Scottish Oatcakes

I first tried Scottish oatcakes while traveling in Scotland. A friend and I were driving across country (for those of you who have read my book, Waltzing Australia, I was traveling with Jo, who I met in Western Australia a few years earlier), and we had stopped at a dairy that specializes in goat-milk products. The goat cheese was served with oatcakes, and I instantly became addicted (must be in my blood). Oatcakes have a wonderful, nutty, wholesome taste. They go fabulously well with cheese, but they are also great with a bit of honey. Actually, oatcakes excel in supporting roles. They also make good breakfast substitutes—oatmeal on the go.

As is true of most of the world’s simple flatbreads, oatcakes represent a tradition that stretches back millennia. These would be as easily prepared at a primitive fireplace, simply slapped on heated rocks, as they are in today’s kitchens.

Oatcakes are generally rolled into 6-inch to 8-inch circles and then cut into fourths. The Scottish name for the round oatcake is bannock, while the sections into which the bannock is divided are farls. (Farl comes from the term fardel, which means “a fourth part,” though now the term farl refers only to quarters of oatcakes or shortbread.) They would originally have been made on a hot griddle over an open fire, but they translate well to an indoor griddle or heavy frying pan, and can also be baked in the oven (my preferred method, because they don’t have to be tended). They are remarkably easy to make and very wholesome. Enjoy.

Scottish Oatcakes

1-1/2 cups oatmeal
1/8 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. butter, drippings, or lard
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup hot water
extra oatmeal

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the oatmeal, salt, and baking soda in a bowl and mix together. Melt the butter (or drippings or lard) and drizzle it over the oats. Add the hot water, and stir the mixture vigorously into a stiff dough.

Turn out the dough onto a flat surface—or better yet, onto a sheet of wax paper on a flat surface. If the dough sticks, sprinkle the surface lightly with a tablespoon or two of the extra oatmeal. Knead the dough thoroughly. You want the oats basically to lose their individuality—the dough should begin to look a little bit like rough cookie dough. Separate the dough into two equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball, then use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a round that is about 1/8 inch thick. With this recipe, the two rounds will each be about 6 inches across.

Transfer the rounds to a greased cookie sheet. Cut each round into quarters. Bake for 30-35 minutes. If you want them to be evenly golden, you can turn them over half way through the baking time. Enjoy warm, or put in an airtight storage container.

You can also cook your oatcakes on a griddle set over medium heat. The oatcakes should take about 3 minutes to cook. They are done when the edges start to curl. Then put them under the broiler until they are slightly brown.

Notes: Drippings or other meat fat would traditionally be the most common fat for producing oatcakes, but while these were for a long time the most readily available fats for home cooks, a stick of butter is now an easier choice, and it makes the flavor more consistent. However, if you make a roast, or perhaps a pound of bacon, you might want to take a crack at making these the old-fashioned way.

If you want to make these a little fancier, you can roll the dough out and then use a wine glass to cut out bannocks that are perfectly round. Don’t quarter these smaller oatcakes.

© 2008 Cynthia Clampitt


Filed under Food, History, Recipes, Travel

5 responses to “Scottish Oatcakes

  1. Pingback: Wouter’s Blog » Blog Archive » First cookies in the De Waal kitchen

  2. As a native Scot I have to tell you that a bannock is a scone, not an oatcake. l

    • Greetings, Eileen.

      I don’t doubt that the word bannock might be used by some to apply to scones. In fact, when I searched the Internet, I actually did find some recipes on blogs for “Bannock scones.” However, every Scot I’ve met, every package of oatcakes I’ve bought, and, more authoritatively, every reference work in print says that a bannock is a thin, flat Scottish oatcake cooked on a griddle. (I really do check this stuff carefully.) The reference works that confirm that a bannock is an oatcake include the Oxford Companion to Food, Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, several online dictionaries, and numerous Scottish sites, including Rampant Scotland and the Glasgow Guide. I believe this is just one of those words that probably got applied to more than one thing—just as the word scone applies to more than one type of bread. I’m guessing the usage difference is regional.

  3. Paul Jeselsohn

    Good recipe. Also, try baking on cookie sheet greased with olive oil (like the storebought Nairn’s.O

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Paul. Olive oil would be less authentic (not many olives growing in Scotland), but it would certainly make it more healthful — and vegan, should that be something in which people are interested.

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