MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Cranachan and honey


My mother taught me many lessons about food.

Rule number one: when dining out, she didn’t rely on the menu.

She would instead walk around the restaurant and look at everyone’s food. If something caught her eye, she would politely interrupt and say “Excuse me honey, but that looks so good. What is it called?”

I do the same thing, though I can’t pull off the “honey” part like she did.

Rule two: when shopping, no matter whether you only need one item from the store, you must walk every aisle.

Preferably up one side and down the other; otherwise you might miss something. Shopping is an experience, not a chore.

(I once wrote a magazine article where I shopped for a mythical Greek Easter dinner in six different stores, to compare prices and availability. I didn’t buy a single thing. It was the most fun I’d had in a long time.)

Buying for a recent dinner I catered, I settled on a making dessert of Cranachan, a Scottish confection traditionally made with cream, toasted oats, honey and fresh raspberries.

Oh, and a generous splash of Scotch whisky. Perhaps that is why the Guardian calls it the “undisputed king of Scottish desserts”?

The version I settled on was a lighter one with yogurt and no whisky. But it seemed too much like a simple breakfast parfait, so I needed a couple of jazzy ingredients.

First, no local honey would do; I needed genuine Scottish “Heather Honey.” (Cue Tommy Roe.)

This is harvested from the heather shrubs that cover the rolling moors, when they flower in early September.

Convincing the bees to stay active through the chilly late summer is tricky, but worth it.

Saveur magazine writes that “the vigilant Scottish beekeepers are poised and ready for their one shot at a honey harvest.

The result is a honey so strange, so mesmerizing and mercurial, that those Scots will go to extraordinary means just to collect a small batch.”

This “intensely aromatic” and uniquely creamy concoction “smells a bit like lying face down in a hay-filled barn, if that hay were also slathered in toasty caramel and scattered with bundles of fresh mint and sage.”

I needed this — no local honey would do. After four stores, I found a jar at Zingerman’s. Check!

Next was clotted cream. I wanted its 55 percent fat content to balance out that healthy yogurt. But even Zingerman’s didn’t carry it, so off I went to “Tea Haus,” which specializes in artisanal leaf and a proper English high tea.

They set me up with a batch of homemade creamy goodness, and I had three ingredients to go.

Raspberries? Too early in Michigan.

But the Farmers’ Market had some beautiful strawberries, and they would have to do. For Greek yogurt I got Fage, the only brand actually made by Greeks. Harrumph.

Now all I needed was the “crunchy oat cereal.” The Scots often make their own by toasting raw oats with sugar or honey, but why reinvent granola? The rub was finding the right cereal for this dessert — something that focused on the grains without too much other business.

I finally, and reluctantly, settled on an ancient grain granola by a company called “purely elizabeth.”

Yes, complete with all lower case letters and a period after the name, as if nothing more be said besides the image of a wholesome hippie walking in the oat fields with the sun glinting in her hair.
But I have to admit, it’s damned good granola.

Oh, the recipe? I mixed a quart of yogurt with a cup of granola, pint of sliced strawberries, and two tablespoons of that dank honey. (Feel free to add an equal amount of whisky.)

I divided this mixture into six delicate parfait glasses — only breaking two of them in the process — and then topped each with a slab of the clotted cream. A drizzle of honey and some grated lemon zest finished the dessert.

If Mom saw someone eating this, she would have made a beeline to that honey. And I’m quite certain she would have approved.      
Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.

Follow him at Twitter @nickroumel or Instagram @nroumel.