Typical oatcakes – the ones I find readily on my supermarket shelves – are hard, cracker-like savory biscuits often eaten with cheese. These are what I think of as Scottish oatcakes – possibly because of the brand I buy has a telltale tartan pattern on the boxes. Yet, these are not the only kind of oatcakes to be found in the British Isles. According to Elizabeth David in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, there are a number of traditional northern English oatcakes that are more akin to pancakes than crackers.
A number of counties in northern England lay claim to these pancake-like oatcakes: Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire. The blog The Foods of England Project supplies a brief description of each type of county oatcake. Each county vies for uniqueness. The differences cited are diameter, thickness, percentage of oats versus wheat flour – often with contradictions between sources.
Names also vary. Staffordshire oatcakes are sometimes called Potteries oatcake – after the ceramic producing area around Stoke-on-Trent in northern Staffordshire. In areas near the Pennine mountains, they are sometimes referred to as Pennine oatcakes. Yorkshire oatcakes are sometimes called riddle cakes – these are are often left to dry, draped over a wooden dowel and eaten in their crisp form.
But all are, in fact, varieties of haver-cakes made in approximately the same manner with approximately the same ingredients. Haver-cake is an obsolete Northern English term for oatcake derived from the old Germanic word haver meaning oats.
Derbyshire oatcakes are generally considered to be large – somewhat like oaty crêpes. However, these have the consistency more like crumpets. They are often served with eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding and other elements of a “Full English Breakfast”.
Approximately 8 eight-inch oatcakes
- 1-1/2 cups fine oatmeal (not rolled oats)
- 1-1/2 cups flour (white or whole wheat)
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
- 2 cups warm milk
- 2 cups warm water
The evening before, whisk all the ingredients in a large bowl (1). It will be a very runny batter. Place clingfilm (=Saranwrap) over the bowl and place in refrigerator. The next day, get the bowl out of the refrigerator a few hours before use to bring it back to room temperature. The yeast will have activated and formed bubbles on top (2). Stir the batter; it will now have the consistency of a thin gruel as the oats will have “plumped” and absorbed some of the liquid.
Take a good, non-stick pan or griddle and lightly oil with a wad of paper towels. Heat the pan to medium high heat. Ladle on the batter, spreading it out (about 1/2 cup or a little more for an 8-inch oatcake). In a few minutes bubbles will form the top of the cake. When the remain open, it is time to lift and flip (3). With a cake this size, I find it easier to slide it onto a plate and use this to flip it back into the pan. Let it cook for another minute or so while the bottom browns (4).
Continue cooking by lightly oiling the pan before each ladle of batter is poured. Stack the oatcakes and keep in a warm location until the are all done. They can be folded, rolled or alternatively with food placed on top like the Ethiopian bread injera.