Unlikely things to do with a potato: Scottish macaroons

IMG_1566I love it when the nieces come to stay. There’s always an adventure. This time, soon-to-be-sommelier niece arrived with delicious burgundy and pretty French macarons. Once the burgundy was drunk, we fell to musing on the macaron – or macaroon, as the box would have it. For a family of pedants that extra ‘o’ was enough to set us off – a macarOOn is something altogether different! And to two lassies with Scotland in their childhood that double ‘o’ could only mean one thing: a lot of sugary white stuff surrounded by chocolate and toasted coconut. But the nearest corner shop likely to sell us one was several hundred miles away. Our mission was clear. We had to make one.

And what a strange confection it turns out to be. Who knew that there were any sweets made out of a potato? Not me. But our cursory research proved that potato is, indeed, one of the key ingredients, along with icing sugar (Made Stuff is helpful, as is London Eats). It was snowing too hard to venture out for more icing sugar, but anyone with caster sugar and a coffee grinder has everything they need. In no time the potato was boiled and mashed, the sugar ground, the chocolate melted, the coconut toasted. Hey presto: a prefect macaroon, tasting just like they used to. We see a great future in potato-based confectionary. You heard it here first.

If you don’t fancy making a haggis, perhaps you could try this as your home-made Burn’s night treat at the end of this week – but be warned. Some people respond very badly to the idea of potatoes for pudding – so maybe you should keep the secret ingredient to yourself…


My scales weren’t working so we had to work by volume, and since we had to grind all the sugar we made a very small quantity which I’ve written up below. You can’t eat many as they unfeasibly sweet, so a small quantity isn’t a bad thing. The basic principle is a ratio of 4 times icing sugar to potato, and you’ll know from the texture when to stop working the sugar into the mixture. Don’t worry unduly about precision. As long as it doesn’t taste of potato, you’re fine. Note that we made ours from golden caster sugar so the inside is a little bit yellow rather than the usual dazzling white – think of this as a more wholemeal version of the original…


1oz (1/4 cup) cooled mashed potato – with nothing added, so don’t use buttery creamy leftovers
4oz (1 cup) icing sugar, maybe more if needed
2-3oz good dark chocolate, melted
2 oz dessicated coconut, half toasted, half not

Mash the potato and start adding the icing sugar. The first part of sugar you add will miraculously turn the mash liquid. This is normal. Keep mixing in the sugar until you have a firm, pastry dough-like lump.

Decide how large you want your macaroon bars to be, and pull off appropriately sized pieces from your lump of dough. We went for smallish bars, but next time I made more dainty petit-fours sized version. Roll them into a sausage between your hands and flatten out into a small bar shape on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Once your mixture is used up pop them into the freezer for 20-30 minutes to firm up (the time in the freezer will depend on the size of the bars – the bigger the longer).

IMG_1527Meanwhile, gently melt your chocolate, and toast half the coconut at 150°C (300°F) for 5 minutes. Mix the toasted coconut with the un-toasted and put it on a sheet of paper or a flat plate.

IMG_1541Take your bars out of the freezer and one by one dip them in the chocolate then drop into the coconut, turning on all sides to coat them completely. If you don’t have a chocolate dipping fork, use two small forks for this, a different set for the chocolate and the coconut. Once they are all coated, but them in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to set and firm up.

Serve with coffee.

Bramble (blackberry) chutney

IMG_1503The only blackberries that really taste of anything are the ones you find in the hedgerow in late summer and early autumn. They are usually much smaller than the ones in the supermarket punnets, but their flavour is intense. When I was little we’d spend weekend after weekend filling buckets with fruit from the fields and canal-side near our house. My mother would feed us delicious pies, tarts and crumbles, and I’d help her make huge supplies of bramble jellies and jams. I don’t ever remember bramble chutney featuring on the menu then (rhubarb chutney was more her thing), but if you have a lot of fruit it’s really worth making. Incredibly, the blackberry flavour really shines through all the other intense tastes.

IMG_05201.25kg (2¾lb) blackberries
400g (14oz) apple, cored and chopped
400g (14oz) onion, peeled and chopped
12g (½oz) salt
25g (1oz) dried mustard powder
25g (1oz) dried ginger
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mace powder
scant ½ tsp cayenne pepper
450ml (18 fl oz) vinegar
400g (14oz) brown sugar

Place the blackberries, apple and onion in a medium sized pan, cover, heat and cook gently for about 45-60 minutes, until a large amount of juice has been released and the apple and onion is soft and pulpy. Press the mixture through a sieve (not too fine) into a large preserving pan, getting as much through as possible but leaving the blackberry pips behind. Add all of the other ingredients to this puree and gently bring up to a boil, stirring often to ensure that the sugar is fully dissolved. Simmer steadily for about 20 minutes or until thickened and ready to bottle – it doesn’t take so long as some other chutneys as the fruit is already cooked. Spoon into sterilised jars*, seal well, cool, label and store in a dark cupboard for one month before using.

*Although a lot of the vinegar is evaporated out of a chutney, if you are planning to keep it for any length of time remember to ensure that any metal lids are well sealed, or have a layer of plastic between them and the jar’s contents, as eventually the vinegar will start to corrode them.