Black Bun Is Packed With Dried Fruit
Black bun is a dense and rich fruit cake. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about it in his Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh from 1879. The cakes, stuffed with currants and raisins, filled the windows of every Scottish bakery as New Years approached. Black bun was sometimes called Scotch bun. Technically it's not a cake, since it's basically just fruit filling encased in a pastry shell. And, like a Christmas cake, black bun is best when it is made a few weeks in advance and allowed to "mature." Stored in an airtight tin, black bun should be good for up to six months. (Black bun isn't really ready to eat until 10 days after it's made, which is all the more reason to let the pros do the baking and enjoy it without all that planning.) The concentrated density of black bun -- a little goes a long way! -- might have something to do with its traditional role as an accompaniment of the ritual known as "First Footing," which is the custom of having a tall, dark-haired man to be the first person to cross your doorstep in the new year. This dark guy, a bringer of good luck, is supposed to carry a few things with him: a lump of coal, some salt, a piece of black bun (or shortbread) and a dram of whisky. (People speculate that the tradition of First Footing is related to the days of the Vikings, when the prospect of having a blond-haired man at your door might mean he was wielding a battle ax and raiding your village.) Black bun goes nicely with that dram of Scotch; it has an absorbent quality. But it also goes just as well with a cup of tea or coffee. Certain older recipes call for pepper, an ingredient that seems to have been omitted by many bakers. Black bun seems to be working to set new records for how much dried fruit can be fit into a confectionery item. (When adventurous bakers make black bun at home, routinely their response to the amount of dried fruit in the recipe is to assume that there's no way it will all fit -- but it does!)
We get our black bun directly from Scotland, from famed baker Alex Dalgetty & Sons. They also make our Selkirk Bannock
. Black bun makes for a great Hogmanay treat, but it's good all year, especially when the weather starts to get cold.