Classic Scottish Cakes

Scotland has developed a culinary repertoire of exceptional quality of cakes and biscuits, when it comes to cake baking it seems the Scottish have have a lot to share.

Dundee Cake

You’ll probably never hear the Dalai Lama say ‘Oh, I could murder a piece of cheesecake.’ After all, as the fourteenth incarnation of the Buddha, he lives a frugal life devoted to prayer and meditation. He does, however, enjoy a slice of Dundee cake.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was another fan. In fact, tradition has it that it was invented for her benefit as she didn’t like cherries in her Fruit Cake.

This light fruit cake, easily identified by the concentric rings of almonds on the top, is often served at Christmas as an alternative to the very rich cake normally offered. It has been made in Scotland for centuries, but it was Keiller’s of Dundee who first made it commercially, some time in the 19th century, and marketed it as Dundee Cake.

  • 225g (8oz) flour
  • 1 level teaspoon baking powder
  • 175g (6oz) butter
  • 150g (5oz) caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 25g (1oz) blanched almonds
  • 50g (2oz) mixed peel
  • 175g (6oz) currants
  • 175g (6oz) raisins
  • 175g (6oz) sultanas
  • Grated rind and juice of an orange
  • 30ml (2 tablespoons) whisky
  • Pre-heat the oven 170ºC, gas mark 3. Grease and line, with a double layer of greaseproof, an 8” tin.
  • Sieve together the flour and baking powder.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light.
  • Add the eggs bit by bit, each time with a spoonful of flour. Mix well.
  • Stir in the nuts, fruits and orange rind; then fold in the rest of the flour, orange juice and whisky.
  • It should be of dropping consistency. If it is too stiff, add a little milk – or some more whisky!
  • Place mixture in the tin, flattening the top. After it has been cooking for an hour, arrange the almonds in concentric circles on the top of the cake. Cook for another hour. If it’s not cooked but is nicely browned, cover it with foil and put it back in the oven until it is cooked.
  • Cool in the tin before storing in an airtight container. It will keep well and, in fact, the taste improves after a few days of maturing.

If you prefer not to use whisky, strong tea gives a good flavour.

For a perhaps not traditional but definitely decadent pudding, serve wedges of the cake with whipped cream and this sauce.

  • 4 tablespoons marmalade
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) whisky
  • 30ml (2 tablespoons) orange juice

Put all ingredients in a saucepan; heat gently until marmalade has melted and sauce is heated through.

Marmalade Cake

Legend has it that it was Janet Keiller who invented marmalade when her husband brought home a barrel-load of Seville oranges he’d manage to acquire cheaply. Before that pastes of quince and other fruits were popular: Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have partaken of quince paste when on board ship to ease her seasickness.

How much truth there is in the minutiae of how Mrs. Keiller came to invent marmalade is open to argument, but it is true that the Keiller family built the first marmalade factory in 1797.

So, with such a connection to the country, we can’t leave Marmalade Cake out of our classic Scottish cakes page.

  • 200ml (7fl oz) vegetable oil
  • 4 rounded tablespoons marmalade
  • 3 eggs
  • 175g (6oz) caster sugar
  • 60ml (4 tablespoons) milk
  • 350g (12oz) self-raising flour
  • ½ level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Marmalade and flaked almonds to decorate
  • Pre-heat oven to 150°C , gas mark 2. Grease and line an 8” tin.
  • Mix ingredients in given order and pour into the tin.
  • Bake for 1½ hours. Remove from oven, spread top with marmalade and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Return to oven for 5 minutes.
  • Leave to cool in the tin.
  • Store in an airtight container.


One of the most famous – and, especially at Christmas, ubiquitious – Scottish delicacies must be Shortbread. On sale in every Scottish gift shop and airports all over the country, it is almost compulsory for visitors to take a tin home with them!

Its reputation is well-deserved but it’s simple to make at home. But be warned: one slice of the crumbly buttery biscuit-like cake is never enough.

It’s the butter that gives the shortbread its flavour and texture so do buy the best unsalted butter you can find.

  • 175g (6oz) flour
  • 110g (4oz) butter
  • 50g (2oz) caster sugar
  • Pre-heat oven to 170°C , gas mark 3. Grease a baking sheet.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together then add the sifted flour. Using your hands, work in the flour until a ball of dough is formed.
  • Transfer the dough to a floured surface and roll out into a large round. Gently transfer it to the baking sheet. Crimp the edges with a fork and prick all over. (Pricking it stops the dough rising in the centre.) Mark the round into 8 or 12 segments. Cook it for 35 – 40 minutes.
  • When cooked the shortbread should be light golden brown. If you like your shortbread soft and crumbly, remove from the oven as soon it looks just set; if you prefer it crisper leave it in for another 5 – 10 minutes. This also increases the keeping time for the shortbread – as if you’re going to want to keep it! (But useful if you’re making the shortbread as a gift.)
  • When you remove the shortbread from the oven, after it has cooled a little, firmly go over the lines marking the segments so that it will break neatly. (Or you might prefer to cut them straight away.)

You can buy moulds in which to make the shortbread, or cut them into fingers or into small biscuits. Whichever you choose, they are sure to disappear fast!

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