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What is a Black Bun?

Black buns are traditionally seasoned with nutmeg.
Cloves are traditionally used to season black buns.
Currants are often used as filling in a black bun.
Many black bun recipes call for black pepper.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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A black bun is a little deceptive in name, since it may not be a bun at all. It is similar to fruitcake, but instead of having a batter into which fruits are mixed, it consists of a pastry crust surrounding a heavily spiced, and sometimes brandied, raisin or currant filling. The typical black bun is made in large loaf pans, and may be made several days in advance of eating it so that the currant and raisin mix mature. Usually the black bun is served in slices.

This dessert is famed in Scotland where it was once most often served on Twelfth Night, but it is now more associated with the celebration Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s Eve. It forms a traditional dessert uniquely connected to Scotland, and recipes for it exist well into the past. Scottish elders fondly remember the dish as served by their grandmothers, and some historians suggest the earliest recipes date to the 16th century. These recipes may have been inspired by some of the fruit rich cakes of Italy.

A number of spices make up the interior of the black bun. These include some traditional ones like ginger, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Most recipes also call for black pepper, which adds an unusual and stronger overall taste. Cooks may use citron or candied peel, and directions in recipes often call for soaking currants and/or raisins for several minutes in either water or alcohol to plump them up.

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Though most recipes for black bun are made in loaf form, you can make individual black buns in round tarte shapes, or a black bun pie. One unusual cooking direction in a majority of recipes is cooking time, which in pie or loaf form can be as long as three hours. This lengthy cooking time is recommended so that the raisins and currants condense into a sticky, spicy solid mix. Others recommend allowing the finished confection to sit for several days to create the solidified center.

The solid interior of a black bun makes it more like candy than cake or pie. It does suggest certain desserts found in Italy. It particularly suggests panforte, a chewy citron, raisin, and nut cake that is baked in a round pan. Both are solid and somewhat sticky, yet very delicious.

There are a number of recipes online for black bun, and each may differ a little in cooking time, ingredients and the like. Pastry dough used is most often very similar to piecrust, but if you’re making the loaf form, the dessert may require much more crust than the average pie. This isn’t exactly a low fat treat given the amount of butter or shortening used to make the crust, but it is an essential dessert if you plan to celebrate the New Year in authentic Scottish style.

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