WHEN most people picture Coinneach MacLeod, they see him in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and apron on. A dusting of flour spread across the table in front of him. Ingredients piled high. His faithful sidekick Seoras, a mischievous West Highland Terrier, slumbering in a basket nearby.

The Lewis-born TikTok sensation – better known to his loyal followers as The Hebridean Baker – has won fans around the globe after sharing his culinary skills in a series of wholesome and easy-to-follow clips on the social media platform.

Making videos about his favourite comfort foods was an idea that MacLeod, 47, came up with last year when, like many of us, he sought a creative outlook amid the upheaval of the pandemic. “It was just stuff that I enjoyed, and I hoped other people would too,” he says.

He struck upon a winning recipe for his online baking tutorials, adding in a sprinkling of introductory Gaelic, folklore tales, history and stories about his upbringing, while showcasing the best Scottish produce and a love for wild, rugged landscapes.

His posts, perhaps unsurprisingly, have garnered interest on the other side of the Atlantic. In September last year – around the time that former president Donald Trump mooted plans to ban TikTok – a story appeared in the US edition of Elle magazine.

“What I’ll Miss Most About TikTok Is This Sexy Scottish Baker,” proclaimed the headline. The piece waxed lyrical about MacLeod, describing his lilting Lewis accent as how “a warm shortbread cookie might talk if it came to life” and the overall effect to be “very Scottish-sexy, very Outlander.”

HeraldScotland: Coinneach MacLeod aka The Hebridean Baker. Picture: Euan AndersonCoinneach MacLeod aka The Hebridean Baker. Picture: Euan Anderson

The first MacLeod knew about it was when he woke up and saw his follower count had jumped considerably. “I had made a carrot cake the day before and suddenly had 20,000 new followers, then 10,000 more the next night,” he says. “I thought: ‘It’s a good carrot cake, but it wasn’t that good …’”

His videos on TikTok have continued to rack up impressive audience numbers. “I have had 15 million people watch my videos in the last 12 months which, when you are from a village of 30 people, is very difficult to put in context,” says MacLeod.

Life has got a lot more hectic too. When we speak on an early autumn morning, MacLeod reels off a long list of engagements that makes you wonder if he has managed to sneak some extra hours into the day that the rest of us don’t know about.

Hot on the heels of publishing his debut cookbook, The Hebridean Baker, he represented Scotland in the World Porridge Making Championships earlier this month, finishing as joint runner-up behind eventual Golden Spurtle winner Miriam Groot, a vegan food blogger from the Netherlands.

Recent weeks have seen MacLeod compete at the Royal National Mod in Inverness, alongside his partner Peter MacQueen, with the pair finishing second in the adult duet section (“a competition we won back in 2018,” says MacLeod). He is also squeezing in a Scotland-wide book tour.

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Then there’s the whole other life that runs parallel to being The Hebridean Baker. MacLeod, who previously worked for the Scottish FA and the International Tennis Federation, has a development role with UEFA which, in the past month alone, has taken him to Ghana, Jamaica and Ethiopia.

“I have a busy job working for UEFA,” he says. “It is strange to tell people about that because it is so different to everything else I do. I work as a development manager and coach developing countries to help professionalise the sport. I love my job and I love doing this too.”

MacLeod is a charming and gregarious interviewee. His dulcet Hebridean tones coupled with the twinkly-eyed smiles that are a staple of his TikTok videos – not to forget that trademark beard and cheery, home-spun persona – make him a hugely marketable (and likeable) commodity.

The name Coinneach, often anglicised as Kenneth, comes from the Gaelic for handsome. Born and raised in the small crofting township of Cromore – the youngest son of a trawler fisherman and a weaver – MacLeod splits his time between Lewis and Glasgow.

HeraldScotland: Coinneach MacLeod aka The Hebridean Baker. Picture: Euan AndersonCoinneach MacLeod aka The Hebridean Baker. Picture: Euan Anderson

His love of baking, he says, began in childhood. MacLeod has vivid memories of watching as his late mother and aunts rustled up homemade treats for the family to enjoy.

“My three brothers and I couldn’t visit a local shop to get a sweet or a biscuit – the nearest shop was more than 30 miles away and nearly two hours by car. We grew up with the concept that homemade is best.

