Scottish Oat Cakes, Round 1
I've begun fiddling with Scottish Oat Cakes. They are a bit of a departure from my usual yeasted bread baking. What makes it tricky is that I really don't know what my target is; I suppose I may have to wait for our trip to Scotland and Ireland this summer to see whether I'm on the right track.
There are probably several thousand "traditional" Scottish oat cakes recipes. That doesn't include all the Canadian variations on the theme, nor the more pancake-like versions. At it's simplest, an oatcake is a mixture of oatmeal (ground, not flaked), water, and fat that is baked on a baking stone or "girdle" over an open fire. It is sturdy, hearty fare that can underpin savory or sweet foods. Having sampled them, I wonder if this was the inspiration for Tolkien's lembas, the Elfen waybread that was so sustaining. Literary musings aside, the oatcake is the precursor to the scone, which was also orginally baked on a girdle (I'm going to switch to the American "griddle" for the rest of this post). Nowadays there are recipes for both oatcakes and scones that are oven-baked instead of griddled.
Here in the States, the stone-ground variety of oatmeal is very hard to come by and ridiculously expensive. We are very accustomed to calling rolled oats "oatmeal". I chose to exercise two different options for this first go-around. First, I ground some hulled oats, using the KitchenAide grain mill attachment. (My wife had found one back in February at a kitchen shop that was going out of business for a price that was substantially less than list price.) Second, I used our food processor to grind some rolled oats into a faux meal. I thought that would give me a good idea of both the handling and flavor characteristics of each.
The recipe I worked from is as follows:
- 1 cup medium oatmeal
- 2 pinches baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons melted fat (bacon fat, if available)
- 3/4 tablespoon hot water
- Additional oatmeal for rolling
Let me say right up front that I believe there is a typographical error in the formula. It seems to me that the 3/4 tablespoon of water should be 3-4 tablespoons of water. I know that I had to use substantially more than the recipe quantity to achieve a workable consistency. The process is simple: combine the dry ingredients, then add the fat and water and mix until a stiff paste results. You want to work quickly with this so that the dough doesn't cool significantly, which makes handling more difficult. Roll the dough to approximately 1/4 inch thickness on an oatmeal-covered surface. Cut into 3-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter. Re-roll the scraps and repeat until all dough is used. Cook on a griddle over medium heat, 3 minutes per side. Each batch made 6 oatcakes.
Here's the finished product, ground rolled oat version on the left, oatmeal version on the right:
As prepared, the cakes were soft (in an authoritative way), rather than crisp. They want plenty of liquid to wash them down; a large bite tends to stick to the teeth while chewing. The oatmeal version was a hands-down winner over the rolled oats version in the flavor category. That may not be entirely fair, since I was already won over by the fragrance of the freshly-ground oatmeal as it came out of the mill. I've tried them with fruit preserves and they are delicious. I haven't yet tried them with savory accompaniments but can see how they would play very nicely with cheese or smoked meats. It's difficult to say what, if anything, the baking powder contributed. There's no acid component for it to react with, so these are not light little puffs. They are rib-sticking food that can fuel some hard work.
If anyone with first-hand experience with oatcakes wants to weigh in, I'd love to hear your input. That help me gauge what I have so far and what might need to change.