Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Broonie (Orkney Gingerbread)

Orkney consists of about 70 islands and skerries, and is located to the north-east of the top of Scotland. In common with its Scottish neighbours and the northern counties of England, oats and barley (in Orkney a variety known as bere is grown, locally called corn) are the cereal staples used for breads and bannocks, and, less/more essentially, ale and whisky. Oatmeal is a primary ingredient in Broonie, a pale gingerbread made with black treacle, butter, brown sugar, wheat flour, egg, ground ginger (never!) and buttermilk.

Gingerbreads, although found throughout Britain, do seem to be particularly popular amongst those living at the top of the country and often include locally grown oats in the form of oatmeal. Parkin, traditionally eaten in the north of England on November the 5th, is another form of gingerbread that includes oatmeal, as does the Scottish Perkin. With Bonfire Night not too far off (fast followed by the big December event that I need not name) I feel a follow-up gingerbread baking session coming on already.

F. Marian McNeill's 'The Scots Kitchen' carries a recipe for Broonie - just one of 67 recipes that the book contains that make use of oats or oatmeal. Under her recipe is the note 'Correctly, Brüni, a thick bannock (Orkney and Sheltand)'; Brüni is a Norse word for a thick bannock. As I have touched on previously, bannocks are a very old form of bread and also the forefathers of the scone. Bannocks were historically cooked on the girdle, but more recent recipes are oven-baked. F Marian McNeill's recipe for Broonie and that of Julie Duff in 'Cakes - Regional & Traditional' are oven-baked. Both recipes contain identical ingredients (although Julie Duff uses self-raising rather than plain flour with the addition of baking soda), but McNeill uses less butter and ginger, and she uses equal quantities of flour and oatmeal (175g each), whereas Duff uses 225g of self-raising flour and 115g of oatmeal. McNeill unfortunately has omitted the amount of sugar required for her recipe, so I am unable to bake two Broonies for comparative purposes/filling a large Broonie-sized hole in my tummy. This is probably for the best...

Broonie (from Julie Duffs 'Cakes - Regional & Traditional)

225g self-raising flour
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
115g medium or pinhead oatmeal
115g butter (cubed, at room temperature)
115g pale brown sugar
2 tablespoons black treacle
1 egg
150ml buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 160c/325F/Gas 3. Prepare a 900g/2 lb loaf tin (grease and line - you know the routine).
2. Sift the flour and ginger into a bowl and stir in the oatmeal. Add the cubed butter and rub in using your fingertips until you have the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and stir well.
3. In a small saucepan gently melt the treacle over a low heat and set aside to cool slightly (daringly, I warmed mine in the microwave). Beat the egg into the treacle and then add to the dry ingredients together with the buttermilk. Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly.
4. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for approximately one hour (until well risen and a skewer comes out clean).
5. Leave to cool in the tin.

Broonie is one of those cakes for which the instruction is given - 'this improves after a few days wrapped in foil and stored in an air-tight tin' - all very well, but a real test of self-restraint when faced with a freshly baked cake of fragrant and warm charm. Naturally, I cut a few slices to try fresh, and then wrapped the rest of the loaf to try again in a day or so. The Broonie was surprisingly light in the mouth, but was a little dry in texture - something that the day or so of resting helped a little -so a generous topping of butter was a good addition to each slice, but for less indulgency serve with a cup of tea.

Ellis, my young Junior taster (yep, he is now on solids, can't believe we are here already) tried a cube of Broonie, but decided it was not for him. This followed on from the failure of oatmeal porridge, so perhaps I should take note of his lack of enthusiasm for oats. Sweet potato on the otherhand... If anyone has a sweet potato cake recipe?