Thursday, July 19, 2012

CRANACHAN - a Highland Dessert

Celebrating the release of A SLIP IN TIME, Highland Style

When, on the spur of the moment, Lord Eaton invites his friends to his uncle’s Highland estate and they arrive unannounced, the staff is unamused. Dunraven Castle has been closed to guests for two decades on the Laird’s orders, and he is not in residence.  The disgruntled staff is not about to make the thirty-some-odd visitors any more comfortable than needed. Cook, in particular, shows her displeasure by serving them oats in every dish and at every meal:

“I mean, do these Scots eat nothing besides oats?” Lady Henrietta Downs complained several seats away, drawing Julia's attention back to the conversation which had blessedly taken a new turn. “Cook has served little else since our arrival — for breakfast, lunch, tea, or dinner.”
Lord Eaton turned to the butler, who stood beside him, holding a silver bowl. “Lady Henrietta is quite right, Angus. Cook even sent us into the field with cold bars of porridge in our pockets instead of sandwiches.”
“Most traditional, m'lord.”
“And what of dinner just now? Oats in the soup, the stuffing, the pud, even the fish was coated with oats.”
“A tasty way it is to prepare fresh fish, m' lord.”
“Hmm, yes. What is that you have in the bowl there?” Everyone's eyes turned to the silver bowl and its fluffy contents.
“Cranachan, m' lord, a traditional sweet.”
“And what, precisely, is cranachan?
“A delightful creation — lightly whipped cream served with raspberries.”
Lord Eaton frowned. “What are those flecks in the cream?”
“Toasted oats, of course, m'lord.”
A moan echoed around the table.
What better way to celebrate the newly revised edition of  A SLIP IN TIME, than with one of the recipes served my characters in the pages of the book? My choice fell easily to cranachan, a festive and elegant creation made with fluffy whipped cream, flavored with whiskey and honey, and combined with toasted oats to bring out their nutty flavor. This traditional Highland dish is served on special occasions such as Christmas, Hogmanay, and Burn’s Night. It is especially enjoyed with fresh summer raspberries which are lightly crushed and folded in at the last minute. Happily, even frozen raspberries can be adapted to the dish in this day and strawberries are a delicious substitute.  Enjoy the recipe below and its many variations. May Time slip by most pleasurably as you enjoy a dish of Cranachan!


At its simplest, the dish is comprised of four ingredients: oatmeal, whiskey, honey and cream. Originally, it was called “crowdie cream” because a soft curd [skimmed cottage cheese] was used. Raspberries were added when they came available in summer months, though today it’s rare to find Cranachan without it.

3 Tbls oatmeal (steel cut/pinhead is traditional)  
1 ¼ cups (1/2 pint) heavy cream
2 Tbls malt whiskey or Drambuie
2 Tbls clear runny honey (heather honey preferred, clover honey good)
Raspberries  6 – 8 ozs reserve some for decoration and/or layering, crush rest with fork

·       Toast oatmeal in a skillet on the stovetop, or on a cookie sheet in the oven until it has a nutty smell and light brown in color. (This is quick but will take constant attention so it doesn’t burn). Cool oats completely. * (See Oatmeal below for option using brown sugar.)
·       Whip the cream until thick (soft peaks) but not stiff
·       Fold in honey and whiskey
·       Fold in crushed raspberries
·       Fold in cooled oats (optional – see below)
·       Spoon into individual dishes. Whole raspberries may be alternated with whipped cream mixture. (This is lovely in a footed trifle bowl to see the layers. Small, individual-serving trifle bowls are popularly available).
·       Cover with plastic wrap. Keep cool in the fridge until serving time.


·       Oatmeal: While steel cut (pinhead) oatmeal is traditional to this dish, on this side of the Pond it is less familiar though usually available at the grocers. Following Scot tradition, the oats are not sweetened in this recipe and struck me as a bit gritty and a somewhat bland. Admittedly, I possess a bit of a sweet tooth. A suggestion online, citing Nick Nairn’s book New Scottish Cookery, advises adding some light brown sugar to the oats as they toast in the skillet (half the amount of the oats), letting it caramelize a bit. Nick used pinhead oatmeal. I tried rolled oats for my second kitchen test, and the result was crunchy, delicious and lightly sweet. On my third attempt, I decided to try the pinhead oatmeal again with the brown sugar. The result was outstanding. Definitely my favorite!
·       Whiskey: Suggested amounts and ratios of whiskey to honey varied in my research. Many suggested equal amounts, anywhere from 2 T to– 4 T each whiskey/honey; at other times 3T whiskey – 1 T honey (rather potent I should think!)  I found 2 T each whiskey/honey produced a pleasant taste. When the whiskey was increased it began to dominate the mixture. Keep in mind, I was using only ½ pint of whipped cream. Also, when the dessert was chilled overnight, the whiskey lost some of its potency, so 3 T would likely have been fine.
·       Whiskey brands:  A quality, single malt whiskey is recommended — Scottish, of course — Glenlivet, Macallan, Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, Isle of Jura and Glen Garioch are claimed to be “particularly tasty.” Each malt is distinctly different. Some people use a different one each time they make Cranachan. Sounds like they are well stocked!
·       Cooled Oats:  Traditionally the oats are folded into the creamed mixture, but if you like, use them to layer the mixture with the berries, trifle-like, or sprinkle them over the top of the dessert. Sue Lawrence in A Cook’s Tour of Scotland offers a “Chocolate Cranachan with Raspberries” recipe in which toasted hazelnuts and muscovado sugar are added to the toasted oats. Another of her creations is “Clotted Cream Cranachan” which sounds wonderfully rich.
·       Raspberries: The berries I purchased were far from sweet, not that they usually are so very much. I mixed in a tablespoon of honey to the mashed berries before I folded them into the whipped cream and whiskey/honey mixture. Much better taste IMHO. Suggestions from other cooks include soaking the raspberries in warm honey and whiskey before adding to the dessert. Another interesting option is to soak them in Framboise. Now we are getting far afield from Highland tradition, but the side trips might prove most flavorsome!

Last Thoughts: An old custom is to serve the ingredients separately so that everyone can make their own combinations in their bowls and the whiskey can be left out of the children’s portions. Whole berries and oats scattered on top of the dessert make a lovely decoration. Drizzle a little extra honey honey over the top as well if you like a touch sweeter dessert. Strawberries, blackberries and other brambles would also be delicious in this dish. Frozen, Cranachan takes on the texture of “yogurt fresh ice cream” according to one online reviewer.

However you choose to serve Cranachan, enjoy!


  1. Oh I love Cranachan! Whenever I go to New York, I can be found at The St. Andrews eating Cranachan and drinking of of their over 200 varieties of scotch. Now that I have the recipe, I can't wait to try it! Now all I have to do is come up with a recipe for their Sticky Toffee Pudding. Yum!

  2. Sticky Toffee Pudding. Oh, yum indeed!

    I'll be interested to know what brand of whiskey you used for the Cranachan and whether or not you decided to sweeten the oatmeal. This is really such a quick recipe to pull together.

  3. Wow, it looks very very very good ... !!! Thanks ^-^