A bit aboot the buttery, it’s origins and a recipe that you can try at home.
So a few evenings ago, Donald and I had a few drams with friends to celebrate the New Year. Moira is originally from Aberdeenshire, although she’s lived all her married here in Edinburgh. A few measures in, the subject came round to food, and more specifically ‘butteries’ and the next day, I just couldn’t shake the thought of these moreish, calorie laden, heart clogging delights from my head.
So I decided to make some. I kind of assumed that I wouldn’t be able to buy them round theses parts. You probably can but I didn’t really look and thought it would be fun to make them myself.
I found a recipe in my Sue Lawrence ‘A Cooks Tour of Scotland’. As Sue says, bakers would originally make this enriched yeasted roll not with butter but with lard or beef dripping. She makes them with all butter though for what she considers to be a superior flavour. Undecided as to whether to go the traditional route or the all butter option, I decided to opt for half and half for the best of both worlds.
I needed to pop to the local Co-Op for a few ingredients, so I took Olly dog for his daily stretch en route.
We walked through the local woodland and I couldn’t help but spot some sure signs of spring as we walked, even though there are a good couple of months of winter yet.
I tied Olly outside and nipped into the shop to buy some lard and yeast I had the rest of the ingredients already.
A wee bit about these waist thickening delicious devils. As I’ve already mentioned, butteries are a regional bread roll, hailing from the north east and more specifically Aberdeen. Also known as a ‘rowie’, ‘rollie’ or ‘Aberdeenshire roll’, the first written mention of the buttery was in 1899, when an Arbroath street sellers bread basket was said to have contained ‘butteries’.
The fishermen could be out at sea for long periods of time, so they needed a bread that would last for as long as possible. The addition of fat to an otherwise ordinary yeasted dough, alongside plenty of salt helped to achieve this, plus it provided the men with a good concentrated source of calories. So a treat for most modern day folk including myself.
The first time that I tasted these moreish treats was when we lived in Elgin, in the north east. I had several baking jobs myself during that time. One was at the Spey Bay Wildlife Centre, now called the Scottish Dolphin Centre, in the Moray Firth. I’d go in the evenings once Donald was home to look after the boys. I’d let myself in and spend hours baking for the cafe. Carrot cake, Victoria sandwich, gooey chocolate cake, cookies, honey and whisky cake, Ecclefechan tart to name but a few. Everything except for the scones, these were baked fresh each morning by the owner.
What a setting. The little kitchen window looked up the River Spey, to just before it spilt into the Moray Firth. In the summer when the evenings were light I would often be distracted from my task by the sight of osprey, as they wheeled above the water hunting for salmon. I once witnessed the moment when the osprey dived and plucked the slippery writhing fish out of the water, gripping it with merciless talons, thus saving the poor fish the arduous trek up river to spawn!
A humble job in the most most magical of places.
Back at the ranch, it was now time to get baking.
Recipe from ‘A Cooks Tour of Scotland’ by Sue Lawrence
600g/1 lb 5 oz strong white bread flour
7g sachet fast action/easy blend yeast
1 level teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
200g/7 oz butter or lard or half and half
1. Put the flour, yeast, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Add enough tepid water to combine to a dough, about 350ml/12 fl oz. Turn onto a board and knead for 7-8 minutes or until smooth. Try and resist the urge to add too much extra flour, the dough needs to be quite soft. I think I added too much. Place it in a large bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave it somewhere warm for a couple of hours until well risen.
2. Mash the butter and lard together and divide it into 3 lumps.
3. Punch the dough down and roll out with your palms to form a rectangle. Add one third of the butter to two thirds of the dough. Fold the fat free end of the dough into the middle and then the other buttery end onto that.
4. Roll out the dough again and add the 2nd third of fat, repeat the folding. Roll out a third time, add the last third of fat and fold again.
5. Now, by kneading and pushing, folding and turning, work the fat into the dough so its all incorporated.
6. Cut the dough into 16 pieces and place them on a lightly floured baking sheet. Press each piece down with your fingers. I think mine were a bit too neat and not quite flat enough. The finished buttery should resemble a croissant that’s been flattened by a tractor!
7. Cover the butteries with oiled clingfilm and leave to prove somewhere warm for another 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas 8 and have a cup of tea.
Bake the butteries for about 20 minutes, or until crispy and golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
I’m very pleased with how my first attempt at these turned out, although they should really be flatter, but other than that they were delicious.
As a side note, if you like whisky, the single malt that started this whole article was Scapa The Orcadian. An artisan single malt from the Orkney Islands. Smooth and honeyed.