Whilst I was flipping through my recipe books looking for something for David's special dinner I came across Raspberry and honey cranachan - as shown on the left here, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book Everyday. I knew this was a traditional Scottish dessert, but didn't know much about it so decided to give it a starring position today.
There's actually not a lot to tell. Although it does sound like a perfect very quick and simple dessert to make.
As it's such a basic dish its origins are ancient - and Scottish. The name, cranachan, is old Gaelic for churn, although I'm not sure why 'churn' as there is no churning involved..
It began life as crowdie cream - a breakfast dish. Crowdie is a home-made kind of cheese which is now all but impossible to find except from expensive specialist artisans at doubtlessly high prices. Basically the crofters of Scotland would milk their cows and set some of the milk aside in a dish in the sun for it to basically go off. (Is there sun in Scotland? Is it ever warm?) When it curdled enough they cooked it a bit, until it really separated out, and then hung it in muslin for the whey to strain off. So really I would think it is very similar to ricotta or cottage cheese or even paneer. They are all sort of the same thing. In some of the recipes I found people had substituted quark or skyr, although most modern recipes for cranachan do not include it or a substitute anyway.
But back to cream crowdie. The crowdie was mixed with toasted oats and honey and sometimes cream for a rather modern sounding breakfast. In the berry season a few berries might have been added, and at some point people started adding a dash of whiskey - well half a shot.
Eventually it became more of a dessert dish with the crowdie being dropped and cream substituted and whiskey always added. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe is pretty much the original thing, although he does also have a Rhubarb cranachan version which roasts rhubarb with orange juice, sugar and vanilla, and substitutes cointreau for the whisky in the cream. A bit more elaborate this as you have to cook the rhubarb first.
Felicity Cloake does her usual thing and takes you through all of the more common variations. That thing with the crowdie cheese for example. She finds one suggestion of substituting mascarpone, but finds that too heavy. Some people toasted the oats with sugar, which is something that she eventually adopts, although only a little, not as much as had been suggested.
And did I mention that the honey should be heather honey - of course! But I don't think you will find that either. Certainly not here in Australia unless some specialist Scottish shop somewhere imports it from Scotland, although Felicity Cloake seemed to think it was pretty difficult to find in England too.
I also found that, as it is such a simple assembly job one traditional way of serving it is to set out all of the ingredients so that guests could assemble their own dish. All the host would have to do here is to toast the oats and whip the cream. And I should also say that there is some argument as to what kind of oats to use, although the majority seem to go for pinhead oats. I assume you can get them here, but am not sure. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, mind you, uses rolled oats. Oh and don't add oil to your oats when toasting them. Just a bit of sugar seems to be the trick. Put them in a frypan and toast them over the heat until crispy. Watching like a hawk I would suggest in case they burn.
It's a dish that's very close to Eton mess of course - meringues, cream and strawberries, rather than raspberries, oats, honey and cream. And I think trifle and things like tiramisu are not that far away either. Not to mention all those breakfast bowls of oats and fruits and ricotta cheese.
And so, of course the chefs get at it and take the concept - the ingredients - and turn them into other delicious things, such as three of Jamie Oliver's inventions shown here: Frozen cranberry cranachan, Cranachan raspberry cake and Cranachan sundae
Traditionally cranachan is eaten on Burns Night which is January 15th (winter in Scotland) although I'm not sure why that would be, as it's really a hot weather dessert don't you think, and before the days of commercial greenhouses you would not have been able to get raspberries - indeed any kind of berry at that time of year. The other theory is that it was traditionally eaten in June at the time of the raspberry harvest, which does make more sense. But then again it sounds as if the cream crowdie version anyway was eaten all year round - with or without fruit - depending on availability.
Whatever the tradition, nowadays just be thankful that you have one more option to whip up a sensational dessert at a moment's notice, provided you have some berries in the fridge - and let's face it - most of us do these days. I would be using a liqueur instead of whiskey though. I can't stand whiskey. I've never been able to get beyond the smell.
POSTSCRIPT ON YESTERDAY'S NIZZA PIZZA
Here is the finished product. We could only eat half of it as it was actually quite filling. The base was not at all like a pizza base of course, but it was pretty good nevertheless. I don't think I cooked the base enough - it wasn't crisp enough - instead it was sort of chewy and crumbly all at the same time. Very different. Not sure I would make it again, mostly because other more mainstream versions of pizza are probably better, but definitely worth a try if you are on a health or novelty kick. Mind you the oats might lower cholesterol but the cheese and salami wouldn't do much for it. You can't win can you? It's a bit the same with the cranachan - oats good, honey good, whiskey and cream not good! Balance has been achieved.