It is well known that I consider the adding of whisky to any situation a positive thing and it would be much remiss of me to exclude desserts from the list of situations. So, when the planning of a pudding for this year’s NomNomNom cooking competition came up there was really only one choice for me – Cranachan.
Cranachan is a deceptively simple pud – whipped cream with a touch of whisky, toasted oats and raspberries. It’s the scottish Eton Mess and with the recent revival of that dish at the finer end of dining cranachan has tagged along, adding a touch of regional flair to the creamy dessert spectrum. However, there are a number of variables to consider, so using my finely honed scientific mind (poetic license) I decided to do some experimenting before putting together a final recipe.
First up was the fruit. One of the aims of NomNomNom is to use locally sourced and seasonal ingredients where possible, and while raspberries are in season I thought it’d be good to add a twist. One of my favourite summer fruits is the gooseberry – we had a bush in the garden when I was a kid and due to a distinct lack of enthusiasm for them in my family I pinched many straight from the branch, revelling in the stolen painful sourness. I didn’t want to exclude the raspberry, so my first experiments pitted it against stewed gooseberries (cooked on a low heat in some simple syrup until they started to break up) and quartered raw gooseberry. The plain gooseberry had a good crunch, but was a bit too tart for the sweet dessert that we planned; the raspberry was good and classic, but again slightly too sour; the stewed gooseberry was perfect – a centre of caramel sweetness surrounded by the rounded sourness of the gooseberry.
Next was the oats. Plain toasted oats were a bit boring and the large quantity of floury bits in the bag I bought led to a dusty oatiness that wasn’t really what I was after. A quick think later and a couple of tablespoons of soft brown sugar went into a dry pan with the toasting oats. I stirred it carefully as it heated, keeping the oats moving so they wouldn’t burn, until the sugar melted, at which point it came off the heat and I stirred a bit more frantically to mop up the dust to make a simple, crunchy, sugary granola. This was a bit of a winner and I may have eaten most of it on its own once it had cooled.
Finally we came to the cream – whipping cream is easy, but what whisky should I use? I dragged out 4 to choose from – Greenore 8 year old, Laphroaig Cairdeas, Benromach Organic and Yamazaki Sherry cask. The Greenore was, as might be expected, very light and added a pleasant whisky sweetness to the cream without overpowering it too much; the Cairdeas lost a lot of its flavours when combined with cream but the iodine peatiness came through, which was quite unpleasant; the Benromach was almost excellent, but the main flavour to cut through the cream was the woodiness of the new barrels used for maturing, overpowering the sweetness I was looking for; the Yamazaki was also really good, but not what was needed here – if I ever need to make a sherry trifle then this will be going in with the cream, as it had a very concentrated sour sherry flavour that cut through the fat. In the end I decided on the Greenore, although this would mean that I was making a Scottish dessert using English cream, English gooseberries, English oats and Irish whiskey, which felt slightly sacrilegious.
It’s said that no plan survives contact with the enemy and my recipe was no different. On the day minor issues with exploding stewed gooseberries (they go everywhere when you drop a bowl onto a hard work surface) were quickly swept under the carpet (almost literally) and plans for using Greenore were discarded when my cooking buddy Melanie, the other half of our most excellent team – The Tarragons of Virtue, pulled out a miniature of Glenmorangie 10 year old that she’d got from work – the combination of sweetness and wood cut through the cream perfectly making it the obvious choice. Melanie also added a touch of icing sugar to the cream while whipping to add a little more sweetness.
Some brown sugar
Some sugar syrup
Add the gooseberries to a pan and fill to half way up their side with a 1:3 sugar:water syrup. Cook over a low heat until they are a gooey sauce, although with some gooseberry lumps still present, and then leave to cool. Toast some oats in a frying pan with some soft brown sugar, making sure to keep the oats moving to stop them burning. Once the sugar has started to melt remove the pan from the heat and stir until the sugar starts solidifying again. Leave them to cool, breaking them up with a spoon a bit before using them. Whip some cream until light and fluffy and fold in a little icing sugar and some whisky until it tastes good.
To assemble: place a spoon of stewed gooseberry in the bottom of a serving glass. Fold together some cream and oats until slightly crunchy, then add some gooseberry and stir once to give a gooseberry swirl. Spoon into the serving class and top with more oats and a quartered fresh gooseberry.
We didn’t win, but I did eat a lot of whisky cream.
NomNomNom is an annual cooking competition and charity raffle in aid of Action Against Hunger. I also did it last year and didn’t win, ho hum. There will be a post up about our efforts on the day on the main NomNomNom website soon, along with some audience award voting. Please vote for me and Melanie, we’re lovely.
There’s also a post on my other blog about our main course – a stuffed pork loin. It was very nice.
Now be good and go and buy some raffle tickets.