When I first moved to Scotland I heard rumour of this delicious sweet treat that everyone seemed to love that lived here. To be perfectly honest I hadn’t heard of Traditional Scottish tablet before but I’m really glad I’ve heard of it now!
Tablet is a wonderfully tasty, sugary, sweet or candy with a slightly grainy texture that melts in your mouth. When I try and explain it to people who’ve never heard of it or tasted it I usually compare it to fudge, and I have heard it called Scottish fudge before, although it has a medium-hard texture rather than soft.
After numerous people had told me that I just had to try it when I finally did I wasn’t disappointed! It’s delicious sugary goodness and seriously addictive. Not so good for the waistline but definitely the perfect treat when you want something sweet!
Where does tablet come from?
You’ll often hear it referred to as “Scottish Tablet” but actually lots of sweets similar to tablet can be found around the world, although they often tend to be a bit on the softer side than the traditional tablet found in Scotland.
In Latin American there’s Dulce de Leche en Tabla, then Borstplaat in the Netherlands, and Sucre a la creme in Quebec, Canada. Sometimes you’ll hear it called Swiss Milk Tablet, but that refers to the type of condensed milk used rather than anything to do with Switzerland.
I also realised we have something really similar in New Zealand called Russian Fudge (although I can’t seem to find any reason why it’s called that and all recipes seem to originate in New Zealand). It’s essentially the same but with Golden Syrup added in it too.
However, having now lived in Scotland for years, I have to say I’m most partial to Scottish Tablet! It’s become a part of my life here.
Most weddings I’ve attended feature tablet after the main meal or as a favour to take home with you, and we even had tablet on the cake table at our wedding, yes we had a whole cake table don’t judge us! It’s often present in hotels/B&B’s as a treat on the tea tray, and there are lots of variations to be found like Tablet Ice-cream and Tablet Cheesecake.
Basically, you can’t visit Scotland without trying tablet! But I have to say the homemade stuff has always been better than the shop-bought kind because it doesn’t need preservatives or any substitution for milk products. I’m not saying all bought ones have these of course, but many do.
Is tablet hard to make?
I had my first try at making tablet one Christmas when we were visiting some of Phil’s relatives. His stepmother, Margaret, showed me her family recipe and, with plenty of supervision, I helped to make it. It was amazing! She gave me a copy of the family tablet recipe but in all my moves abroad I unfortunately lost it!
Thankfully she has since forgiven me for this.
I recently decided I wanted to give it another go on my own, so Margaret kindly sent me “Aunt Grace’s Scottish Tablet Recipe” and here we are!
Scottish tablet was originally made with sugar and cream, but it’s now more commonly made with sweetened condensed milk and butter since it’s so easy to burn the cream. It still needs lots of attention to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan, you won’t be multitasking while you make this one.
The recipe makes quite a lot and tablet always makes a great gift… if you can bear to part with it!
Why not try your hand at making your own with the Scottish tablet recipe below? See our top tips to make sure things don’t go wrong!
How to make this Scottish Tablet Recipe
There’s no getting away from it, tablet is definitely not diet-friendly! It requires a lot of sugar, but I firmly believe we all deserve a treat now and then so why not tablet?
Moving from New Zealand to Scotland and having lived for a while in the United States means I’m never quite sure what measurement system belongs where, so I’ve tried to put everything you might want in the recipe below but do let me know! I tend to weigh ingredients on the scales when I bake but you can also measure it out in cups if that’s what you prefer.
Margaret always melts the butter, sugar, and milk together in the microwave and I find that much easier too! You can put it in the pot you intend to use on the stove however and just melt it together on a low heat, taking care to make sure it doesn’t catch on the pan or burn. Using the microwave in this step is generally quicker and there’s less room for error.
I have seen some other recipes use water instead of milk in the tablet recipe but milk gives the tablet a much creamier taste!
Once you have melted the first lot of ingredients together in the microwave add it to the pan with the condensed milk. From here you need to bring it all to the boil, this is a really important step because if you don’t get the mixture hot enough the tablet won’t set properly later on.
You need to have a big pot because as the tablet mixture rises in heat and comes to a boil it’ll expand. I learnt this the hard way, as you can see I only just managed to keep it in the pot!
The recipe calls for a “brisk simmer” for about 20 minutes which means not fully boiling but not on a low heat either. The mixture will reduce down a little in the pan and you should keep stirring the whole time. You certainly get a work-out making tablet!
Once you’ve been simmering and stirring the Scottish tablet for about 20 minutes it will start to darken and then you need to take it off the heat and beat it until it thickens up (check our top tips and info below about knowing if it’s ready!).
Traditionally this was done with a wooden spoon and that’s how I’ve always done it too, but I know some people do use an electric beater as well.
Whenever I’ve seen homemade tablet it’s been done in a greased tin, but you could also do it in a lined or greased baking tray or lasagne type dish. It depends how thick you want the pieces to be when you cut them later on. The mixture below is still hardening up.
