TikTok stars come from all walks of life, but when Coinneach MacLeod started posting traditional Hebridean recipes and lifestyle videos from a small village on the Isle of Lewis, no one could have predicted that he’d soon have almost a quarter of a million followers. Not to mention 14 million views of his videos.
His marmalade pasties, Highland cow cupcakes and haggis bon bons – as well as his thick accent and adorable terrier Seòras – have proved such a hit, in fact, that he’s just published a cookbook packed with the best bits of his channel that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home.
Ahead of its launch, we sent over some questions for the busy baker about life on the Outer Hebrides, what inspired him to start baking as well as join TikTok and the Gaelic phrases everyone should know.
How and why did you decide to start a TikTok?
My love of baking is only equalled by the love I have for the island I was born – the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. So I wanted to share the recipes, stories and landscapes of our Hebridean islands to folk around the world and TikTok was the perfect place to do it!
From your first video to the latest one: what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?
Whatever your passion is, doesn’t matter how niche – on TikTok you will find your tribe! I never expected a beardy baker from a small Hebridean island to be of interest to folk, but 14 million video views later (and counting), I definitely have found my place. Be authentic and share the love of what you do. Oh, and having a cute wee dog definitely helps. Seòras our West Highland Terrier is the star!
Where does your passion for baking and cooking come from?
My Aunt Bellag who is 93 and still the best baker on the island. I grew up in the wee village of Cromore on the Isle of Lewis, you couldn’t just pop down the road to buy a biscuit – the nearest shop was 30 miles away! So from an early age I learned that homemade is always best.
Tell me about life on the Outer Hebrides: what’s your favourite part and why should people visit (if and when they can)?
Maybe I am biased, but for me, it is the most beautiful place on Earth! Not only our rugged landscapes, but our own unique culture, language, traditions and legends.
For all of you who travel to the islands, you will go home with a memory you will never forget. Be it standing in the centre of the 5,000-year-old Callanish Stones, hearing the Gaelic language being spoken for the first time, finding that perfect yard of Harris Tweed, taking your dog for a walk on the white sands of Luskentyre Beach (even on a stormy day!) or being spun around by a burly man in a kilt at your first ceilidh dance.
Did island life prepare you for the pandemic in any way?
When the late first minister of Scotland Donald Dewar visited Lewis, he met an elderly woman working on her croft in Uig on the west coast of the island. He asked her if she felt remote, she lifted her head and said to him: “Remote from where?” Yes, we might be far away, but we do not feel remote – we are part of a community. So though parts of our lives did not change through the pandemic, there has been a huge loss to the community feel of the island and I know that is something we look forward to returning.
What can we expect from the cookbook?
The Hebridean Baker cookbook is full of warm, comforting traditional recipes – I love using Scottish flavours on classic recipes, so watch out for hot toddy choux buns, heather biscotti, Isle of Harris gin and raspberry pavlova and a Hebridean Hogmanay cocktail. The recipes are intertwined with beautiful imagery of the islands and lots of stories, even one about the day my father gave the Queen crabs!
What does it feel like ranking between Mary Berry and Nadiya Hussain on Amazon?
Do you remember that Ready Brek advert when the wee kid gets a warm glow after eating his porridge? That’s how I felt when I saw my book alongside my heroes Mary and Nadiya. I feel like the jam in their most wonderful Victoria sandwich.
What is a classic Hebridean recipe you would recommend?
My Aunt Bellag’s duff recipe will always be my favourite. It’s the Hebridean version of a Scottish clootie dumpling – and I finally managed to persuade her to give me her secret ingredient to put in the book.
Teach me some Gaelic!
I was once asked: was there a Gaelic translation for the Danish word hygge, that feeling of warmth and contentment. Well, maybe it’s not a direct translation, but the word I would use in Gaelic is blàths. It means warmth, kindliness and contentment. There is a saying in Gaelic: “Beiridh blàths air luaths”. It means “there is a time for everything”. I think that’s a good life lesson for us all!
I always ask people this though it perhaps seems a bit silly since you do live on an island! But: you’re stuck on a deserted island (with, for the sake of the question, a fully kitted out kitchen and pantry), what cookbook are you taking with you?
I’m imagining the island would be even further north than the Hebrides, so I would choose The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson. It’s 500 pages of amazing Scandinavian recipes like the Faroese chocolate cake mokkabitar i skuffu, a Swedish Christmas toffee called knÓck and the Finnish rye pudding mÓmmi.
‘The Hebridean Baker: Recipes and Wee Stories from the Scottish Islands’ by Coinneach MacLeod (Black and White Publishing, £20; photography by Euan Anderson) is out now