Tablet making #1: not a complete disaster


The ingredients for Scottish Tablet – and my dad’s tried and trusted recipe. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Since I got Gran’s old recipe book from my mum (which I’ve written about here)  I’ve been thinking about making tablet – that terrifically sweet Scottish concoction that resembles fudge, but with more bite.

Growing up, tablet-making was my dad’s preserve. It only used to happen when Mum was out and was quite a ritual. Like most sweet-making, it’s very time-consuming and labour-intensive. The mixture has to be watched over carefully and stirred often, to stop it catching and burning. I remember the anticipation as my brothers and I hung around the kitchen waiting for the glossy, golden sweet to cool down enough to cut and eat.

A few years ago, when a few neighbours and I began to exchange home-made goodies as Christmas tokens, I decided that tablet-making should become part of our Christmas ritual. Realising that I didn’t have a recipe, I searched the internet and found a few variations on what I remembered my dad doing. The results were ok – definitely edible – but never up to Dad’s standard. For whatever reason, the tablet I was making was always too soft and a bit chewy – not crunchy like it’s meant to be.

In Gran's recipe, you start with butter, sugar and a little bit of milk.

In my gran’s recipe, you start with butter, sugar and a little bit of milk. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

So I was really excited to find – on the tattiest, most stained page of Gran’s book – the tablet recipe my dad always used. And it differs in one significant way from all the other recipes I’ve seen in that the condensed milk is added only when the basic sugar and butter mixture has boiled for 10 minutes.

Since it is Christmas, and I needed something to box up as little gifts,  the boy-child and I decided to give it a go.

Stage one completed.

Stage one completed. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

And it all started really well. I got the butter, sugar and milk boiling away nicely then added the condensed milk. So far, so good.

At this stage, the mixture is meant to boil for 20 minutes. I don’t know whether I had the gas turned up too high, or just needed to stir it more, but it began to catch and when I did stir it, there were little flecks of over-caramelised sugar (ok, burned).

Feeling a bit dejected, I was ready to throw it all out when the boy-child intervened.

Too hot, or not stirred enough; the mixture was looking over-done. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Too hot, or not stirred enough; the mixture was looking over-done. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Having been promised his grandfather’s legendary tablet, he was a bit reluctant to let me abandon the project. After letting a spoonful cool in water he announced that it wasn’t actually burned and tasted ok.

Problem was it looked pretty awful and I couldn’t help feeling it would only get worse with more cooking. But the boy-child is nothing if not pragmatic. He suggested adding cocoa to disguise the discoloration and finishing the cooking process – as an experiment.

We did, it worked and the resulting chocolate fudge went down well at the skatepark apparently.

While I love chocolate, I’m not so fond of chocolate flavoured things, so although I’ve tried some to test the texture (definitely more like the tablet I remember), I’m going to have to make another batch sometime to satisfy my need for that little taste of my childhood.

With the addition of cocoa powder, the mixture was rehabilitated. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

With the addition of cocoa powder, the mixture was rehabilitated. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

The recipe:

Swiss Milk Tablet

2 lbs granulated sugar

1/4 lb butter

1 tin Swiss Milk (sweetened condensed milk)

1/4 pt milk

2 tsp vanilla essence

1. Melt butter and sugar in milk, then boil for 10 minutes.

2. Add Swiss milk and, stirring carefully, boil until a little hardens when it is dropped in cold water (20 mins).

3. Flavour, stir well and pour into greased tin.

4. Mark when almost cold.

21 thoughts on “Tablet making #1: not a complete disaster

    • Thanks. It’s interesting how the foods we taste as children stay with us and are a sort of bench-mark for how we think they should be. I have a fondness for percolator coffee, very buttery fried mushrooms – and of course tablet – because of how my dad used to prepare these when I was young.

      • I quite agree with you Su. I remember as a child, a lovely treat called “bread sop.’ Yep, strange name, it was a really thick slice of bread (from a chubby loaf) then boiled water was poured over it, until soaked, the water was drained out, then sugar was sprinkled over it and then milk was poured over it and it was eaten. I loved this as a child, can’t stand it now though 🙂

        • Hi Eunice. It does sound strange, but apparently “sops” were very quite common foods. An aunt remembers being given something similar when she was a child. I’ve always marvelled at how many British puddings are based on stale bread. The Germans have incredibly rich torte, the French have creamy pastries, and the Brits have bread and butter pudding, or summer pudding! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by to comment. Am glad to have shared a little bit of Scottish food culture. And you are so right about old recipes; I just love finding them. 🙂

    • Hi Judy. Treacle toffee was another of my dad’s “while the cat’s away” treats. My poor mum used to get home to find three kids bouncing off the walls on a sugar high. My gran’s book has a treacle toffee recipe too. Not sure if I’ll try it though.

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    • My cousin tried the recipe before Christmas and hers turned out pretty well. She said the only thing she’d do differently next time is boil the sugar and butter a bit longer as hers was a bit crystalline. I didn’t find that with mine and I followed the timings (apart from letting it boil too much without stirring of course!)

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  3. Hi. Made tablet but definitely over cooked it. Hard and crumbly. Don’t want to waste the whole pan of crumbs. Any idea as to how to fix this?

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