Hard to say, yet fun to eat, Cranachan trifle is layers of whisky-spiked raspberries, whipped cream, and toasted oats, traditionally eaten on Hogmanay (Scotland's New Year's Eve). Potent and utterly delicious, it's a tasty adults-only treat!
Why this recipe works
- An easy layered trifle that can be made in single servings or in a trifle dish
- You can control the levels of sweetness and potency
- Use your favorite brand of scotch or whiskey
And by that, I mean I’m an I’ve-gone-off-the-deep-end-and-am-now-treading-the-water-there sort of fan. Actually, Outlander was my impetus for starting this website in the first place.
Since the series is set in Scotland, and since I love to bake, Scottish desserts would naturally be an area I'd explore.
Cranachan (pronounced “CRAH-nuh-kun”) is one such dessert, traditionally eaten on Hogmanay (Scotland's New Year's Eve). It's considered the "King of Scottish desserts," much like Outlander's Jamie Fraser is the "King of Men."
That's good enough for me!
What is Cranachan?
Scotland’s answer to Eton Mess, the word Cranachan is Scottish Gaelic in origin, meaning “churn”. Made from Crowdie cheese (a softly churned cheese), toasted oats, and local honey, it was eaten for breakfast. Frequently raspberries were added when they were in season.
Now Cranachan is a layered confection (like a trifle) of whipped cream, mashed raspberries, and toasted oats, all sweetened with honey and liberally spiked with whisky (as any good Scottish dessert should be).
What you need
Cranachan ingredients are very simple: heavy cream, raspberries, steel cut oats, sugar, honey, and whisky.
If you're in Scotland, or can at least get your hands on some fresh Scottish raspberries and heather honey, you're in luck! Scottish raspberries are smaller and sweeter than what's available in the US, and heather honey is intensely aromatic.
If neither product is available to you, you'll still get a wonderful dessert.
Regarding the whisky, choose a scotch you like to drink. It can be single malt or blended, cask strength or not. It all depends on how strong you want the Cranachan to be. You can even choose another whiskey if you prefer.
If you'd like some tasting notes for various scotches, check out my scotch reviews. I have many to choose from!
How to make Cranachan
Making a Cranachan trifle isn’t hard at all, the wonderful taste belying the simplicity of the dish. Just know that whisky is liberally used in each component, so be ready to dial it back in strength or amount, as you see fit.
Since it's a layered dessert, the components can be prepared ahead of time. However, it's best to assemble the parfaits as close to serving time as possible. You can also scale the recipe up if you want to make a large trifle in a trifle bowl. Figure about 6 to 8 servings, depending on the size of your bowl.
Step 1: Prepare the oats
Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the oats and toast until very lightly browned, stirring frequently to keep from burning (photo 1).
Put the half of the oats in a bowl and add ⅓ cup (70 grams) of the whisky. Cover the bowl and let the oats stand on the counter for several hours to soften (photo 2). Set the rest aside.
Step 2: Prepare the fruit and whipped cream
Select a few raspberries (about 3 per serving) for garnish and set aside. Place the remaining raspberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar and 1 tablespoon each of the honey and whisky (or to taste). Lightly mash the mixture and let macerate until it’s softened, but not mushy (photo 3). Set aside.
Whip the heavy cream until it just starts thickening up, then add honey and whisky and whip to stiff peaks. Don't overwhip or you'll get whisky-flavored butter, not what we're after here.
Fold in the softened whisky-soaked toasted oats and you're ready for putting it all together (photo 4).
Step 3: Assemble the Cranachan
This dessert comes together in layers like a trifle, so try to make it as close to when you're ready to serve as possible.
A word about portion sizes - the actual number of servings you'll get from this Cranachan recipe will depend on the size of your glass and how high you make the trifle layers. It's a rich and boozy dessert.
Spoon some of the macerated raspberries in a low ball glass to cover the bottom, then add a layer of the cream mixture. Next sprinkle with some of the toasted oats (photo 5).
Repeat the layers, finishing with the toasted oats. Garnish with the reserved raspberries (photo 6).
Refrigerate until ready to eat, taking them out about 20 minutes before serving.
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions that you might have...
In the US, “oatmeal” refers to rolled or steamed oats, the stuff with which you make, well, oatmeal. However, in Britain “oatmeal” refers to what in the US is called “oat flour,” i.e. ground up oats. Rolled or steamed oats are called “porridge oats” in Britain, and our “steel cut oats” are “pinhead oats” there. For a traditional Cranachan dessert, use steel-cut oats.
If you want a non-alcoholic kid-friendly version of Cranachan, substitute orange juice or vanilla for the whisky.
It's best to assemble the Cranachan as close to serving as you can. Otherwise, the whipped cream could split and the raspberry juices mess up your layers. If you must make them ahead (and hopefully not more than an hour or two), store the trifles in the refrigerator, and take them out about 20 minutes before serving.
Pro tip: Get the right ingredient
It's said that Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language. I learned a lesson about the differences in terminology when making bannocks (aka Scottish oatcakes).
Oats in the US and UK are not the same thing. Oatmeal in the UK is known in the US as oat flour (ground oats). In the US, oatmeal refers to rolled or steamed oats, the stuff with which you make, well, oatmeal. Rolled or steamed oats are called porridge oats in Britain.
A Cranachan recipe from the UK uses what they call pinhead oats. Here in the US, we call that product steel cut oats. These hard pellets are made by chopping the whole oat groat into several pieces rather than pressing it out like with rolled oats.
Getting the right ingredient can make a big difference!
Creamy, dreamy Cranachan
As you might expect, this Scottish Cranachan packs a punch, especially if you use a higher proof whisky.
That being said, Cranachan trifle also delivers layers of sweetness and tang from the raspberries, and a nice chewiness that makes you feel there's more to it than just whipped cream.
Not that eating whipped cream by itself is wrong, mind you. It's just not something I'd want for dessert...very often.
Becoming a fan of Outlander has given me so much, especially friends with the same mania as mine.
Exploring Scottish desserts through this lens just enhances the fun!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Adding spirits contributes flavor and depth to your cooking and baking, and sometimes a kick as well! Here are some ideas to get you started.
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Cranachan Trifle (Scottish Raspberry Dessert)
- hand mixer
- low ball glasses
- ½ cup steel cut oats, aka pinhead oats (UK), divided
- ½ cup whisky, divided, see Recipe Notes
- 2 cups raspberries
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream, aka double cream (UK)
- Prepare the oats: Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the oats and toast until very lightly browned, stirring frequently to keep from burning. Put the half of the oats in a bowl and add ⅓ cup (70 grams) of the whisky. Cover the bowl and let the oats stand on the counter for several hours to soften. Set the rest aside.
- Prepare the raspberries and whipped cream: Select a few raspberries (about 3 per serving) for garnish and set aside. Place the remaining raspberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar and 1 tablespoon each of the honey and whisky (or to taste). Lightly mash the mixture and let macerate until it’s softened, but not mushy. Set aside.
- In a medium chilled bowl, whip the cream until it just starts to thicken, then add the remaining honey and whisky (or to taste). Whip the cream with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form (don't overwhip or you'll get whisky-flavored butter). Fold in the whisky-soaked oats.
- Assemble the Cranachan: This dessert comes together in layers like a trifle, so try to make it as close to when you're ready to serve as possible.
- Spoon some of the macerated raspberries in a low ball glass to cover the bottom, then add a layer of the cream mixture. Next sprinkle with some of the toasted oats.
- Repeat the layers, finishing with the toasted oats. Garnish with the reserved raspberries.
- Refrigerate until ready to eat, taking them out about 20 minutes before serving. Enjoy & slainté!