Butteries are pretty important to those of us who love them.
They’re a sort of marker of belonging in a way, as treasured in North East Scotland as Stornoway Black Pudding in Lewis, or Saucermeat in Shetland, Pasties in Cornwall, and so on. It’s the kind of foodstuff that ex-pat Scots dream of when they’re away long time. “Oh for a buttery”, they might say, bored of their avocado and spinach spelt loaf.
For decades, I’ve been chasing after the buttery of memory.
Years and years, (and years) ago, there was bakery I used to stop by in the morning, and they sold butteries that were so fired they looked like they’d work as solid fuel. It wasn’t that they were burned, but it was a pretty close call. I’d eat a couple of these crispy peats all the way up the road for breakfast. Even cold, they were so lardy the taste lay like lipgloss on your mouth, with a pressure of slipping dripping melting in your stomach. Sounds dreadful in these days of clean eating, but they were beautiful, life affirming – even as they worked their way through your arteries like a fist. Although plenty of butteries have been tested since, I’ve never met their like.
Murdoch Allan is a bakery in Peterhead. Baking is in the pulse there, and three generations of the family have been bakers. Starting with a shop in Fraserburgh in 1991, the company now has stores across the North East and a factory in Hatton. The company’s ‘Butteries Well Fired’ are the closest I have discovered yet to that much romanticised butter roll of old recall. It’s just immediately obvious from looking at them that they’ve spent a lot longer in the flames than your average buttery. They’re like a shard of sandstone from a cliff face, a section of tree.
Toasted, they go chewy, with a deep layerered creamy flavour, filling the room with the smell of a fishing village bakery at daybreak. Done like this, you need to be careful, because they’re high in fats and oils, so they can burn themselves, and then you. It’s not uncommon for a buttery from the toaster, on extraction, to be tossed straight up in the air with savage invective, having seared the flesh. I usually toast mine. But you do need to get it just slightly burned – a wide grill toaster with room for a view is even better – so that your buttery is not beyond salvation, but crunchy on the edges, and chewy then deep inside.
I was immediately transported in time with the Murdoch Allan roll, and loved the full butteriness of it, the crackling dark edges. When you get a buttery as roasted as this, when you heat it, you heat it again, well, it’s something special. Such a buttery is best with the super tanginess of a really dark marmalade; something like Frank Cooper’s “Oxford” Vintage Course Cut with its gloupy, bolshy thickness. Great big chunks of orange peel, layers of ultrahot roll – the heat of this scalding pastry and the cold jelly of the old oranges have been old lovers for a long, long time.
If there’s no hurry, it’s even better to give these another go in the oven, high temperature, but watched over as carefully as in the toaster. Then it’s a multi-baked phenomenon, a cold climate croissant, the best steak pie pastry ever in roll form, a buttery as well fired as one chucked from Dante’s circles, redeemed.
After eating them, there once again was that strong, salty and oily smack of the lips, the warm glee of eating something a bit naughty, but very like comfort and better days. There’s no doubt these are not especially good for you, but they are an occasional wonder.