It only took 4 batches, but I finally got a perfect tray of sugary goodness. Maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Lots of people who have put up with my griping about tablet have asked me what it is. As far as lots of people are concerned, a tablet is something you write on, not something you eat, so let me enlighten you! Tablet is a traditional Scottish confection that, when done right, looks something like fudge, but is more firm and melts in your mouth with a buttery caramel flavor. When done wrong, well… it might be a grainy slab of sugar that makes you gag, it might not set and just sit there in the pan, all sludgy like the Swamp of Sadness, or it might set while you’re still pouring it into the pan and be tasty, but really lopsided and ugly.
I think I kind of got cocky after I made a perfect batch of tablet for my wedding. Seriously, it was months ago and people are still leaving random Facebook comments and sending me emails about how good it was. My over-confidence was my undoing this week as I tried to make another batch for Christmas presents. The first batch was delicious, but of the lopsided and ugly persuasion. Batch 2? Swamp of Sadness. Batch 3? Undercooked. Batch 4, though? Lovely.
I’m mostly including all of this preamble before the recipe to hit home the concept that this is not the kind of thing you should expect to master immediately. Even if it makes you scream and cry and feel like you’re obviously the worst cook ever to dump 4 and a half cups of sugar into a big ol’ pot, try, try again. It will be worth it, I promise.
Now, with now further ado, here’s the best recipe you’ll ever find. Fraser’s granny clipped it from a newspaper (probably the Citizen, a now-defunct Glasgow paper) 50 or so years ago, and while the paper has yellowed and creased, the recipe is as good as ever. Note: I have converted the measurements to be American-friendly and the instructions, which are very bare-bones in the original are expanded to share things I’ve learned along the way.
- 4.5 cups granulated sugar
- 3 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup milk
- 1 small can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 Tablespoon Lyle’s Golden Syrup*
- A few drops vanilla extract
- Mug of very cold water
- Liberally butter a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet (as long as it has sides). If you don’t have either of those, you could probably use 2 lasagna pans. Set it/them on a level surface, with a towel under the pan to protect the surface from the heat.
- Put the sugar, butter, and milk in a large pot. Stir it over medium heat on the stove until the butter has melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Stir it the whole time.
- Add the condensed milk and bring to the boil, stirring all the while.
- Once it’s boiling, add the syrup and boil for another 5 minutes. Keep stirring.
- At this point, you check to see if it’s done. Do this by carefully taking a spoonful of the BOILING SUGAR (in other words, please be careful and don’t burn yourself, okay?) and plunging it into the cold water mug. If it doesn’t disintegrate and stays stuck together when you roll it around on the spoon, it’s done. The stuff in the pot should also be a golden caramel color and no longer a creamy off-white. If it’s not quite done (mine is never quite done at this point), keep stirring and check it again with a clean spoon every 2 minutes or so.
- Once it’s done, take it off the heat and drizzle in a very little vanilla extract. Stand back once you’ve poured it, because it will sizzle and spit. Stir the pot vigorously for 2-4 minutes, and here’s where it becomes hard to explain without just letting you take a turn stirring so you can feel what happens. Basically, you want to stir and stir until it thickens and you notice that you need to work harder to scrape the bottom of the pot because it’s JUST BARELY beginning to solidify. The instant you feel that thickening, pour it into the buttered pan. It helps to have a second person to scrape out the pot while you hold it so you don’t have to juggle the hot pot and spoon at the same time.
It should begin to set up very quickly, and you might see snowflake-looking patterns appearing on top – that’s normal and a good sign. Once it’s cool to the touch, the best way I’ve found to cut it is to score it with a sharp knife into 2 inch squares, then carefully lift up one side and break it along the scored lines. I’ve tried just cutting it with a knife. I’ve tried a pizza cutter. Breaking it by hand really does produce the cleanest lines.
*Now, about the Golden Syrup. It is worth it to go out of your way to find it, and it can be found in import aisles of better-stocked grocery stores, British import stores, and online. It has an amazing toffee flavor and turns French toast into something really sinful. If you can’t or won’t find it, you can substitute light corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup, but the flavor will be substantially altered and I’m not really sure you’ll get away with calling it tablet if you present it to any Scots.