Food & Drink

Spice of life

Ghillie Basan is the author of over 40 cookbooks. Her recipe book, Spirit & Spice is inspired by her extensive travels around the world and the ingredients surrounding her in Scotland – including a special connection to our ‘water of life’, the steadfast dram

When Ghillie Basan returned to Scotland from her travels, she moved to a deserted croft in the hills of the Cairngorms, where she brought up her two children, grew her own vegetables and foraged for fungi and berries. In Spirit & Spice, she decided to paint a picture of life in a wild corner of the Highlands, combining global flavours, spices and techniques with the natural larder of Scotland and offering expert advice on pairing the perfect whisky to a dish.

Ghillie Basan at work in her Highland kitchen

“When I began to pair food with whisky – stripping back the flavours in the spirit before building them up in the food – I definitely appreciated it in a different way,” says Ghillie. “I gained a new-found respect for the complexity, the importance of the maturation process, and the skill of the master distiller. The one thing that goes supremely well with whisky is spice as it holds its own and, if you get the marriage right, you can create a real flow of flavours.”

Dessert treats from Ghillie Basan’s kitchen

Whisky and raisin ice cream with toasted oatmeal and raspberries

Serves 8–10



100g/3½oz raisins

100ml/3½fl oz whisky from a sherry cask

2 teaspoons honey

700ml/1¼ pints double cream

300ml/½ pint whole milk

2 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla pod

8 large egg yolks

100g/3½oz golden caster sugar

2–3 tablespoons pinhead oatmeal, toasted in the oven

Fresh raspberries, to serve


Soak the raisins in the whisky and honey for about four hours. Put the cream and the milk in a saucepan with the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod and heat to scalding point. Turn off the heat and leave the flavours to infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pod from the cream. Slit open the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds back into the pan.

In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until they are pale, silky and thick. Heat up the cream and milk to scalding point again. Turn off the heat and beat a ladleful of the hot cream into the eggs and sugar mixture and then tip all the egg mixture into the saucepan, beating all the time. Stir the mixture over a low heat – make sure it doesn’t boil – until it begins to thicken into custard.

Pour the custard into a bowl and leave to cool. Cover with cling film and pop it into the freezer for about three hours, until it is firm to touch but not fully frozen. Remove from the freezer and mix in the raisins, whisky, and honey. Return the bowl to the freezer for at least six hours.

Take the ice cream out of the freezer 15 minutes ahead of serving. Tip the bowl upside down onto a serving dish – you can sit the base of the bowl in hot water for a minute to loosen it – sprinkle with some of the toasted oatmeal and decorate with a few raspberries. Cut the ice cream into wedges like a cake and serve with more oatmeal and raspberries.

Whisky pairing

You could accentuate the fruit and toasted oatmeal by pairing with the toasted, nutty notes of Tomintoul 16 or go in a different direction to highlight the fruit and creaminess, by introducing smoky notes along with the sweet, toasted ones with Bunnahabhain 12.

Heather honey and cinnamon tart

Serves 6–8


250g/9oz cream cheese

75g/3oz golden granulated or cane sugar

2 tablespoons thick heather honey

3 eggs

1 shortcrust pastry shell (see note)

Baked ground cinnamon for dusting


Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF.

In a bowl, beat the cream cheese with the sugar and honey until smooth. Using a balloon whisk, beat in the eggs one at a time. Pour the mixture into your baked pastry case and pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until firm to touch.

As soon as it comes out of the oven, dust the top with cinnamon and leave to cool before cutting into it.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry for Tarts

Makes 1 pastry case


For the pastry: 250g/9oz plain flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons icing sugar

125g/4½oz butter, chilled and diced

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons iced water

You will also need:

A rolling pin, or empty wine or whisky bottle

1 tart tin (my old tin is 29cm in diameter but you can use smaller)

All-purpose cling film,

Baking parchment, or foil baking beans (I use old dried beans and pasta which I keep in a tin to use again and again)

1 egg, lightly beaten, for sealing the cooked pastry


Sift the flour, salt and icing sugar into a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Beat the yolks with the iced water and add it to the flour, mixing it together lightly with a knife. Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled pastry dough as thinly as possible to line the tart tin – you need to roll the dough wider than the tin so that the edges hang over the sides. Roll the smooth dough around the rolling pin to lift it up and lower it into the tin with the surplus dough hanging over the edges. Wrap a small piece of the surplus dough in cling film and use it to push the pastry into the base and up the sides. Then roll the rolling pin over the top of the tin to cut off the surplus dough. Prick the base all over with a fork and pop the tin into the freezer for 20 minutes to set the pastry (at this stage, you can freeze the pastry base).

Line the pastry dough with the cling film, baking parchment paper or foil and fill it with the baking beans. Pop the tin into the oven (on top of a baking sheet if you have one) and bake blind for 10–12 minutes. Remove the film, paper or foil and the beans and return the pastry to the oven to dry out for a further five minutes. Quickly brush the pastry base with the beaten egg (this prevents it from going soggy later when you add liquid ingredients) and return to the oven once more for 5–10 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and shiny.

Leave to cool before filling.

Whisky pairing

The smoke and heather notes of Bruichladdich Port Charlotte would offer a delicious, yet teasing, balance to the creamy texture and honey flavour, but you could also just slip into the comfort of sweet and spice and linger in the bosomy finish of Glenmorangie 18.

Photography by Christina Riley and Zeki Basan. Spirit & Spice is out now and published in hardback by Kitchen Press, £25