After it’s been sitting about 20 minutes or so you can scour the top with lines for where you’ll cut later. This means you’ll get neater lines as it can shatter if you just try and cut it without the lines.
And that’s how you make traditional Scottish tablet at home! It sounds complicated but it’s really not too bad. You just need to keep an eye on it and keep on stirring! I really hope my little step by step tips will help you out along the way too.
What if my tablet doesn’t set?
If your tablet doesn’t set it means it didn’t reach the right temperature. It is possible to rescue it by putting it back into the pan and bringing to a boil again, but it can sometimes mean it gets a little overcooked and won’t taste quite as smooth. The finished texture is usually a tad grainy but it then melts in your mouth.
The mixture will begin to darken when it’s ready. As with fudge, there are some tests you can do to see if you’ve got it to the right temperature, although I’ve never used them and you will just get to know that it’s right if you make it a few times (and why wouldn’t you?).
I did some research and the setting point of tablet is 120 degrees Celcius if you want to use a thermometer. This means you use a candy thermometer to get it to that point and know it will set.
Alternatively, you can do the drop test in a glass of water. Take a bit of the mixture with the spoon or stirrer and drop it into a glass of cold water and if it sticks together and forms a ball it’s ready.
Can you make Scottish tablet in the microwave?
As noted above, the first part of this recipe I’ve used the microwave. This is a little controversial! Tablet purists might say that it should all be done in a pan on the stove. The thing is, tablet requires a lot of attention and careful heating so that the sugar doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
Using the microwave for the first step of melting the butter, milk, and sugar together helps to minimise the chances of the mixture sticking. I like to transfer the melted butter, milk, and sugar mix to the pan to finish off the recipe because I think gives it a better taste.
It is possible to add the condensed milk and continue to heat it in the microwave for around 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes and then beating it before pouring into a tin to set, but I’d encourage you to try it with the method outlined here instead for the best flavour!
While simmering and stirring your tablet you can also add some whisky if you want to make it even more Scottish, I’d suggest just a dash, too much is quite overpowering!
Some recipes call for vanilla essence to enhance the flavour but traditional tablet recipes don’t include it and, in my opinion, it’s not really necessary. The flavour is already there and sweet enough.
As well as these suggestions you could experiment with other spirits such as rum or baileys or look to add a whole other flavour such as chocolate or even a more floral infusion such as lavender or rose.
Personally, we prefer our tablet without any additional flavours but I’d love to hear what you’d like to add, do let me know!
And that’s Aunt Grace’s Scottish Tablet recipe, don’t tell her I’ve shared it!
Top Tips for Making Scottish Tablet
Tablet is well known to be temperamental, and it’s no surprise we’ve had many questions since we released this recipe! Based on these we’ve compiled these top tips. There is some further explanation above, but these will get you started.
- Use a large pot to enable the mixture to have room to expand
- Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved at the first stage when you’re melting the butter, sugar, and milk together. You should use a spoon to scoop some of the mixture up and allow to run back into the bowl, checking you can’t see any sugar crystal/grains and it’s fully dissolved.
- Allow the mixture to really bubble up and reach boiling point before turning down to simmer.
- There is no exact length of time to simmer and stir as it depends on your stovetop, but this part of the recipe is crucial to the tablet setting. The mixture should start to darken, but to double-check it’s ready you can use a candy thermometer to check it’s reached 120C/248F, or you can use the “drop test”. This is where you drop a small amount of mixture into a glass of cold water and if it forms a little ball then it’s ready!
- After taking off the heat make sure you beat the mixture until it starts to thicken, before pouring it out. It takes some arm work!
- If your tablet still doesn’t set, it is actually possible to pour it back in a pan and reheat and start the process all again. It can turn out a bit more sugary/grainy but at least you’ll still get tablet!
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- 900g granulated white sugar (4.5 cups or 2lb. Yes, that much sugar!)
- 250ml of full-fat milk (1 cup)
- 1 tin of sweetened condensed milk (397g tin)
- 85g butter (6tbsp)
- Slowly dissolve the sugar, milk, and butter until it's smooth. This can be done in a pot on the stove but it's also easy to do in the microwave and lowers the risk of burning. Put in a microwave-safe bowl and blast for 90 seconds at a time on a low or defrost setting. It'll take approximately 6 times in the microwave for it to melt into a smooth mixture.
- Pour the liquid into a large pot on the stove. If you're using an electric stovetop you can use a trivet to stop the mixture burning.
- Add the condensed milk and bring it up to a boil (stir continuously to stop it catching on the bottom of the pan)
- Briskly simmer for about 20 minutes until the mixture darkens to a caramel colour, stirring continuously
- Take off the heat, quickly beat the mixture and pour it into a buttered swiss roll tin
Be sure to use full-fat ingredients or the recipe won't work correctly. Also, use a large pot because the mixture will increase in volume when it's coming to a boil. Continuously stir the mixture so it doesn't stick! You can use an electric beater for the last step, but it's not necessary.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 156Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 26mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 0gSugar: 33gProtein: 0g