).

I look forward to being in my own kitchen and trying this one again, as it was one of those food memories that demands satisfaction.


*Please note these are affiliate links to This means if you click through and purchase something from Amazon, I receive a tiny percentage. Thanks for supporting those pursuing their dreams in any way possible! :-)

A Few of My Favorite Things, in a quickbread

Today’s post begins with a Guessing Game. What is this a picture of? 
The answer will come in the next post! For now, we turn our attention to a delicious new conquest:

Chocolate Banana Gingerbread

How did this come about, you ask? As usual, with the need to use up soon-to-be-gone ingredients. In this case it was ripe bananas, the last bit of molasses, and cookie crumbs (that were also used in a certain pie). I love it when things work out like this- you feel economical and thrifty while at the same time ending up with a gorgeous load of sweet baked goodness. It’s kind of like the feeling you get when you manage to do two things at once, like laundry and paying bills, except better! Because this gingerbread is sure better than the mostly-dried clothes I get from my building’s dryers…
I found the recipe on a blog I am only recently following: How Sweet Eats. I’m not sure if it’s How Sweet It Is or How Sweet Eats- she has both. Either way, I am hooked, because her writing is hil-ar-i-ous. Go to this post, read all the way through the recipe, and tell me that you didn’t laugh. “Stupid legs.” She has a genius for internal comic dialogue.

I loved the combination- banana bread, gingerbread, and of course: chocolate! I stuck mostly to the recipe on this one, although I didn’t have enough molasses to equal her amount (1/3 instead of 1/2 cup), but called it close enough. I substituted 1/3 whole-wheat flour for all-purpose to no adverse effect. And instead of turbinado sugar, I sprinkled the top with my ground gingersnap crumbs for an extra sparkle of spice.
The result had a gorgeous moist, practically gooey, crumb, an even crust on top, and filled the role of “Semi-Healthy Dessert” in my household to a ‘T’.

Yes, infinitely better than semi-dried clothes. 
Don’t forget to guess the subject of the photo above in the comments! No telling what the scale is…

Bittman, Baking, and The Best Dishes

Today, I bring you three recipes tried and news of some fun to come.
The first recipe is for “Autumn Millet Bake,” the sound of which is something quite atrocious, but turned out pretty well, even with my typical tweaking tendency. I first saw the recipe at Heidi’s site here, and was inspired to try something with millet: how pioneer-like! how quaint! how self-reliant! (You see how I like to get carried away with evocation)

Here were my changes:

  • scaled it down by half
  • used cooked squash
  • didn’t have sage
  • added roasted corn kernels
  • didn’t use nuts
  • added different seasoning (a disadvantage of losing my notes on this one is I can’t remember which)

I don’t think I managed to fully cook the millet, and I’m not sure why, but it was quite crunchy, and quite tart from the (frozen-fresh) cranberries. I had it in the morning as a whole-foods pick-me-up at work and it worked out well, providing about 4 servings (so I gather they were estimating for hungrier people in the original recipe!).

It certainly looked pretty with the colors that pop, and satisfied the belly, being made with plain foods and low in fat. If and when I try this recipe again, I would stick closer to the original and maybe cook it longer so that the cranberries had more of a chance to stew.

This next one has only one picture, because it wasn’t very photogenic and it wasn’t very flavorful. Strike Two (bringing the count to 1 and 2) for the Traditional Scottish Recipes book I bought in Scotland.

Third and final recipe: Italian Apple Cake, from FrenchieTBD, which stands for The Best Dishes in the title of this post. As far as I can tell, it is a defunct blog, and I often find a broken link, but some industrious fishing gets me back to the actual site and recipes. I really liked the writer’s style of posting a life anecdote with a dish, so I’m bummed that she hasn’t posted in a year, but what can you do: life goes on- thank goodness!

I brought this one for coworkers, and boy, was it good! Moist, as the photo shows, good browning, rich and airy crumb, and with the intoxicating scent of rum mixed in with the fresh, local apples. Ah, life is good.

And now for the news to come: I am excited to participate in the Food Blogger’s Cookie Swap 2011!

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011

I haven’t decided yet what type of cookie to bake for my compatriots in the Food Blogging World, but I want it to be good! And I’d rather make an assortment of 2 or 3 types to mitigate the risk of disappointing, but we have been instructed to only use one recipe… so I guess I’ll look over my recipients’ blogs to see what they like!
Try this cake. You won’t be disappointed.