The black bun type of cake in its modern usage dates from the early nineteenth century. Previously called Scotch bun and Scotch Christmas bun, the term “black bun” was first recorded in 1898, and may have been a result of Robert Louis Stevenson referring to the cake as “a black substance inimical to life”.
The cake is now commonly used as a Hogmanay custom, where people visit their neighbours after midnight to celebrate the New Year. This is called first-foot, and the gift of a black bun was meant to symbolise that the receiving family would not go hungry during the forthcoming year. It was also used as a traditional cake to serve to those visiting homes as part of Hogmanay, to be consumed with whisky