A sweet treat for Burns’ Night
Today is Burns’ Day but instead of extolling the virtues of haggis, neeps and tatties or exploring Burn’s connection to Campbeltown (seriously, are there any Scottish towns that don’t claim some kind of connection to the Bard?), I thought I’d share the recipe for my favourite Scottish sweet treat – tablet – with you. For those of you unfamiliar with tablet, it’s a bit like toffee or fudge but not really like either of them. Harder than fudge and softer than toffee, the main thing in common is the vast quantities of sugar required to make them. Definitely not a health food but it tastes sooo good.
Certainly the easiest way to discover the joys of tablet is to buy some from one of our excellent local producers, Scottish Tablet Company (available online) and Kintyre Tablet (available from the Kintyre Larder). However, then you are missing out on the absolute best bit about making your own tablet; scraping the pot afterwards. You have to judge it carefully though – start scraping too soon and you might as well be trying sook molten lava off a spoon, leave it to cool and harden too long and you’re as well just eating chunks of the finished product. I have many happy childhood memories of standing in the kitchen, teaspoon in hand, waiting for Mum to let us start scraping the tablet she’d just made out the pot. (Incidentally, a metal teaspoon is by far the best pot-scraping implement – it gives a slight metallic tang to contrast the intense sweetness of the warm tablet. Using the wooden spoon just isn’t the same, trust me on this one!)
Mum has made tablet for as long as I can remember, using the recipe that she got from her mum, who got it from her mum, who, we think, may have got it from her mum. Suffice to say, it’s a fairly old family recipe. One which I am going to share with you today as a wee Burns’ Day treat.
The original recipe is handwritten so I’ve typed it out below and added a couple of clarifications, and photos, just in case you can’t read my writing. Apologies for the old-style measurements but as I said, it’s an old recipe! Don’t worry too much about getting the conversions spot on – technically 2lbs is 907g but I always just use a 1kg bag of sugar. Similarly, mum always uses a coffee cup to measure the milk/water cause she doesn’t have any measuring cups so a few grams/mililitres here and there really isn’t going to make any difference. The most important thing is to stir, stir, stir and then beat, beat, beat once you take it off the heat. Oh, and don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to try to speed things up – you’ll just end up with everything bubbling up volcano-like and trying to escape from the pot (says the voice of experience.)
So anyway, here’s the recipe. And remember, tablet’s not just for Burns’ Night. It tastes great with a coffee or a dram (or just on it’s own) all year round!
TABLET (Mum’s Recipe)
2lbs granulated sugar
1 tin (397g) condensed milk
2 oz margarine (block)*
2 oz butter
1/2 cup milk**
1/2 cup water
Melt sugar and fats with milk and water over a medium heat in a large, heavy-based pan. Stir until sugar has dissolved then add condensed milk.KEEP STIRRING. When it’s turned golden brown and forming craters remove from the heat and beat.*** Keep beating. The longer you beat, the harder the final tablet will be. It should be ready when the tablet is wrinkling, sticking to the sides of the pan and the spoon leaves a clear trail on the bottom of the pan. Pour onto buttered plates**** to set. Score into small squares while still warm.
Some other points to consider-
*Don’t be tempted to use all butter instead of half butter and half marge – you’d think it would improve it but Mum assures me it doesn’t. She tried it once but then reverted to the original recipe.
**I use 1 cup of semi-skimmed milk instead of half milk and half water but if you use whole milk I’d stick to half milk and half water.
*** You need to beat for ages. Your arm will get sore. You’ll probably need to switch arms a couple of times. I’m a traditionalist so I do this by hand but, hey, it’s not your family recipe so you could try using a hand-held electric mixer. It should work and would save time/RSI. Let me know how it goes!
**** Mum has always poured her tablet onto dinner plates cause she always saw her mum doing that, but you end up with lots of skiddly wee scraps of tablet round the edges. It only occurred to me very recently that the reason Mon (as I call my Gran) used plates was cause she wouldn’t have had any other suitable dishes. (She has, and always had, the worst equipped kitchen I have ever seen. It’s always surprised me that she made tablet given her general disinterest in any remotely domestic tasks!). I now use rectangular ceramic dishes (again, don’t want to stray too far from tradition) but I’m sure a metal baking tray would also work.