Staffordshire Oatcakes are, quite possibly, the best regional speciality you’ve never heard of.
In fact, that is much more of a generalisation than you may realise, because they’re specifically regional to North Staffordshire, centering on the area around Stoke-on-Trent.
It’s historic origins are mixed, with some anecdotes suggesting they originated from soldiers returning from India and trying to reproduce the chapatis they had eaten, with local produce. A more likely scenario, is as one of the various traditional ‘bakestone’ items found in workers cottages all over the country. With wheat being a valuable commodity, most people used flour from cheaper oats and barley, and with a cooking time of mere minutes, they are surprisingly sustaining.
They can be eaten hot from the pan, but as with other griddle bakes such as muffins, crumpets and pikelets, they can be made in batches, and then toasted as required, making, if anything, an even speedier snack.
Oatcake shops used to be small and plentiful, with sales being made through open windows. Alas, the last of this kind of shop, the Hole In The Wall in Stoke-on-Trent, closed down due to re-development of the area in 2012. Commercial producers are still churning out batches in 6s and 12s, and they are even stocked by some of the large supermarket chains, but they taste best when home-made. Obvs.
Before we get to the recipe, a word or two about ingredients…
- These oatcakes are made mostly of oats, in the form of oat flour. If you want to hunt out some oat flour, then have at it, but I’ve found, through trial and error, that whizzing some steel-rolled oats in a spice grinder is both easier and cheaper. You could probably use a blender as well, as they too have the off-set blades necessary to chop the oats into a suitable fineness. Whatever is easiest being the main order of the day.
- You can use instant yeast, but I must admit, the batter made with fresh yeast always tastes better to me.
- I’ve read a lot of recipes and watched many a documentary clip on Staffordshire Oatcakes and I’m going to confess up front that this recipe might be viewed poorly by oatcake devotees. It makes a batter that is rather thicker than the traditional, which results in a thicker oatcake. In my defence, it makes for a more durable oatcake which I can then turn easily in the pan without it breaking, and it ‘laces’ beautifully, with the surface becoming dappled with the characteristic pockmarks and holes seen also on pikelets and crumpets. The thickness also allows for a wonderful contrast when toasted between the crisp outsides and the fluffy insides. If all this is a heresy to you, feel free to dilute the batter down to your liking after the 1-hour rise.
- If you have a decent non-stick pan, you can cook these fat-free.
280g oat flour – ground from steel-rolled oats
110g stoneground wholemeal bread flour
110g strong white bread flour
1tsp granulated sugar
1tsp table salt
20g fresh yeast, crumbled or 1 sachet fast-action yeast
450ml whole milk – warmed
450ml warm water
- Put everything into a large bowl and whisk together with a balloon whisk. Alternatively, use a stick blender.
- Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. If your pan is in need of a little help, use a sparing layer of fat (bacon fat or lard) to help prevent your oatcakes from sticking.
- Gently stir your oatcake batter. The yeast and rising time will have turned it into a liquid with the consistency of frothy double cream.
- Put 1 ladle/cup of batter into the middle of your pan and tilt the pan around until the batter has spread fully. Don’t be tempted to use the back of your ladle/cup to spread the batter out, as it’s very easy to spread it too thin and either make holes in the middle, or edges so thin they begin to burn before the middle is cooked.
- The moisture in the batter will soon evaporate, leaving a lacy surface of holes and craters where bubbles from the batter burst.
- Allow the oatcake to cook until there is no moisture visible on the surface – about 2 minutes.
- Using a spatula or slice, loosen the edges and then the undersides of the oatcake until it is freely sliding around in the pan.
- Flip the oatcake over and cook for another 2 minutes or until the surface is starting to brown (see photo).
- When done, slide out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool.
- Continue until all the batter is used up. This will make a batch of about 10 sturdy oatcakes.
As the oatcakes cool, they will soften and take on the appearance of a floppy pancake. Wrap in plastic and store in the fridge until required.
Oatcakes for Breakfast/Brunch/Snack/Whenever
You can put whatever you like in your oatcakes, but a filling of bacon and cheese is not only traditional but forms one of those rare, simple ingredient combinations that border the sublime.
You will need:
back bacon rashers – 2-3 per oatcake
grated vintage cheddar cheese
Sauce – brown or red (optional)
- Grill your bacon or cook in a pan until beginning to caramelise. Set aside and keep warm.
- Take your oatcake and put into a hot, dry pan – ideally the one you originally cooked it in. An oatcake has two very different sides, the pockmarked ‘front’ and the smooth, brown ‘back’. Put the ‘back’ of the oatcake into the pan first.
- Allow the oatcake to heat through for 1.5-2 minutes.
- Flip the oatcake.
- Sprinkle the cheese over the hot ‘back’ (which is now uppermost) of the oatcake. It will melt as the other side toasts.
- When the underside of the oatcake is warmed through and crisp, lay 2-3 rashers of bacon on top of the melted cheese on one half of the oatcake and fold the other half of the oatcake over (as in the photo).
- Slide onto a plate and enjoy with sauce, if liked.
- Repeat as often as necessary.