After a year or so of empty nests and far-flung offspring, our family was reunited last week for a holiday in one of the world’s most remote but beautiful spots. Colonsay is a tiny Hebridean island two and a half hours by ferry from the west coast of Scotland. It’s about 10 miles (around 16km) long, has around 100 residents, a bird sanctuary and miles of unspoiled, golden sandy beaches. There is one part-time police officer on the island although crime is rare. A recent mysterious case of tyre slashing was the first reported crime in seven years.

We stayed in an old farmhouse with a panoramic view of nearby islands and surrounded by hundreds of curious sheep. When the sun shone, it was paradise. We spent our days on the beach or looking for guillemots and corncrakes, and our evenings playing Monopoly by an open fire.

Colonsay is small but thriving. There’s a beautiful hotel, a general store-cum-post office, a bookshop and a microbrewery. It even hosts a small book festival during the spring. There are also plenty of options for cake lovers like myself. At The Pantry we tucked into cupcakes, with a view of the harbour, and in the tearoom at the estate house we devoured rhubarb and custard cake surrounded by rhododendrons. The general store also sells products from Cuisine de France, an Irish company that supplies part-baked croissants, baguettes and doughnuts. The Cuisine de France goodies arrive on the evening ferry, which means islanders can enjoy fresh patisserie the next morning.

Colonsay, Scotland. Photo: Pamela Timms
Colonsay, Scotland. Photo: Pamela Timms

In fact, it’s not just on Colonsay that Scotland’s rich baking tradition is disappearing. Despite a widespread resurgence of interest in artisan baking generally in Britain, these days you’re more likely to find Eastern European rye breads than Scottish specialities. Which is a shame when we consider that according to Scottish food chronicler F. Marian McNeill in 1929, “If every Frenchwoman is born with a wooden spoon in her hand, every Scotswoman is born with a rolling pin under her arm." Certainly, when I was growing up, you would never have visited anyone’s house without being offered a minimum of home-made shortbread and dropped scones.

Today’s recipe is for Selkirk Bannock. “Bannock" is the generic name for Scottish flatbreads, traditionally made from barley or oatmeal and cooked on a griddle. The “Selkirk" variety is a rich buttery, fruity variety that was first made in 1859 in the Scottish borders town after which it is named. When Queen Victoria visited the area she is said to have refused everything with her tea apart from a slice of the local bannock.

It’s simple to make and wonderful warm from the oven thickly spread with butter. A perfect breakfast—and much nicer than a plastic-wrapped, part-baked, much-travelled Pain aux Raisins

This has to be a business idea for someone on Colonsay. In fact, if I don’t come back to Delhi in August, you’ll know where to find me.

Selkirk Bannock

Makes one loaf

Ingredients

250ml warm milk

1 teaspoon caster sugar

7g fast-action yeast

500g strong white bread flour

125g butter, melted and cooled, plus a little extra for greasing

450g sultanas

75g sugar

Milk to glaze

Method

You will need a round cake tin approximately 22cm wide, well greased

Mix the warm milk, 1 teaspoon caster sugar and yeast in a large bowl and leave for about 10 minutes until the surface starts to froth. Add the flour and butter and mix to form a soft dough. Knead well for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth, springy and elastic. Cover the bowl with cling film, then leave in a warm place to double in size.

Knock the air out of the puffed up dough, then add the sultanas and 75g sugar. Mix with your hands to incorporate completely into the dough—this will take a few minutes as there is so much fruit. Shape the dough into a round, then place it in the greased tin. Cover loosely with the cling film, then leave again to double in size for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Brush the surface of the dough with a little milk, then bake for about 45 minutes until the top is browned and the tin sounds hollow when tapped. Cool the bannock in the tin for a few minutes before removing. Wonderful while still warm, sliced and buttered. Also good toasted (French toast might be an idea) and anything left over can be made into a rich bread and butter pudding.

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Eatanddust.com.

Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns

Close