How They Made It: Making Cranachan with Mrs. Graham
Welcome to our occasional series, “How They Made It.” We’re clinging to the final days of summer and its plentiful array of fresh berries by making Cranachan with Mrs. Graham.
Ah summer…lazy long days, high humidity, frizzy hair…wait, why is summer so good? Well, for one thing, I love summer for its large array of available fruit, like peaches, apricots, cherries, and berries. Eating them out of hand is a sure-fire treat, but I love to use fresh fruits in baking and desserts…pies, tarts, cobblers, and shortcakes are all favorites of mine. Cranachan (pronounced “CRAH-nuh-kun” according to The Case for Cranachan, an article I found on the Whiski Rooms website) is another way to use fresh berries. It’s a confection of whipped cream, mashed berries, and toasted oats, all sweetened with honey and spiked with whisky (as any good Scottish dish should be). Making Cranachan isn’t hard at all, the wonderful taste belying the simplicity of the dish.
The history of Cranachan is lost to the mists of time (or at least to the mists of the Interwebs as I couldn’t find when it came into being). I do know that this dish is very old, and was originally called “Cream Crowdie” after the crowdie cheese used to make it (crowdie is a soft cheese similar to ricotta or cottage cheese). Cream Crowdie, served at breakfast, was made with layers of crowdie, toasted oats, cream, and honey…raspberries were added when they were in season. When whisky was added to the recipe I don’t know, although hopefully not for breakfast for the kiddies! Layered like a trifle, Cranachan is usually served for special occasions like Hogmanay or Burns Night Dinners. I can imagine this lovely dish being served at any of the time periods of Outlander, but the image in my head of wee Roger sitting with the Reverend & Mrs. Graham with whipped cream all over his face captured my fancy so I decided set this recipe in the 1940s.
Why did I settle on making Cranachan in the first place? Well, besides the fresh raspberries I saw at the Farmers’ Market, I had toasted oats in my freezer in the form of bannock crumbs (do you remember the “Battle of the Bannocks” post? My bannocks crumbled almost immediately, so I bagged the crumbs for some future use). When I ran across this Cranachan recipe from Christina’s Cucina, I thought, “Aha! Glad I saved those bannock crumbs!” (My next thought was, “now when are you going to use those frozen chicken bones and leek tops taking up freezer space?” That’ll be a post for another day).
Note: This recipe serves six, but I just made one serving for my daughter and me to share, so I kind of winged it on the ingredient amounts. As is my usual habit, I’ve annotated the recipe below with my italicized comments.
adapted from Christina’s Cucina by Christina Conte
Yields: 6 servings
1/3 cup (2 oz) and 1/4 cup (11/2 oz) steel cut/pinhead oats (or bannock crumbs, if you’ve got them)
1/3 cup (3 oz) Scotch whisky (I used Aberlour A’bunadh, a lovely cask strength Highland scotch)
2 cups (12 oz) fresh raspberries
3 Tbsp Scotch whisky (yup, more whisky…)
3 Tbsp organic raw honey
2 tsp sugar (I used granulated sugar for the raspberries and powdered sugar for the cream)
2 cups of organic heavy whipping cream (I couldn’t use authentic Scottish cream, drat it all)
- The night before you want to make the dessert, toast 1/3 cup (2 oz) of the oats in a cast iron or very heavy pan until very lightly browned — this won’t take long, so keep a close eye, as you don’t want burnt oats. Put the oats in a bowl and cover with 1/3 cup (3 oz) of whisky. Cover and let stand overnight to soak. (Since I used the bannock crumbs, I figured they were toasted already, so I just soaked some in scotch for a few minutes)
- When you are ready to make the Cranachan, toast the second batch of oats, exactly the same as you did the first ones. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. (again…bannock crumbs, already toasted…)
- Choose a few choice raspberries to decorate the tops and set them aside.
- Crush the rest of the raspberries in a bowl, with a spatula or fork, just a bit (we’re not making jam).
- Sprinkle the raspberries with 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of whisky. Mix well and set aside. (I adjusted the amounts of sugar, honey, and scotch I used to suit my taste. I suggest you do the same)
- Whip the cream until it starts to thicken, then add the other 2 tablespoons of honey, and 2 tablespoons of whisky. Continue to whip until stiff peaks form, then fold in the whisky-soaked oats. (I’m going to point you below for my comments here…)
- At this point, we are ready to assemble the dessert. I would recommend doing this relatively close to serving time as the dessert will taste better fresh (if possible, don’t make it in the morning to serve for dinner).
- Place a spoonful or two, to cover the bottom of the glass, of the raspberries, then add some of the cream mixture.
- Sprinkle the cream with some of the toasted oats, then repeat the layers. Finish with the sprinkled oats and top with a raspberry or three.
- Refrigerate until ready to eat, but take them out about 20 minutes before serving, for better flavor.
I ended up making Cranachan twice, and there were two reasons why. First, I had a bit of a mishap on Step 6 above. My older daughter was helping me whip the cream (she likes to do this by hand). When it was time to add the granulated sugar specified in the recipe and the scotch at the soft peak stage, she forgot to include the honey. As she continued to whip, the added liquid from the scotch caused the whipped cream to break a bit (my theory is that the honey counteracts this from happening). It still tasted good, though it had a softer body than proper whipped cream. We then folded in the scotch-soaked bannock crumbs to the whipped cream, then layered the dessert as indicated. Here’s where the second reason came in. I had used too heavy a hand adding the scotch (remember, it’s in the bannock crumbs, the raspberries and the whipped cream), plus I had used cask strength whisky. For those that don’t know, that’s scotch that hasn’t been diluted to bring down the alcohol content. This ended up as a dram in a dessert – too strong even for me!
On the second try, I whipped cream in the blender for 30 seconds, then added powdered sugar and honey and whipped again to stiff peak, and this method worked much better. Also, I toned down the scotch by adding a bit of water, then tasted each component as I went to make sure I didn’t overdo it again. I did get distracted talking to my younger daughter on the phone and forgot to mix in the soaked bannock crumbs into the whipped cream, but no matter, I just ended up layering the Cranachan like a trifle. This version was delightful! Creamy, sweet (but not overly so), lightly textured and spiked just right. Jackpot!
I encourage you to try this dessert, hopefully avoiding the pitfalls I encountered. Don’t wait for a special occasion… celebrate the final days of summer! That’s all the occasion I need. How about you?
Have you heard of or tasted Cranachan before? What was the occasion? Do you have a special way to prepare and serve it?