From humble beginnings in the Aberdeenshire town of Huntly – population 4,460 – one family’s fabulous bakes are about to go global.
It all started in a tiny Scottish town, where during the winter snow blankets the landscape from the Clashindarroch Forest to the ruins of Huntly Castle. It was 1975, and Helen Dean’s oven and heart alike were all aglow. She had just perfected her traditional shortbread recipe.
Helen originally intended to share her melt-in-the-mouth shortbread with friends and family alone. But the local pipe band had other ideas. They needed to raise funds, and Helen’s husband Bill – the band’s drum major – knew that his wife’s incredible biscuits would sell like hotcakes.
As Bill Dean Jr., who is now the owner and managing director of his parent’s bakery, explains: “The band’s touring helped to spread the shortbread’s fame far and wide. Soon the aroma of home baking filled town as my mother established her own small bakery to meet demand.”
Want to see what all the fuss is about? Take a bite of the biscuits in December's Gin of the Month box. This delicious shortbread – buttery and short, crumbling luxuriously before melting in your mouth to leave just a hint of sweetness behind – is baked using the same family recipe that Helen perfected all those years ago.
“Forty years on,” Bill says, “Dean’s is still a family-run business priding itself on using time-honoured, handcrafted baking methods. The finest ingredients combine with traditional recipes in the products we now export all over the world.”
Some things have had to change as time goes on and demand for the Dean’s delicious shortbread skyrockets. In the early 1990s Helen moved out of her home kitchen and into a purpose-built bakery on the outskirts of Huntly. Now the Dean’s bakery is even bigger, and Bill has invested in a visitor centre to welcome shortbread lovers to his factory – thought to be the first of its kind devoted to this type of biscuit.
As connected to tradition as the bakers at Dean’s are, Bill and the team still try to innovate constantly. As he explains: “As well as shortbread, we also make delicious biscuits, gluten-free shortbread, cheese bites and recently we introduced a rich fruit cake to the range, laced with single malt whisky.”
He continues: “We’re always looking at new products, which makes for a very exciting place to work.”
But some things never change. Bill Jr., like his father before him, plays and travels with the pipe band during the Highland Games season – and sometimes, like his mother’s delicious shortbread, overseas.
And come Christmas morning, you’ll still find the Dean family in a house in cosy Huntly, well-stocked with Helen’s delicious shortbread. While we love this shortbread in our delicious Luxardo ice cream recipe, at Bill’s house the serve is a little more traditional.
He says, “We enjoy it quite simply at home, with family and friends – and maybe a nip of whisky!"
You can check out the full range of Dean's delicious biscuits here.