“Inspired by family recipes & traditional Scottish bakes, I want to share the Hebridean Hygge lifestyle in my debut cookbook, The Hebridean Baker – Recipes & Wee Stories from the Scottish Islands. Focusing on small bakes, these recipes will unleash your inner Scottish baker. With my Hebridean Baker TikTok account I have motivated my followers around the world to bake, forage, learn Gaelic, have a dram or two of whisky & visit the Scottish islands! It’s all about rustic, home baking & old family favourites because as I say, ‘Homemade is Always Best’.”
Coinneach MacLeod, aka the Hebridean Baker
Eighteen months ago, Coinneach MacLeod emerged on the TikTok scene as the Hebridean Baker, sharing colorful, inspiring stories about life and baking from his remote home on the Hebrides Islands off the northwest coast of Scotland. In the short time since, his world has blossomed – and reached millions. In May, he embarked on a 12-city book tour across the United States and is a headliner at the upcoming IBIE 2022 professional baking tradeshow set for Sept. 17-22 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Fortunately, baking and storytelling come naturally. “Growing up in the Hebrides, there is a real heritage of traditional recipes and great bakers,” he shares. “There are three things that pretty much everyone on the Hebrides Islands can do: bake, sing, and tell stories. That is what we are famous for.”
Graciously, the IBIE arranged for Bake to interview MacLeod and share his wonderful life stories with our audience. Here is what he has to say.
What is your background and history in food and specifically baking?
“Coinneach is a very traditional name on my island, which is the Isle of Lewis, which is the most northerly of the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. We are actually closer to the south coast of Iceland than we are to the south coast of England. The islands used to be part of Norway and now are part of Scotland. I’ve been a passionate home baker my whole life, and it’s one of the things I make sure I talk about a lot. This is a home passion – something I share with family and friends.
“My first language is Gaelic. We learn English when we go to school. And there is a lovely saying in Gaelic called Beiridh blàths air luaths. It translates to, there's a time for everything. Slow down, enjoy something you love. My favorite day is pulling all the cookbooks out of the shelves and enjoying deciding what to bake. And the fact that it makes folks so happy. It is a simple pleasure that is accessible to pretty much everybody and there is a real reward from every experience.”
What do you love about bakery?
“I learned to bake from my mother and my aunts, who were fantastic bakers. Actually, my aunt Beloch who is 93, still bakes every day. She appears in my cookbook with a recipe for our famous bake on the island. Maybe that is the secret to long life is baking and enjoying your life.
“I started sharing my recipes and my stories online about 18 months ago. And now over 18 million people have watched my videos online. It has just opened the most amazing opportunities and experiences for me. From releasing my cookbook, which I did in September last year in the UK. Last year, I was the best-selling Scottish cookbook author of the year, which was amazing. The book is released next week in the US and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It is about to be translated into German for the European market. I feel humbled and blessed by the whole experience.”
How are you looking forward to being involved in IBIE 2022?
“I am so excited by IBIE. Right now, I am preparing for a book tour in the US. Knowing I can return to the States in September for such a major event like IBIE, it is going to be amazing. I’ll be on the RBA Bakers Stage for one of the days, which is going to be so much fun. I’m just excited to see what trends are happening in the US when it comes to baking. What is very interesting at the moment is the authenticity that maybe was the trend in restaurants – understanding where the ingredients come from – and I think that is moving into bakery. People want to know the story line. When people visit a bakery, they want an experience. I can’t wait to meet other bakers and creators and learn how they are telling their stories. And I am eager to meet people with Scottish origins.”
What are some of your favorite Scottish recipes in baking?
“When I started watching TikTok videos on recipes and cooking, it looked like it was about the biggest cake or the most tiers; the videos were very fast paced. I decided on a different tact. TikTok videos are only a minute long. I wanted it to feel kind of slow – like there’s a thing in Europe called Slow TV. I wanted it to feel like a whole experience, where I am baking, maybe I am telling a story and they’re seeing me tasting the bake on top of a mountain.
“People want to aspire to a lifestyle, as well as having the recipe. I think people have really bought into this storyline of this bearded guy on a small island cooking and baking, with his partnering wee dog by his side. It has become a content creation about a lifestyle. I do love a recipe with a story behind it.”
What are key ingredients that you love to work with?
“I love taking classic recipes and putting a Scottish twist on it. I make a whiskey tiramisu, which is delicious. I have a whole chapter on Scottish oats. I was challenged once if I could only use ingredient, what would it be. I said, oats. I could actually eat oats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and dessert, as well. I have porridge every morning. I have a savory oats dish, like a kind of brunch risotto, which is lovely. And, of course, you can’t beat a crumble made with oats and cinnamon and apple - with lots of custard and ice cream. I do think I can live on oats the rest of my life.
“In different recipes, we use different types of oats. Chunky oats are prefect for crumbles and hearty dishes. We use pinhead oats, which I think you call steel-cut oats, are great for breakfast dishes. I also use oat flour in a lot of my bakes. In most circumstances, oats should be gluten free, depending on where they have been milled. Oats are such a versatile product. There is a very famous porridge oats box with a man in a kilt on the front of it. When you are growing up as a kid in Scotland, everyone wants to be the man on the front of the porridge oats box. It is like an aspirational thing to eat oats when you are Scottish.”
What are your cookbooks, and what are the specialties that you share?
“When you are writing a Scottish cookbook, of course, you are going to have to find the best shortbread recipe in Scotland to put in your book. I tested recipes from every corner of the country. I found one from the most northerly island of Scotland called Shetland. It’s traditionally baked by the mother of the bride. When the bride comes home from the wedding, the mother smashes it over her head. All the guests try to catch a piece of shortbread before it goes on the floor. If you put it under your pillow, it brings you the best sweet dreams and good luck. I hope when people are sharing my dishes that they are telling the stories that go along with these recipes.
“There is another fun one. I love looking at old Scottish recipe books, and I found a recipe for a dessert called Scot’s Flummery. I was intrigued straight away. According to legend, Flora MacDonald was halfway through a dish of Scot’s Flummery when she was arrested for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape. If you are going to prison, that’s not a bad last supper to have. If it’s good enough for Flora MacDonald, it’s good enough for us.
“I also do have a whole chapter in the book dedicated to alcoholic recipes. So many different flavors that come from our whisky, depending on which island or which part of the country. So, you can make your dessert taste different, depending on which whiskey you choose. It is a great ingredient, for sure. You have heard of a hot toddy? I made a hot toddy crème patisserie – to fill my choux buns. The flavor of the honey, the whiskey, and the lemon work perfectly.”
What should bakers know about Scottish baking traditions?
“A spurtle is a traditional Scottish kitchen tool. It is like a wooden spoon without the spoon on the end. It has a thistle at the top. There is such an event called the World Porridge Making Championships, and the prize is a Golden Spurtle. Last year, I finished second. I’ve never been so heartbroken in my life (he says with a chuckle). There were thousands of entries. I hope to return this year to steal the Golden Spurtle.”
Any other comments you would like to share?
“I’ve appeared on travel shows from Serbia to New Zealand, and the question I get asked every single time is, what do I wear under my kilt? That is funny.
“Looking forward, I hope that my book inspires people to do three things: Visit the Hebrides because they are unique and beautiful. Everybody will come away with a wonderful story of standing in the middle of a 5,000-year-old stone circle or hearing Gaelic for the first time. Second, try one of my recipes. They are accessible, wholesome, and easy to do. And finally, slow down and give yourself time to enjoy the wonderful things in life.”