It’s been quite apparent for some time that my baking genes didn’t come directly from my mum (sorry Mum). It seems as though they may have skipped a generation or two though, because apparently my great granny was a top-notch professional cook.
In a very “Upstairs Downstairs” lifestyle in Glasgow, Scotland, in the late 1800s, Margaret McNab was the house cook for the Scottish residence of the Fry family, famous Chocolatiers in the UK and the creators of the Fry’s Peppermint Cream chocolate bar. I imagine the Fry family were pretty serious party animals and I can just picture great-granny McNab furiously preparing for an over-the-top Burns Night Supper in the upstairs of their Glasgow house at this time of year.
Haggis, neeps and tatties are staple parts of the Burns night feast enjoyed in celebration of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns. This is often prefaced with the classic smoked fish soup Cullen skink (Cullen is a fishing village right next door to where I grew up in Macduff, Scotland), followed by a pudding like Cranachan, made with raspberries and toasted oats – Jamie Magazine has a cracking recipe here.
Lots of Scottish cooking involves oats, mostly because they’re delicious but also because the oat plant is one of the hardiest grain crops, and can withstand the cold weather of Scotland brilliantly – for this reason it was Scotland’s main crop, and therefore very affordable. One of the best things to do with oats is to finely grind them into oatmeal and form them into fat little crunchy oatcakes that can be served with cheese and chutney on top.
According to my mum, my great-granny McNab used to bake her oatcakes directly on the top of the range, or wood burner – and no doubt she’d have used a nice simple recipe, probably incorporating oatmeal, beef dripping and salt and pepper.
In honor of my great-granny, here’s my version of the noble Scottish oatcake – jazzed up a wee bit with the addition of an egg yolk for richness and some poppy seeds or chives for extra flavour. Serve when cool with a massive slab of your favourite cheese – maybe a “Crowdie” or Scottish Brie. Happy Burns Night!
Bee’s homemade oatcakes recipes
- 210g of fine or medium oatmeal (must be ground oatmeal, not whole oats or porridge)
- 120g salted butter, diced
- 1 egg yolk
- Optional – 15g poppy seeds/chopped chives
- 25g porridge oats
- Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 175º/350ºF. Throw your butter, oatmeal and oats in a large bowl and use your hands to break all the butter pieces up and combine with the oats. Add the yolks until a rich sticky dough forms, then season well with salt and pepper. Your dough will be really sticky and annoying, which makes it tricky to handle, but hang in there because that’s how it should be, as it makes the finished oatcakes really rich and tasty. If you like, add some poppy seeds or chopped chives, or, if you fancy some extra kick, a small teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
To roll the oatcakes out, dust the work surface very lightly with oatmeal and press down on your dough with the palms of your hands until you get a nice slab about 1cm thick. Using the palms of your hands can be easier and gives a smooth top. I find it easier to squash down smaller pieces of the dough, about ¼ of the whole thing, one at a time.
Using whichever shape/size cookie cutter you like, cut regular sized biscuits from the dough, squidging the remainder of the dough back into a ball and flattening again.
Transfer to a baking sheet using a palette knife (this will make your life a lot easier), and give each oatcake a final season with salt and pepper.
Pop into a hot oven and bake for around 15 minutes, until the edges are just turning golden brown – the change will be subtle. The bake time depends on how thick the oatcakes are cut, so have a little check on them at about 10 mins just in case.
Some people like to flip the oatcakes half way through the bake to ensure they’re golden on both sides, but they’re so fragile, I wouldn’t advise this unless you’re a super confident baker.
Leave to cool and serve with a massive wodge of your favourite cheese and chutney!