Introduction: North Staffordshire Oatcakes

If you come from Stoke-on-Trent you won't need to be told what Oatcakes are. Indeed, their fame has spread as far afield as Blythe Bridge. But this delicious local staple deserves an even wider audience. It used to be common for them to be sold from the front window of many a terraced house, and the last person to do this retired only recently. Today most oatcakes are made in a factory but there are still independent shops making and selling them and it is easy and fun to make your own.

North Staffordshire Oatcakes are not cakes. An oatcake is a cross between a pancake, because it is cooked flat on a griddle or a frying pan, a crumpet, because the batter is allowed to ferment, and porridge, because it contains oats.

Step 1: Ingredients

There are many recipes for oatcakes. Some people use plain flour and
water. This produces a light batter and a thin oatcake. The unkind would say a bland oatcake. Others use wholemeal flour and some milk. Some people buy oatmeal. Some use porridge oats blitzed in a blender.

Personally I use strong bread flour, half white and half wholemeal. I blitz ordinary porridge oats and I find that it gives the oatcake a stronger, nuttier flavour than ready-ground oatmeal. This is a Real Man's Oatcake. The specific ingredients you use will deliver a different oatcake, just as they would when baking bread. But a balance of equal parts flour and oatmeal works well.

For yeast, I use frozen fresh yeast. One ball contains about 12g or so (that's nearly ½ oz) yeast, rubbed with flour. You can see my Ible on how that works here. But if you prefer you can foam up some fresh yeast with the sugar first, or use dried yeast. Do it the same way as you make your bread.

So this is my recipe, it will yield about a dozen oatcakes:

  • 250g (8oz) flour, strong white & strong wholemeal 50/50
  • 250g (8oz) porridge oats, blitzed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • About a litre ( a US quart) of warm liquid, milk and water, 50/50. The exact amount will depend on your dry ingredients.
  • 12g or so of fresh Yeast. That's a scant half-ounce. Get with the rest of the planet.

In a large mixing bowl mix the flours, oatmeal, sugar (unless you have used it to start the yeast off) and salt. Add most of the liquid a little at a time but keep a little back. Stir in the crumbled yeast ball or frothed yeast and beat to make a smooth batter.

Cover the bowl and leave the batter in a warm place to ferment. Sometimes I leave it an hour or two, sometimes overnight if I want fresh oatcakes for breakfast.

Step 2: Cooking

When fermented, check the consistency of the batter. It should be nice and frothy but it will probably be thicker now than when you mixed it, because the dry ingredients will have absorbed some of the liquid. Just add as much more liquid as you need and beat out any lumps. For this batch I did add all of the milk I had held back and it was just right. Don't beat too much though, you want to retain the bubbles. You should end up with a smooth, thick, but still pourable batter.

Use the heaviest pan you have. A cast-iron griddle is perfect, but a frying pan will do. Mine is wrist-achingly heavy, but cooks very nicely. The only problem is that the sides are quite steep, so getting a slice underneath cleanly for flipping can be a challenge.

Put the pan over a medium heat and add as little oil as you can get away with. The pan needs to be lubricated but we are not really trying to fry these, just cook them. Don't get it too hot or the bottom will be overdone before the top is set.

Pour in some batter and rock the pan to get a nice round oatcake. My pan is 20cm or 8” in diameter and a small ladle is about right. If you have to spread it with a knife then your batter is too thick, add some more liquid.

As soon as the top is set, flip the oatcake to do the other side. It should take a minute or two. In these photos, the first is not yet ready, the second is just right. The difference between the two was about 20 seconds, so keep your eye on it.

Cool the oatcake on a wire rack and stack.

Step 3: Serving and Freezing

When we were kids, Sunday breakfast was always bacon, egg and oatcake. It's still a favourite. But they are delicious plain buttered, or grilled with cheese like cheese-on-toast. Bacon and cheese is good, or rolled round a good sausage like a hot dog.

If you want to be a bit adventurous, try using them as a wrap with a chicken salad filling. Or use them instead of pasta in a lasagna.

Some folk eat them sweet, with jam, or golden syrup, but such people are in league with the Devil. That's not for me. I like them hot and savoury.

Oatcakes freeze very well. I stack them with a piece of greaseproof paper between every other one, then freeze the stack. I can then pull off two any time I want.

To reheat, they can be put in the oven or microwave, between two plates to keep them moist, or warmed under the grill.

Treat yourself, make a batch of oatcakes today and celebrate regional foods.

PS I said that this makes about a dozen. That doesn't take into account the one or two you are bound to use as "quality control" whilst you are cooking them...