In the winter of 2017, I was invited to give a talk about British puddings at the University of Aberdeen. It was minus 10 degrees, so I warmed the attendees who had braved the snow with hot, steamed plum pudding. On my walk across the great ‘granite city’ the next day in search of the local fare, the Scottish photographer Del Sneddon pointed me towards the Aberdeen buttery. It brought me to a bakery in a sidestreet that I probably wouldn’t have walked into if not for my search for rowies. The eldery shoplady was proud to tell me all about rowies, for which the bakery was famous.
At first glance, a rowie looks a bit like an unfortunate croissant that you find in the bottom of your bag, crushed by a bag of apples or a stack of books. But it is when you taste a rowie that you learn about its appeal because it has the richness of a croissant with a bonus of extra heartiness through the addition of lard.
The rowie is a pillar of working-class cuisine and was traditionally eaten for breakfast by workers and fishermen, who could benefit from an extra layer of fat to keep them warm or keep them going. In 1917, the bakeries were briefly forbidden from baking rowies as a result of the introduction of war bread and price controls, much to the dismay of the bakers and their customers. Even the unions protested, stating that the rowie was not bread as defined by the regulations and that it was an important part of the working-class diet. In the Aberdeen Evening Express, it was written that the workers’ breakfast consisted of porridge and milk, followed by a cup of tea and a buttery rowie.
Every bakery has its own way of making rowies, so it is difficult to establish a recipe. To make rowies you have to push the butter and lard mixture into the dough with your fingertips, just like the Italians do with olive oil while making focaccia. This process ensures that the rowies become soft rather than crisp.
Add the yeast to the lukewarm water and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready for use.
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and make a well. Pour the yeast mixture into the well and use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix everything together. Knead for 5 minutes until the mixture forms a smooth dough.
Put the dough back into the bowl, cover and set aside for 1 hour or until it has doubled in quantity.
Meanwhile, mix the butter and the lard for the filling well and divide the mixture into four portions. This mixture must be spreadable, so leave it at room temperature.
Briefly knead the dough on a floured work surface, then pat it into a rectangle and roll it out into a 44 x 24 cm (17½ x 9½ inch) rectangle that’s 1 cm (½ inch) thick. Place the dough lengthways in front of you.
Spread one of the butter and lard portions over two-thirds of the left-hand side of the dough rectangle. The easiest way to spread the mixture is with your hands, but be careful not to tear the dough; if it does not spread properly, the fat mixture is too cold. The warmth of your hands should help the mixture to spread.
Working from the right-hand side, fold one-third of the dough over onto itself. Then, working from the left-hand side, fold one-third of the dough over the top of the folded dough. Push your fingertips into the folded dough so that the butter and lard mixture mixes with the dough.
Re-roll the dough into a 44 x 24 cm, 1 cm thick rectangle and repeat the process until you have used up all of the butter and lard mixture.
Roll out the dough to a
Cover the tray of rowies with a light cotton cloth and wrap it in a large plastic bag (I keep one especially for this purpose). Rest the dough for 1 hour or until the rowies have doubled in size. Towards the end of the resting time,
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