The clootie dumpling is a wonderful traditional Scottish pudding closely associated with Christmas and Hogmanay, Fraser Wright discovers its surprisingly rich history and provides a recipe to make your own

Clootie dumpling is the traditional Scottish pudding I think most closely associated with Christmas and Hogmanay, at the least for high days and holidays as a celebration cake. Many Scots have fond memories of their grandmothers or their mothers making so it is something many Scots are fond of. In case you haven’t tried this comforting pudding, why not try making a clootie dumpling this Christmas to keep the tradition alive.

After all, this is the time of year we can hopefully indulge ourselves, and set aside some time to make some traditional things like this. For those of you who don’t know what it is – clootie dumpling is simply a spiced pudding studded with dried fruits that is wrapped in a cloth and simmered in water for a lengthy period. Outcomes a giant steamed dumpling ready to be sliced and served with custard.

If you look back far enough you will find the origins of a clootie dumpling are really just a plum, or Christmas, pudding. Clootie dumpling, however, is more plain and not as rich. Take for instance Hannah Glasse’s recipe for ‘A boiled plumb pudding’ in The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy. It is practically identical to a modern recipe for clootie dumpling. It calls for the same ingredients as well as tying it up in a cloth to boil it. Remember this book was first published in 1747 so the recipe hasn’t changed in almost 300 years. Incidentally, this old method for boiling puddings produces the classic round pudding shape we associate with a perfect Dickensian Christmas.

Clootie dumpling is a Scottish colloquialism and gets its name from the cloth it is boiled in, cloot being Scots for cloth. Clootie dumpling follows the same tradition of hiding lucky charms inside a Christmas pudding. Although, there is no tradition for setting the pudding alight with brandy. I would imagine at Christmas the Scots are more likely to keep precious alcohol in their glass rather than sending it into the ether.

The clootie dumpling is a relic from times past. The method for cooking puddings in a cloth is an ancient one, and one that seems to have persisted in Scotland where other places it has died out. Perhaps it is the Scots’ natural aversion to anything too fancy or novel. In the past all sorts of steamed puddings, savoury as well as sweet, were cooked in this way. Most of the best recipes are English, think of jam roly-poly or spotted dick (oh those naughty Victorians). In Scotland there are versions for oatmeal dumplings, which were served up with a stew or soup.

You could potentially steam a clootie dumpling in a pudding basin but it would no longer be a clootie dumpling. A glutinous ‘skin’ forms on the outside of the dumpling as a result of being boiled in a cloth, and this is what gives clootie dumpling its character. Sometimes people use old pillow cases for the job as it is just the right sort of material. Hopefully there is no ‘character’ imparted by the cloth it is cooked in! Traditionally when the cloth was removed the clootie dumpling would be left to dry out before the fire to form a crust on the outside. Today, an oven does the best job for drying it out.

If you make one this size you will likely have some leftover, so you can eat it for Breakfast on Boxing day. You need a strong digestion, but fried in butter and served with bacon and eggs it makes a fine breakfast. If you are confident, you could play around with the recipe a bit. As Christian Isobel Johnstone said in The Cook and Housewife’s Manual -‘There are a thousand other ways of making a plum-pudding’. Fine ground oatmeal could be a nice addition. I have come across quite a few recipes that contain grated carrot, always good for making a cake moist. I would serve this with custard, failing that double cream. The instructions do look long, but it is very easy to make a clootie dumpling

Ingredients

• 500g plain flour (or plain cake flour)
• 200g beef suet
• 250g castor sugar
• 250g raisins
• 250g sultanas
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon*
• 1 tsp ground allspice
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
• 3 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 2 large eggs
• 1 bramley apple, peeled and grated
• 3 tbsp black treacle
• 100ml whole milk
• extra plain flour for dusting

*you could add 3 tsp mixed spice instead of adding the cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg.

Method

Bring a very large pot of water to the boil, the largest you have. You want to leave 2 – 3 inches of water from the top to make sure the dumpling can be accommodated. Equally there needs to be enough water to make sure the dumpling has room to float.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl combine all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, spices, salt, baking powder, dried fruit and beef suet). In another bowl mix the eggs, milk and black treacle together with the grated apple. Then combine the wet mixture with the dry mixture.

Picture: FW

The clootie dumpling bag. Picture: FW

Dip your dumpling cloot into the boiling pot of water to soak it for a few minutes. Wring it out to remove the excess water. Now spread the cloot over a large work surface and dust it fairly generously with plain flour. The layer of flour does not need to be thick but do make it even. The wet cloot and flour combine to form a protective glue-like waterproof surface so make sure the flour reaches far enough to the edges of the cloot, so that the flour will cover the whole dumpling when the cloot is drawn up around it.

Empty the dumpling mixture on to the cloot and draw up the cloot around it. Tie it with string, wrapping the string twice around, tie it twice as tight as can be pulled. When you tie the cloot leave a bit of spare room at the top, for the dumpling will expand a little. Make sure to cut a generous length of string so you can tie the excess on to the pot handles to suspend the cloot when it is submerged in the water.

Put the lid on and keep on a low simmer for 4 hours. When the dumpling is ready you can lift it out by the string that was attached to the handle. Remove the cloot and transfer the dumpling to a baking tray. Dry the dumpling in a 180˚C preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes. When you first remove the cloot you will have a white glutinous skin which covers the surface of the dumpling. After it has been in the oven it will become darker and form a nice crust on the outside of the dumpling.

*Make sure to use a good quality tea towel, not terrycloth but flat with a dense weave. Sometimes in ironmongers or kitchen shops you see clootie dumpling bags like I used. Otherwise you can buy a length of calico from a haberdashery.

Alternative Recipes

Ingredients

• 500g self-raising flour
• 500g dried fruit (such as currants, sultanas and raisins)
• 125g suet, grated
• 100g breadcrumbs
• 200g sugar
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 120ml milk
• ½ tsp mixed spice
• ½ tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 pinch salt
• 1 tbsp golden syrup

Ingredients

• 225g (8oz) plain flour, plus 25g (1oz) for sprinkling
• 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 1 tsp mixed spice
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• ¼tsp sea salt
• 175g/6oz caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling
• 100g/4oz shredded suet
• 100g/4oz sultanas
• 75g/3oz currants
• 75g/3oz chopped stoned dates
• 50g/2oz Muscatel raisins
• 1 apple or carrot, coarsely grated
• 1 tbsp black treacle
• 1 medium farm-fresh egg
• 150ml/5fl oz buttermilk
• 225g/8oz clotted cream

About The Author

Fraser Wright

Fraser is originally from Glasgow and lives in a wee flat in Edinburgh. He writes the food blog www.redbookrecipes.com and wants to put Scotland on the map as a place for good food.

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