“My mum and aunts were amazing bakers. If they were treating us, it would be a treat that was made at home. I was brought up with that mindset and being able to peer over the stove and see the clootie dumpling being made.

“One person that I am so chuffed is in the book is my Aunt Bellag, who is 93. She bakes every day. Her husband is 94 and still works on the fishing boat. Talk about aspirational. That’s what you would love to be like at 63, never mind blooming 93.

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“What is called clootie dumpling on the mainland, we call ‘duff’. Her duff recipe is delicious. It is my favourite thing in my book and my favourite treat to have. Seeing her passion for baking, I know I have a lot of years ahead of me of trying different things and enjoying it.”

When the nights grow longer and the temperatures begin to dip, MacLeod is happy to hunker down at home. As we move further into autumn, how does his palate change with the seasons?

“If you look at my cookbook, it is very cosy and autumnal,” he says. “There are no bright summer salads. It is big lamb casseroles and lobster mac ’n’ cheese – all the things you want as the nights are drawing in.

HeraldScotland: Coinneach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, with his dog Seoras. Picture: Euan AndersonCoinneach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, with his dog Seoras. Picture: Euan Anderson

“I am naturally a bit of a hermit. I like to have the fire on and enjoy a cosy experience. Do you remember a couple of years ago when there was that real phenomenon of the Danish hygge? Somebody asked me if there was a Gaelic translation for the word ‘hygge’.

“It did make me think because there is a perception that we do have slower lives on the islands. There is this beautiful word – ‘blàths’ – that means contentment and warmth. A saying I use in the book is ‘beiridh blàths air luaths’ which translates as ‘there is a time for everything’. I want people to take their time and enjoy making the recipes.”

In his book, The Hebridean Baker, MacLeod describes what would be his perfect day filled with blàths-style pursuits. “Taking a walk down to the shoreline and hearing the sea roar,” he writes. “Looking out the window to see Peter digging in the garden planting his vegetables.

“Pulling all the cookbooks out from the bookshelves and deciding what I’m going to bake, then sitting by the stove learning the tune to an old Gaelic song.”

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Despite his self-proclaimed hermit tendencies, togetherness is a strong theme. “That is a big part of it,” he says. “Peter is a big part of it. You can see other family and friends dotted around in the book too. My niece Christina and my sister-in-law Seonag are both in it.

“I am interested in ‘love language’, you know, how do you show care to your family and friends? I am very much a doer. I like people to react to things that I have done. The reaction of people when they go, ‘Oh my goodness, that is delicious …’ fills me with ultimate joy.”

His partner Peter MacQueen, who presents the BBC Alba gardening series Garradh Phadruig, is the designated “cake taster” for The Hebridean Baker.

“When you are making a cookbook, to get 75 recipes, you have to try and test hundreds to see what the 75 will be,” says MacLeod. “Peter has literally tried three new cakes a day since January.”

MacQueen, 44, makes regular cameos in The Hebridean Baker TikTok videos, as does their dog Seoras. “To be fair, Seoras is the breakout star of the whole thing,” laughs MacLeod. “Somebody asked me: ‘Shouldn’t Seoras have his own social media?’ and I said: ‘No, because then nobody would look at mine.’”

HeraldScotland: Coinneach MacLeod’s trusty sidekick West Highland Terrier Seoras. Picture: Euan AndersonCoinneach MacLeod’s trusty sidekick West Highland Terrier Seoras. Picture: Euan Anderson

Alongside baking, his cookbook contains recipes for soups, casseroles and pies, as well as twists on classic cocktails, including martinis and hot toddies.

MacLeod is passionate about showcasing produce from Scotland’s larder. Stornoway black pudding from the renowned Charles MacLeod Butchers on Lewis, as well as Isle of Harris gin, Golspie Mill flour and Hamlyns of Scotland oats, are among his favourite ingredients.

He is a big fan of foraging. “At the weekend there we were making bramble jelly – that is in my book. It is about trying to remind people that in Scotland we have amazing autumnal produce, as well as spring produce, that you can go and pick yourself.

“I enjoy making wild garlic scones and bramble jelly – all those things that you can find on top of a hill a mile from your house.”

HeraldScotland: Forager’s Jelly made from brambles. Picture: Euan AndersonForager’s Jelly made from brambles. Picture: Euan Anderson

MacLeod is a natural raconteur and has a canny eye (or should that be ear?) for an engrossing tale. Many of these have made it into his cookbook, with fables woven alongside the author’s most-beloved anecdotes – usually things that have tickled him or triggered a fond memory.

