Smooth music and special exercises are just some of the unorthodox techniques used in an attempt to get Scotland’s most famous furry couple in the mood for romance.
Now the winner of the UK’s most popular baking shows hopes her edible fancies will prove to be the food of love and result in a bun in the oven for Edinburgh Zoo’s giant pandas.
The Great British Bake Off winner Frances Quinn has dedicated a recipe for novelty scones to the female panda Tian Tian to encourage her to create her own little pandas.
She hopes the panda-faced treats will act as a love talisman for the bear and her mate Yang Guang, who failed to mate naturally last year. Putting the disappointment of last year’s unsuccessful breeding attempt to one side, experts at the zoo have confirmed hormone tests carried out on Tian Tian suggest the 36-hour annual breeding window will occur in the next ten days.
The TV baker said it was “by some ironic prune panda coincidence” she heard about the Edinburgh bears during a demonstration of her panda scones at a bakery show Manchester.
“I heard about Tian Tian over the weekend and decided to dedicate this recipe to Edinburgh Zoo to give her as much encouragement as possible,” Ms Quinn said.
“Each demo I did, I informed the audience about Tian Tian and Yang Guang and hoped as I created pandas under the guise of prunes and scones, so too were real pandas being created in Scotland.”
She said the enjoyment she got from creating the panda faces on her tempting treats was so great she wanted to spread the good feeling by urging as many bakers to produce the sweet treats.
“I am hoping to pass on some of that love so that Tian Tian can do some creating of her own. I’ll be watching the Edinburgh Zoo webcam and sending all good panda wishes for the few vital weeks,” she said.
Ms Quinn, a children’s clothing designer from Leicestershire, won the favour of judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, judges on BBC’s Great British Bake Off, earlier this year with quirky creations such as breadsticks in a giant matchbox and a cake hiding a secret chocolate squirrel inside.
“I would love to present the zoo and pandas with some scones and maybe make the trip up north, as I have never actually visited Edinburgh,” she added.
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh Zoo said staff were delighted to hear their female, also known as Sweetie, had provided inspiration for the confections.
“Although the scones may not be to Tian Tian’s taste, I’m sure her keepers would love to taste-test them,” she said.
The pressure on Yang Guang and Tian Tian, the first adult giant pandas to come out of China, is immense. If they breed successfully their offspring will be the first giant pandas ever born in Britain and an important contribution to the survival of their species. Both pandas have bred in the past, but not with each other – Tian Tian gave birth to twins in 2009.
The two pandas arrived in Edinburgh Zoo in December 2011, on a ten-year loan from China. Tian Tian was artificially inseminated with sperm from Yang Guang and another panda in April last year after the pair failed to mate naturally.
But high hopes for a panda birth were dashed in October, when it was confirmed she was no longer showing signs of pregnancy.
400g California prunes; 300g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting; 100g slightly salted butter, cut into pieces; 100g caster sugar; 150ml whole milk; 1tsp vanilla extract; 300ml double cream
Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Sift flour into large bowl. Remove a tablespoon of flour and place into a smaller bowl. Cut 100g of prunes into the flour in small pieces. Toss the prunes in the flour to stop them sticking together. Set aside.
Rub butter into flour in a large bowl, creating a fine breadcrumb texture. Stir in sugar and toss through cut-up prunes and remaining flour.
Stir vanilla extract into milk. Make a well in the dry mix and add, saving a little. Fold through with a spoon. Gently make dough into a ball, picking up any flour from the bowl. Transfer on to a lightly floured surface, then roll to no less than three centimetre deep. Leave to sit for a few minutes.
Line baking tray with parchment paper. Cut out six scones and transfer to baking tray. You may need to trim the prunes from under the scones.
Brush top of the scones with remaining vanilla milk and bake near top of oven for 10-15 minutes, until risen and lightly golden. Leave to cool.
Slice through 12 prunes to create 24 flat eye patches. Cut a further 12 prunes in half for ears. Cut out 12 small prune triangles to make noses and use the scraps to make 24 pupils. Set everything aside.
Place the cream into a medium bowl and whip to soft peaks. Be careful not to over-beat as it will thicken as it’s piped. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag and cut off the tip to about one centimetre. Pipe the whites of the Panda’s eyes on to the prune eye patches. Place the pupils on to the cream using the tip of a knife or cocktail stick.
Once the scones have cooled, carefully cut in half. Spread cream on each halved scone to create a smooth panda face. Place prune features on to each scone face.