Scottish Black Buns #BreadBakers


Fruitcake usually seems to be a love it or leave it type baked good.  I have made many different kinds over the years because my family and my hubby's folks love it.  Honestly, I am not a huge fan of dark fruitcake.  But I saw this intriguing recipe in an issue of Sift and bookmarked it for a potential bake.  Scottish Black Buns are a centuries old tradition even if they tend to be a regular fruitcake wrapped in pastry nowadays.  But there are still bakeries that make the traditional yeast version described by Robert Louis Stevenson in his book Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh (1879) 

‘Currant-loaf is now popular eating in all households. For weeks before the great morning, confectioners display stacks of Scotch bun — a dense, black substance, inimical to life — and full moons of shortbread adorned with mottoes of peel or sugar-plum, in honour of the season and the family affections. ' Frae Auld Reekie,' ' A guid New Year to ye a',' ' For the Auld Folk at Hame,' are among the most favoured of these devices.’

The dense and rich fruit cake is often used for the ritual of first-footing at Hogmanay (New Year). 

“First footing” (or the “first foot” in the house after midnight) is still common across Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house the first foot should be a dark-haired male, and he should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and a wee dram of whisky. The dark-haired male bit is believed to be a throwback to the Viking days, when a big blonde stranger arriving on your door step with a big axe meant big trouble, and probably not a very happy New Year!

It is likely for this reason that black buns go as well with a glass of whisky as they do with a cup of tea or coffee!  Today, black buns can still be found in the windows of the more traditional bakers. Alex Dalgetty & Sons, which are renowned for their Selkirk Bannock, make around 6000 black buns in the days preceding the festive period.  

So when the theme of Christmas breads popped up for BreadBakers, I knew this was the one to make.  Yeast makes a unique and in my opinion, better version of a dark fruitcake!  These little loaves, made in a jumbo muffin tin, are the perfect size for gifting.  And as befits a traditional fruitcake, their size belies their weight!  These are hefty little hunks of fruitiness, weighing in at just over 300g each!  (That's basically twice as heavy as the giant Costco muffins that weigh ~155g.)

This was a relatively easy recipe to make, though it did cost me some coins in the swear jar when I realized I had formed all my rolls and forgotten to add any of the spices into my fruit mixture!  So I had to carefully and painstakingly unwrap the bundles, turn/scrape out the filling and mix in the spices, then even more carefully wrap them back up.  Definitely a whole lot messier the second time around.  But they still baked up fine, thank goodness.  

The buns are just delightful in thin slices with whipped cream.  Particularly good just slightly warmed, I am dying to try a slice with some hard sauce but will content myself with semi melted vanilla ice cream in the mean time.  I am certain they would be wonderful toasted and buttered as well.  Despite the spices, these are not a strongly spice flavored bun, just a deeply fruity and dense yeast cake.  Very unique.

Black Buns
makes 6 buns
from King Arthur


    2 tsp instant yeast or active dry yeast
    1½ cups (340g) milk
    2 tbsp (25g) granulated sugar
    5 cups (600g) all-purpose flour
    1½ teaspoons (9g) salt
    8 tbsp (113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature


    2 tbsp (43g) molasses
    1 large egg yolk, (save the white for the egg wash)
    1 cup (113g) dried cranberries
    1 cup (170g) raisins, packed
    1 cup (113g) prunes, diced
    ½ cup (74g) diced dried figs or chopped dates
    ¼ cup (85g) orange marmalade
    ½ cup (57g) almonds, sliced
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp cloves (I used ½ tsp because mine were fresh ground and potent)
    1 tsp ginger
    ½ tsp cardamom or mace
    ½ tsp black pepper
    2 tbsp (28g) whiskey

Glaze (optional)

    1 cup (113g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
    1 tbsp (14g) whiskey
    1 tbsp (14g) heavy cream
    ½ tsp vanilla extract

For the dough: Weigh the flour; or measure by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess with a butter knife or offset spatula. Combine all of the dough ingredients in a bowl or stand mixer, and mix and knead until a soft dough forms.  Cover and let rise until doubled, 1½ to 2 hours.

Divide the dough in half. Put one half into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Put the remaining half back in the mixing bowl, and mix in all of the filling ingredients. The mix will be quite sloppy at first, but a sticky dough will come together as you continue mixing.

Once the filling is mixed into the dough so that no streaks remain, divide it into six equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball as best you can; it will be sticky; wetting your hands first will help with this.  (I simply plopped piles down onto parchment, removing by weight for the 6 divisions.  Then the filling could be easily scraped back up with the back of a butter knife when moving to the wrapper.)

To assemble: Remove the plain dough from the refrigerator and divide into six equal pieces.  Form each into a ball, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Grease the wells of an oversized muffin pan, or line a baking sheet with parchment.

Roll each portion of dough into a 6" round, about ½" thick; make the edges thinner if you can (a tapered pastry pin is best for this). Place one of the balls of filling in the center, and bring the edges up and around to meet on the top, overlapping to enclose the filling as needed. Pinch the dough together and place, pleated side down, in the wells of the prepared pan or on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Cover the buns with greased plastic wrap and let rise for 40 minutes. Halfway through the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Just before I realized I forgot all the spice.

At the end of the rise time (the buns will not have changed much), brush the tops with an egg wash of the reserved egg white beaten with a tablespoon of water. Score or poke the tops of the buns in a decorative pattern.

Not too bad for having been dismantled and rewrapped!

Bake the buns for 50 to 55 minutes, until the tops are golden brown (check after 35 minutes and tent with foil if needed).  The center should measure 195°F when measured with a digital thermometer. Remove from the oven, tilt them out of the pan, and cool on a rack.

To make the glaze: Whisk together all of the ingredients to make a smooth glaze; drizzle over the tops of the cooled buns.

Be sure to check out the rest of our Christmas treats:

  #BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page. We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. 



  1. Love that fruity filling in the buns..delicious!

  2. What a cool technique! This is a must try. P.S. I miss Sift Magazine!

  3. Black buns looks delicious I need to try this bread. thanks for baking with me.

  4. Kelly, these are bundles of deliciousness. The filling is so so flavourful and festive. Even I forgot to add cardamom powder to my Julekage. Remembered when it was on second proofing! :)

  5. Traditional bakes are always flavorful packed. I love these fruitcake filling buns and I would love to make this soon.


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