A good chunk of these are tied to his childhood growing up in Cromore on the south-east of Lewis. “It is the last village on the island,” says MacLeod. “There is nowhere to go after that. Even at home, when I mention where I am from, people will say: ‘Oh, I have never been to that village …’

HeraldScotland: Views over Lewis with a sheep in the foreground. Picture: Euan AndersonViews over Lewis with a sheep in the foreground. Picture: Euan Anderson

“I loved writing the stories. There is one, in particular, where I thought: ‘There is no way they are going to put this in…’ The punchline is: ‘And that was the day my father gave the Queen crabs.’ But, yes, it went in.”

It is a glorious story about how his late father, rowing home after a successful day checking his creels, suddenly felt a crash and turned around to find he had bumped into the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Leaning over the side of the yacht were the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret. MacLeod’s father gifted them some lobsters and crabs for their dinner. He later got a thank you letter in the post.

The young MacLeod, meanwhile, found himself playing tour guide to some of the crew who had arrived ashore from the yacht.

“The people who worked on the boat came into the village,” he recalls. “I remember taking them to see our red phone box, because I knew the next village didn’t have a red phone box, and I thought ‘this is really going to impress them …’”

HeraldScotland: Coinneach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, at Calanais Standing Stones on Lewis. Picture: Euan AndersonCoinneach MacLeod, aka The Hebridean Baker, at Calanais Standing Stones on Lewis. Picture: Euan Anderson

Elsewhere in the book, a recipe for Atholl Brose whisky liqueur is introduced with a legend about how the Earl of Atholl reputedly filled a drinking well with whisky, oats and honey in an attempt to suppress a 15th-century rebellion.

In another section, MacLeod references how Flora MacDonald is said to have been halfway through a pudding of Scots Flummery (a cream-laden, oats-based and whisky-doused dessert) when she was arrested for aiding Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after Culloden in 1746.

But not every recipe MacLeod considered made it into the book. “On the island we have what I suppose you could describe as our version of haggis called Ceann Cropaig,” he explains.

“Instead of the intestines of an animal, we use the liver and intestines of fish along with oatmeal and some spices. It is baked or boiled in the fish’s head. You scoop out all the horrible bits of the fish’s head and it is cooked in that.

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“When my mum used to make it that was the biggest treat. Everybody would be so excited. I said I was going to put it in the book and my brother Murdo said: ‘I would just stick with scones …’

“He said: ‘I don’t think anyone wants to see a recipe that says gut your fish, pull out the intestines and mash them with oatmeal and then boil the fish’s head in water …’ I took his advice. Maybe I will use that one for the second book.”

HeraldScotland: Coinneach MacLeod aka The Hebridean Baker. Picture: Euan AndersonCoinneach MacLeod aka The Hebridean Baker. Picture: Euan Anderson

Then there were the recipes that tasted great but lacked the photogenic qualities necessary for a cookbook. “It has been trial and error,” says MacLeod. “When you are told to make 75 recipes, some of them don’t work and even the ones you think are tasty sometimes don’t photograph well.

“I make this thing called Forgotten Cookies. I always have leftover egg whites because I use the yolks for other recipes. It is meringue with chocolate chips and chewy cranberries.

“All you do is make it into little blobs, put it in the oven, switch the oven off, leave it overnight and then open the oven the next morning. You get this delicious meringue with a soft marshmallow inside and wee chocolate chips.

“It is so tasty. In a photograph? It looks like when dog’s jobbies go white. When we saw the photos, we thought: ‘That’s not going in the book …’”

MacLeod is bursting with ideas for future projects (many still under wraps) and his schedule shows few signs of slowing down.

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“The interest from America is unbelievable,” he says. “The CBS Sunday Morning show has asked me to do a series of Scottish recipes in the build-up to Thanksgiving which is exciting.

“Among my followers, 80 per cent are in America, and so that is a big part of my engagement and what I do. My dream is to extend the book tour over to the US. That would be great fun.”

The Hebridean Baker: Recipes and Wee Stories from the Scottish Islands by Coinneach MacLeod is published by Black & White, out now, £20. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @HebrideanBaker