Are you with me in your love of oats? Creamy, golden, comforting, filling…what is there not to like?!
Enjoying oats is not just about porridge; oats are far more flexible than mainstream food would have us believe. The British have historically made them the centre of so many dishes!
Oatcakes are just one example; these crisp, delicious biscuity ‘cakes’ (which are actually more like crackers than cakes) were a staple in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and northern England long before wheat ever got a look in. They are very simple – oats, water and a touch of salt, plus a bit of fat (that would have traditionally been lard or butter) to help bind the dough.
They would have traditionally been cooked on a griddle above a fire, enclosed ovens being a relatively recent invention. I have cooked these both on the stove using a cast iron pan and also in the oven. The result is quite different and I’d suggest trying both. This recipe is written for stove-top preparation. If you’d like to use the oven, check the note at the bottom.
The Scots did not pre-soak their oats when making oatcakes. If you wish to, you can soak the oats with an acidic medium and then dehydrate them back to dryness ready for this recipe.
Traditional Scottish Oatcakes
200g medium oatmeal
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp lard
Extra oat (or other) flour for rolling
Makes 3 large oatcakes, which can be divided into a total of 12 servings
- Preheat a cast iron pan that’s at least 8in/20cm on medium-high.
- Measure the oatmeal into a heatproof bowl and add the salt, mixing well.
- Heat the water and the lard together in a small, lidded saucepan. Aim for the lard to be completely melted but the water not quite boiling.
- Sprinkle a working surface with oat (or other) flour in preparation for the rolling/shaping.
- Add the hot water/lard to the oats and mix well. The mix will be hot, so be careful (start with a spoon if necessary before switching to hands).
- Bring the mix together into a dough. Squeeze it with you hand, encouraging its stickiness to work it into a large ball.
- Working swiftly (the dough is easier to form when it’s still warm), divide the ball into three and place the first piece onto the floured surface. Using your palms/hands (or a floured rolling pin) flatten and shape the dough into a circle about 6in/15cm diameter, 3mm deep.
- Cut the circle into four quarters (these quarters are traditionally called farls).
- Repeat this process with the remaining two dough pieces, so that you have three oat cakes, each divided into four pieces.
- Carefully transfer the oat cakes onto the hot cast iron pan (no cooking fat is needed).
- Cook them for 5-10 minutes per side, until they start to show a golden surface and lift slightly away from the pan at the corners.
If you wish use an oven instead of the stove, pre-heat it to 165C/330F before starting, place the oatcakes onto baking trays (no need to grease) and cook for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden in colour.
These oatcakes are best eaten fresh, ideally still warm. They were traditionally stored packed in chests of recently-ground oatmeal. If you, like me, don’t have one of those, you can keep them in a bread bin, they are still good but will lose their initial crispness.
If you’d like to explore the way the Scottish traditionally fermented their oats into a creamy, easy-to-digest porridge and a tangy probiotic drink, check out my course Sowans: The Scottish Oat Ferment here!