Mention Burns Night and all talk turns to haggis. Which is fair, after all as well as being the centrepiece it is perhaps the most Marmite of things to be served up on a platter. But spare a thought for the trimmings, these Burns Night backing-singers, which hold some very dear memories. Even if they are nutritionally… dubious.

A floating whisky is the thing to get Burns night celebrations off to a good start. Not in a Whisky Galore kind of way, but the trick of drip-feeding whisky into a glass of water so the golden nectar floats above the water until the drinker downs it. Then there’s that most delicious of Scots biscuits, shortbread but make no mistake, the cardboard ‘shortbread’ biscuit from the corner shop marked ‘best before 2025’ is not what we’re after. We’re talking soft, crumbly buttery stuff with just the right amount of crunch and a sprinkling of sugar. And while we’re talking sugar why not go rogue and really embrace the stuff with a batch of tablet. Not chewy toffee, not soft mallowy fudge, but grainy, caramelly chunks, sweet enough to make your teeth zing. So put your pinny on, get your dentist on speed-dial and raise a glass to Burns with these…


This has always been the thing to kick start Burns night, the ice-breaker without the ice, the touch of magic. It’s a drink for knocking back, not delicate sipping and good for those who can’t get on with a neat dram. The whisky hits the back of your throat and then the cold water chases it down, the perfect double-act. One to get lined-up for or people’s arrival or hang on until they’re there if you’re one for a show. 

floating whisky


1 small glass tumbler

1 muslin cloth (or napkin, clean tea towel etc)

60ml of whisky (or however much you fancy)

  1. Fill the glass three quarters full of cold water
  2. Double up the cloth and put it across the top of the glass then make an indent with your finger until the point of your finger touches the water. Take your finger away, leaving a finger of cloth pointing down just touching the water.
  3. Slowly trickle the measured-out whisky into the indentation you’ve made.
  4. Take off the cloth and the whisky will be sitting like a film on the top of the water.
  5. Swig it back



A recipe from a wonderful Highland lady, Barbara Matheson, who kept a rowboat in her sitting room, a wig on her hearth and in the war trained at the SOE which was based in Arisaig, the West coast village she lived in all her life. Miss Matheson smoked only in the kitchen (she burnt all her eyebrows off, lighting a fag on the old gas grill) and her ashtray sat on a large relic of a Quality Street tin which was always filled with this delicious crumbly shortbread. She was magnificent.

The best Scottish shortbread

230g salted butter, room temperature

110g golden caster sugar

270g plain flour

70g ground rice (can use semolina instead, as Miss M did)

Sugar to sprinkle (any kind though granulated or demerara work well)

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C
  2. Put the butter into a bowl and beat with a spoon until soft. Then beat in the sugar. You can do this bit with a mixer.
  3. Sift in the flour and ground rice and mix it all by hand into a dough-like mixture. If it’s too crumbly then add a wee bit more butter.
  4. Line a cake tin or round flan dish with baking paper and press the dough into the tin. Put in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes until it’s cold and firm to touch.
  5. Bake for about 60 minutes until it is cooked but not brown. Take it out and cut into fingers, squares, pie segments etc
  6. While it’s still warm, sprinkle with sugar and move to a wire rack. Don’t put it into a tin until it’s cold.



Perhaps even better than the crumbly shortbread was Miss M’s tablet, which sat in a large, yellowing tupperware tub in the kitchen cabinet. When the grown-ups reached their second dram by the fire, it was time to creep through to the kitchen, quietly peel back the old lid to reveal large, erratic chunks of golden deliciousness which you could only nibble slowly, as it was so sweet it made your cheeks tingle. Makes a great gift if you fill a pretty jar and tie with ribbon.

125g salted butter

1kg golden caster sugar

250g whole milk

350ml condensed milk 

  1. Put a few saucers into the freezer.
  2. Melt the butter over a low heat, in the tallest pan you have - a good stock pot works well.
  3. Once it’s melted add the sugar and milk. Stir it slowly until the sugar has dissolved. Bring it to the boil and simmer over a high heat for about 7 minutes. Keep stirring so nothing sticks or burns.
  4. Add the condensed milk, stir it and then turn it down to allow it all to simmer for around 15 minutes. Stir it from time to time.
  5. Test it with a sugar thermometer (if you have one). It’s ready when it reaches 115°C. If you don’t have a thermometer, go old school: take the saucers out of the freezer, dribble some of the mixture onto one and leave for a minute. Then push the mixture with your finger. If it wrinkles and sets, it’s done.
  6. Take off the heat and beat strongly with a wooden spoon for 5-10 minutes or with an egg beater (quicker obviously) until it’s thick but can still be poured.
  7. Pour it into a greased shallow tin (about 20cm x 30cm will do it) and leave to set. Mark it into squares after about 30 minutes. It’s best left out to dry for a few hours or overnight.

Keeps for ages. In theory…

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