Oatcakes

“They are an excellent accompaniment to broth, cheese and herrings in any shape or form, and if there is anything more delicious for breakfast than a well made oatcake, spread with good butter and marmalade or heather honey, I have yet to meet it” wrote Elizabeth Craig in 1956 in The Scottish Cookery Book. Oatcakes are an addiction of mine and so I wholeheartedly agree with Elizabeth and there is rarely a day that I don’t eat them. It made me wonder how long they have been eaten, when did they first appear in literature and is Scotland the only place they are eaten.

Sadly there is no record of when the oatcake was first created but it seems fair to say that what we think of the oatcake has been around for many hundreds of years. It is believed that the Romans ate them while they were in Scotland but the first written record is of Jean Froissart, born in France around 1337, who wrote in his Chronicles that Scots soldiers carried bags of oatmeal cooking thin flat oat cakes on metal bakestones over the open camp fire. Dr Johnson in his famous 1755 dictionary of the English language wrote ‘Oats, a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’ Undaunted the writer Walter Scott responded ‘Did you ever hear of Lord Elibank’s reply when Johnson’s famous definition of oats was first pointed out to him? “The food of men in Scotland and horses in England,” repeated Lord Elibank; “very true, and where will you find such men and such horses?”

One might have thought that, at least in Scotland there was some consistency of thought as to what constituted an oatcake but on the Braes of Angus a thick oatcake is called a bannock and is Selkirk a bannock is a fruit scone. The oatcake can be thick or thin, crumbly or crispy, smooth or coarse and savory or sweet. For something that typically has only three or four ingredients (oats, salt, lard or butter and sometimes a pinch of baking powder) it is quite amazing how many different recipes one can find but we all have our favorites. With only four ingredients to consider I have been studying what constitutes a great oatcake for me.

The oats: The humble oat, like wheat, is a grain and so can be milled a number of different ways. Most commonly you have the pinhead or steel cut oat, which is where each grain has just been cracked into a very few large pieces. This is followed by a coarse oatmeal which is is a mix of particle sizes from something a little smaller than the steel cut all the way through to a flour. The finest milling is flour. Finally there is the rolled oat, often referred to as porridge oats. This is where the oat has been lightly steamed and then run through a roller to flatten it. In my view some of the secrets to good food include both eating a variety of textures as well as creating visual appeal in your food. For texture I like to use either the coarse oatmeal or a blend of steel cut and coarse to give a nice crunchy biscuit. I love the little crunchy pieces as I chew. For visual I will sometimes use some rolled oats in the recipe.

Butter or lard: I know that some of you will wonder if you can use olive oil as the healthier approach but for me there is a traditional element to oatcakes and so I can only bring myself to consider butter or lard. I have tried using Tenderflake but the oatcakes turned out too short and crumbled so much we had to use it for a quiche base so I usually use butter which imparts a lovely rich flavor. In times gone by people kept a jar of dripping in the fridge collecting from whatever meat they were cooking. Those times seem to have gone but I recently saved the fat from a huge pot of post-Thanksgiving turkey stock and bakes some superb oatcakes with it.

Baking Powder: It does perhaps make the oatcakes a little lighter but I simply don’t see the point and so don’t bother. Why put something into a recipe if there is not a noticeable benefit?

So what are my favorite recipes? I have two, the first being for my daily oatcake supply and the second, a cheese oatcake is for something a little special.


Andrew’s Oatcake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 400g coarse oatmeal, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 100g steel cut (pinhead) oatmeal
  • 50g porridge oats
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g butter, melted
  • 150ml boiling water

Method

  1. Into a mixing bowl add the oats and salt. Mix well.
  2. Stir in the melted butter using a wooden spoon until all of the mixture is well coated.
  3. Add boiling water to make a sticky mixture still stirring with the wooden spoon. If it seems too wet to hold together, add a little more of the coarse oatmeal, but it should be quite damp.
  4. Butter the lined baking tray. Dust a work surface with coarse oatmeal.
  5. Take a tennis ball sized piece of the mixture, put on the dusted surface and work with the palm of the hand until around a 1/4″ (5mm) thick circle. Repair any fractured edges of the mixture.
  6. Cut the round into 8 pie shaped pieces, then carefully slipping the blade of a large knife under each transfer to the baking tray.
  7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 190C/375F until slightly golden brown. Gently transfer to a wire rack to cool, then store in an airtight tin.
  8. You can use a cookie cutter but the oat mix does not stand up to being worked for very long and so I prefer to make the more rustic rounds and cut my triangular oatcakes as being quicker and easier.

Andrew’s Cheese Oatcake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 100g coarse oatmeal
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 125g parmesan or strong hard cheese
  • 75g butter, melted

Method

  1. Into a mixing bowl add the oats and finely grated cheese. Mix well.
  2. Stir in the melted butter using a wooden spoon until all of the mixture is well coated.
  3. Add boiling water to make a sticky mixture still stirring with the wooden spoon. If it seems too wet to hold together, add a little more of the coarse oatmeal, but it should be quite damp.
  4. Butter the lined baking tray. Dust a work surface with coarse oatmeal.
  5. Take a tennis ball sized piece of the mixture, put on the dusted surface and work with the palm of the hand until around a 1/4″ (5mm) thick circle. Repair any fractured edges of the mixture.
  6. Cut the round into 8 pie shaped pieces, then carefully slipping the blade of a large knife under each transfer to the baking tray.
  7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 190C/375F until slightly golden brown. Gently transfer to a wire rack to cool, then store in an airtight tin.
Andrew

2 Responses to “Oatcakes

  • Jim Corbett
    1 year ago

    Hey Andrew, how are you doing? The Oatmeal recipy looked a little difficult lol. Where are you now? I want a copy of the book and the TV rights to your journey!! Well done on making it to the end!!!!

  • Excellent way of describing, and good article to get data about my presentation subject, which i am going
    to present in university.

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: