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Parlies or Parliament Cake – an old fashioned Scottish biscuit

Happy St Andrew’s day everyone. I thought in honour of the day of the Scottish patron saint (who is also the patron saint of loads of other places), I’d have a go at something a bit special, something from history…  am I setting the scene? Are you excited?

Parlies or Parliament Cake.

I have to thank my study buddy Rachelle for giving me this idea, she was researching shortbread (as you do) and came across a mention of these and got in touch to ask if I knew how to make them. Of course, I leapt into action, got the research head on and found out so I could share with you guys as a special St Andrew’s day treat.

So what are they exactly? Well, a biscuit, with ginger and treacle, sounds lovely and wintery right? Well, you are right. They are lovely and dark and have a slight toffee edge, but that’s not even the best bit. The best bit is the cracking story of how they were born / where they came from. So here it is just for you.

Parlies or parliament cakes (to give them their Sunday name) were the creation of Mrs Flockhart (locally known as Luckie Fykie) of Potterrow here in Edinburgh. She had a little general grocer shop and tavern (which incidentally is no longer there because the student union is now there) which was allegedly visited by esteemed gentlemen of the Scottish Parliament, including the father of Sir Walter Scott, allegedly. The story says that these gentlemen would visit the shop but head through the shop into the back rooms (or ben the hoose as we would say), where they would drink whisky and eat parliament cake.

Mrs Flockhart’s parlies are described as crisp square cakes and she apparently offered round “snaps”.  So my version is not exactly accurate to hers, as mine are round, but they are tasty treats all the same. If you wanted to make yours square, you could roll the dough and cut it into squares.

If you want to read more about Mrs Flockhart and her “goings on”, there is a nice account in “Traditions of Edinburgh, Vol 2”.

So for the recipe.


225g plain flour
115g butter
115g brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons black treacle
2 and a half teaspoons ground ginger

How to make them

Mix the flour, ginger and sugar thoroughly in a bowl.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the treacle and bring to the boil, stirring continuously.

Add the hot butter and treacle to the bowl holding the dry ingredients and mix a little to allow the mixture to cool, add your egg and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until you get a dough.

Not the most attractive but its tasty

When it has cooled enough to handle, scoop up about a tablespoon amount and drop this onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Flatten it a bit so it looks more biscuit like.

You should get about 12-15 biscuits, depending on how big you make them, but remember they will expand a little in the oven, so leave space.

Bake at 160C for 25 minutes then leave to cool on a cooling rack. They are properly crunchy (like ginger snaps when cool).

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