What Is Cranachan And How Do You Make It?

Scotland holds a rather dubious place in the culinary pantheon, what with its most famous contributions being (in no particular order) haggis, Gordon Ramsay, and the deep-fried Mars bar. Yet another Scottish contribution to the food world, however, is an delicious dish that's little known outside the UK: cranachan, a dessert typically consisting of an unlikely-seeming mixture of oatmeal, whipped cream, fresh raspberries, and whiskey (Scotch, of course).

While the light and fruity cranachan may seem like a summertime dish, British food blogs usually trot out their cranachan recipes in January, just in time for Burns Night. Jan. 25 marks the birthday of Robert Burns, who, in case you're not up on your 18th century Scots dialect poets, is best known in the U.S. for having written the lyrics to "Auld Lang Syne," — you know, that song we all sing at New Year's? 

In Scotland, however, he's, like, the most famous poet/author ever. Either that, or his birthday makes for a good excuse for everyone to get together and drink loads of whiskey. Oh, and they also have to eat haggis, since for some reason Burns penned an ode to this mystery meat. (Somewhere in Hawaii, could there be a poet laureate in training composing a sonnet about Spam?) After such an offal experience (pun intended), they like to finish things up with something that actually tastes good, hence the cranachan.

The history of cranachan

Cranachan in its original form dates back to, well, no-one really knows. Or if they do, this arcane knowledge has not been shared on the internet. The Press and Journal, a newspaper out of Aberdeen, Scotland, does tell us that it was originally served as a breakfast dish, and it would actually make for a pretty amazing brunch, even in its current form. (Brunch being basically breakfast + booze, after all.) 

Anyway, back in ye olden days, whenever those were, ye olde ancient Scots enjoyed a breakfast made from toasted oats, cream, and a kind of fresh cheese made from skimmed cow's milk called crowdie. While this cheese evidently still exists and true cranachan purists will insist on it, The Guardian notes that it's not easy to come by even in the UK, so your chances of getting your hands on some in the U.S. are pretty slim. (Scottish Gourmet USA used to carry this product, but they are unable to source any at present.)

Fruit, while an integral part of modern-day cranachan, was pretty much an afterthought with the original version. If fresh raspberries were in season, sure, they'd toss in a handful, but a lack of berries was hardly a deal-breaker. As to when the Scots started adding that "wee dram" to their cranachan? Well, no doubt that varied from household to household, though The Bottle Imp notes that highlanders were always more prone to imbibing usquebaugh than their beer-drinking lowland compatriots.

How to make cranachan

In order to make the most authentically Scottish version of cranachan, where better to turn than a Scottish newspaper? The Press and Journal supplies a recipe for what they refer to as "the king of desserts" (which, by the way, is one of Scotland's most-Instagrammed foods, according to another Press and Journal article). The only problem with going straight to a UK source, however, is that you also get the UK measurements, some of which mean very little to those of us on the Western side of the Atlantic. What, after all, is a measure of whiskey? (About 5/6 ounce, according to AskingLot.) And how many berries are in a punnet? (Sizes says 250 grams, which is about eight ounces). Well, we took the liberty of translating the entire recipe, but luckily it's simple enough to allow for a lot of leeway.

In order to make cranachan, you begin by whipping a pint of heavy (aka whipping) cream, then add in 1/4 cup toasted steel-cut oats, 1/4 cup granulated sugar (they call for caster, but granulated should work just fine), 1/4 cup honey, and a tablespoon or two of whiskey. Once the mixture is well-combined, stir in four ounces raspberries (you'll need half a pint in all). Scoop the mixture into two pretty glasses or goblets, then top with the rest of the raspberries. Yum!

Cranachan lends itself to variant versions

Cranachan lends itself to numerous variants, which is the beauty of something with obscure origins. The Guardian says some modern-day chefs use mascarpone or quark in place of whipping cream to more closely approximate crowdie, while some swap blackberries for the raspberries. A nontraditional but tasty vegan version can be made with whipped coconut milk.

One rogue baker on a Food52 discussion board even admitted to making cranachan with broken oatmeal cookies instead of toasted oats while another used granola despite the Guardian insisting oats are de rigueur. Nadiya Hussein not only makes her cranachan with corn flakes, but also uses mangos in place of berries and spices her dish with black pepper. The Great British Baking Show season 11 winner even made a cranachan-inspired custard slice (British for mille-feuille, according to Wisegeek).

As for the booze, while many would consider whiskey to be another non-negotiable aspect of the dish, one 1929 recipe (from a Scottish cookbook, no less) calls for using rum instead, and there's no reason brandy wouldn't work as well. You can skip the booze altogether, too, and it's pretty easy to make both boozed-up and booze-free versions so you can offer your guests a choice. If you like, you can compensate for the missing liquor by using a teeny splash of vanilla extract or even orange juice, but this isn't absolutely necessary since the grains and fruit are plenty flavorful on their own.