Do You Know Your Clootie Dumpling from Your Black Bun? Baking in the Scottish Borders

Published on 29 Aug
6 min read

We could focus on bread at the heart of this feature but a true Scot has sugary sweet susceptibilities at heart. The infamy of products such as Irn Bru, deep-fried Mars Bars and Scottish tablet come to mind. This is also the case when it comes to baked goods. I’m thinking scotch pancakes, scones, shortbread and Border Tart! Summer is nearly at an end again and there’s a chill in the air reminding us that Autumn is coming. With the darker nights arriving shortly, we want our treats to be more filling and warming. Traditional Scottish baking encapsulates this need to be warm.

Mini Baking History

Rolling the Dough: In Medieval times, the leftover dough was used to make rusk-style biscuits.

In medieval times it was only the wealthy who could indulge in baked goods and it wasn’t until the 16th and 17th centuries where exotic ingredients such as spices and sugar made baking accessible[1]. As the centuries rolled on towards the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, baking products needed to be sustenance-focused for the workers who had migrated to towns and cities[1].

Baking traditional puddings is having a revival. Its hip to be a baker. Many local bakeries around the Scottish Borders have been in families for generations and still use old family recipes for traditional baked goods. The Scottish Borders has a rich history of confectionary and of baking. This is the land where the rich and fruity tarts were born and are still acclaimed worldwide today!

Sugar & Health

The Scottish Government recommends cutting your sugar intake. You’re already sweet enough!

There is a sugar crisis at the moment in regards to how much of the stuff manufacturers are adding to food and drink products, and how much we are consuming. The Food Standards Scotland advise folks to reduce their sugar intake by up to 30%[2]. Perhaps the best way to rectify this, without relinquishing our sugary desires, is to indulge in foodstuffs which aid to sustain us through hard times, emotionally or physically, and ones that provide satiety. Hand-made baked goods, in general, do not contain unnecessary ingredients, which is why its best to buy your pies, buns, cakes and biscuits from your local baker.

Top 7 Sweet Treats in Scotland

1. Shortbread

Shortbread is an iconic Scottish product.

A quintessential Scottish biscuit. You know its made right if it crumbles when you bite it. Light and buttery and melt in the mouth. It is usually served with a sprinkle of sugar on top. Shortbread’s origins go back as far as the 12th Century when leftover dough from bread was dried out in the oven to make a hard biscuit, similar to what we know as a biscotti: the word biscuit means twice cooked[3]which comes from the old French word bescuit [4]. Over time the recipe adapted until it became the shortbread we now know.

2. Oatcake

Oat crops prosper in Scotland’s climate.

A savoury alternative delicious on its own or with sweet or savoury accompaniments. Scotland’s climate is favourable for growing oats. Oats can be milled in 5 different textures; fine, medium, rough-cut, oat flakes and pinhead[5]. Oatmeal is generally the favoured texture for creating oatcakes. Oatcakes are the epitome of Scottish baking. They are simple, nutritious additions suitable for all meals.

3. Border Tart

A traditional tart to reap the benefits of the summer harvest. Pastry cases are filled with dried fruits, cherries and occasionally nuts, which have been stirred into a soft mix of eggs, sugar and ground almonds. It is finished with white icing. A similar tart is the Ecclefechan Tart, named after a town on the western side of the Anglo-Scottish border, which has a rich, fruit filling in a pastry case, but it is not topped with icing.

4. Selkirk Bannock

A dense rich, dried-fruit filled tea loaf, named after its place of origin, Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. Similar in style to an Italian panettone, but richer, fruitier, heftier and more filling. The Selkirk Bannock’s claim to fame is that it was eaten by Queen Victoria on a visit to Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, near Melrose.

5. Black Bun

Synonymous with ‘first footing’, Yuletide festivities and originally enjoyed on the Twelfth Night. A Black Bun is a fruitcake encased in pastry. A sustaining bun to get through the cold winters.

6. Clootie Dumpling

Made from dried fruit, in particular sultanas and currants, suet, flour, sugar, spice, milk and golden syrup mixed into a dough and boiled in water and then dried in the oven. The name derives from a piece of cloth or ‘cloot’, traditionally tied around the dough before boiling.

7. Scone

Sometimes a scone is referred to as a bannock in Scotland.

Widely debated whether this sweet bread is an English or Scottish food. While the English enjoy scones with their cups of tea, the Scottish see the scone as a welcome addition to any meal. Traditionally, scones were cut into triangles after being cooked on the girdle. This was before the age of ovens!

Scottish Borders Bakers

Alex Dalgetty & Sons

With bakery shops in Galashiels and Melrose, and now run by the 5th generation of family bakers, Alex Dalgetty and Sons bake classic Scottish treats, as well as artisan bread.

The bakery is most famous for its Selkirk Bannock, a heavy, rich fruit loaf which is made using a traditional family recipe. The bakery has been established since the 1880s and the ovens used are over 120 years old. They recently opened a tearoom serving their popular products with a cuppa!

As well selling the world-renowned Selkirk Bannock, Alex Dalgetty and Sons also make Scotch Black Bun, Clootie Dumplings and shortbread.

Bread Works Organic Bakery

Home-made organic loaves are available at Bread Works Organic Bakery.

Located in Tweedbank, the Bread Works Organic Bakery is a charity-run baking scheme helping to provide training and work for adults with learning disabilities. At the bakery, there is the Whistle Stop cafe where you can purchase home-baked, organic goods. The team at Bread Works make artisan organic bread, cheese bread, ciabattas and also hand-cut oatcakes in plain, salt & cracked black pepper and seaweed varieties! Not everyone has a sweet tooth, and the seaweed oatcakes are especially good served with a crowdie-style cheese.


Forsyth’s Bakery is situated in Peebles. Next door to Forsyth’s butcher shop, which has been part of the community for 80 years. The bakery was a more recent addition, added over 40 years after the butcher shop was established. Forsyth’s bakery offers a wide range of baked goods including scones, bread and border tarts. The Border Tart is made in a traditional fashion; a shortcake base, a thick layer of mixed fruit and topped with a decorative pattern of white icing.

Lough’s Home Bakery

Lough’s Home Bakery is next to the North Sea in the proud working fishing town of Eyemouth. Lough’s have been baking for over 70 years and a 4th generation run bakers. They sell a wide variety of bread and rolls, including gluten-free options, as well as cakes, tarts, pies and scones.

Scottish Border Comforts

A taste of history. A taste of sweet delight. A taste of something more substantial. If you’re into Scottish Border treats you’ll not go far wrong with foodful’s recommendations! Join the conversation on social media and tell us your favourite treat from your local Scottish Border’s Baker. Follow foodful on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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