Friday, December 14, 2018

Singin' Hinnies Explained

Have you ever had an experience where various pieces of your life, past and present, all seem to come together? I had one of those at the writers’ conference Malice Domestic this past year.

I love Ann Cleeves’ books, and the broadcast shows that are based on those books. She and Brenda Blethyn, who plays the title character of the show Vera (but who doesn't look at all like the character she plays), were guests of honor for 2018, and they were both great. 

I was seated and waiting for another author talk, when Ann Cleeves came into the meeting room and sat down next to me. Now, I may be an author with plenty of credits to my name, but I’m still in awe of my idols. Somehow we got to talking about why police officer Vera always calls suspects and people she may not know well “pet.” I asked Ann if there were other terms of endearment used in Northumberland, where the series is set and produced. She said, “hinny.”

And I was struck by lightning. “As in ‘singin’ hinnies?’” I asked. She said yes. Eureka! Past and present collided!

What the heck are singin’ hinnies and why do I know? Flash back to my high school days, when a friend handed me a Mary Stewart mystery and told me I had to read it. I did, and then I read every other one she wrote (although I stopped with The Crystal Cave). And in one of them, she referred to a baked item as a “singin’ hinny,” which is apparently a traditional local pastry in England. I never forgot the term, although I couldn’t remember which book it was from (it turned out to be The Ivy Tree) and why it figured in the plot. And now it was time to make them.

They’re sort of light, slightly sweet English muffins, with raisins or currants and cream and a few other basic ingredients. The eldest recipe I have for them comes from my British and Irish Cooking cookbook, which I bought when I first had an apartment in Cambridge in another millennium. But in fact there are plenty of recipes, which are all similar but slightly different. If you believe Wikipedia, they are also called bannocks, griddle cakes, or scones, in the north of England, and in Scotland they are known as “fatty cutties.” The ‘singin’” part is said to come from the sizzling of the lard or butter in the dough when you cook it on a griddle. (Regrettably mine didn't sizzle.)

So here’s a simple recipe!

Singin’ Hinnies


3-1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup rice flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup cream
3/4 cup milk
2 Tblsp melted butter


In a bowl, combine the flours, salt, sugar, baking powder and currants.

Mix the remaining ingredients together.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and blend into a soft dough (do not overwork or it will get tough).

Roll out the dough 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured board.

Cut into 3-inch rounds and prick each evenly.

Place a griddle (which I just happen to have) or sturdy frying pan on the heat and oil lightly. Place the rounds on the griddle and cook until one side is golden brown, then flip them over and cook the other side.

You can serve them toasted or merely buttered and served warm.

Among the variations you can use cold butter and/or lard, lemon zest, plain flour only (no rice flour). You can also roll out a single round piece and cut into quarters, then cook.

And I can't forget to mention the holiday novella, Tied Up with a Bow, which combines a rather unusual street decoration (based on a real one in Leap, Co. Cork), and an unexpected gift.

Available now!


  1. If I had been sitting down, and Ann Cleeves sat down next to me and started talking to me, I would not have been able to make a complete or coherent sentence! Same would apply to Brenda Blethyn!
    I do love the names foods get! Singin' Hinnies! I may never look at a griddle cake without laughing again!

  2. I've got the novella but haven't worked my way to it yet. Singin' hinnies. I've heard of that too, but who knows where. I read The Ivy Tree so long ago. I will have to look it up to see what the plot is.

  3. Wait long enough and your life catches up with you!
    I made the Irish Whisky Cake, so I'll need to wait a bit for these, but I will make them.

  4. I would love to make and serve these just to be able to tell my family what they are called. The recipe doesn't look very difficult and I am tempted to try them this holiday season. Am really enjoying your recipes, thanks for sharing them!