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 region 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.
Here’s an idea I came up with for a no-mess breakfast sandwich, snack on the go – or brunch whilst lolling around on a Sunday.
Soft, pillowy muffin dough is folded around a filling of your choice, and cooked on the griddle (or in my case, a heavy-duty frying pan) for just 7 minutes each side. No more worrying that your filling is going to slide out from between your muffin layers, or spill down your front. Best of all, no greasy fingers!
I opted for a mixture of well-seasoned caramelised onions, chestnut mushrooms softened in butter and a feisty cheddar. It’s a combination that I’ve only recently discovered, having been rather ambivalent about mushrooms for many years, but now I’m slightly obsessed with it. The earthiness of the mushrooms, the richness of the onions and the sharp tang of cheese is seriously delicious. Chestnut mushrooms have a rich mushroomy-y flavour without the black of portobello mushrooms.
You can obviously customise the filling to your own tastes. I would heartily recommend a cheese of some sort – to bind everything together in a delicious, gooey bundle.
1 batch of fresh yeast muffin dough, after the first rise
6 onions, peeled and diced small
250g chestnut mushrooms – sliced thinly
60g unsalted butter
30ml vegetable oil
pepper and salt
100g cheese of choice
cornflour to sprinkle
- Melt 30g of butter in a heavy pan over a medium heat.
- Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and cook until the mushrooms are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
- Melt the remaining butter and the oil in the pan and add the onions.
- Sprinkle with a little salt and stir over a medium low heat until softened and starting to brown. Season with pepper.
- Drain the excess oil from the onions by placing a sieve over a bowl and pouring the onions into the sieve. Leave to drain and cool.
- Cut the cheese into small (5mm) dice.
- Mix together the cheese, onions and mushrooms in equal quantities by volume. Use a cup. Any cup. You’ll have onions and mushrooms to spare. Keep the remainder in the fridge in plastic boxes to brighten up sandwiches and snacks.
- Tip out your risen muffin dough and divide into 100g pieces.
- For each piece of dough, fold the edges in towards the middle, then turn over so that the folds are underneath and the top is smooth. Cup your hand over the dough and roll it in small circles, shaping the dough into a smooth ball.
- When all the dough has been shaped, for each piece of dough, roll out gently to a diameter of about 10cm.
- Add 2tbs of filling to one half of the dough. Dampen the edge of the dough with a little water, then fold the dough over the filling.
- Pinch the edges together neatly to form a tight seal.
- Sprinkle the worktop with cornflour and set the shaped and filled dough aside to rise.
- By the time you’ve finished filling and shaping all of the dough, the first ones will be ready to cook.
- To cook the stuffins:
- Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat until thoroughly hot.
- Turn the heat down to low and add in 2 or 3 of the stuffins turning them upside down as you do so. By cooking the slightly dried top first, the stuffins will retain a more muffin-y shape.
- Cover and cook for 7 minutes.
- Gently turn the stuffins over and cook, uncovered, for another 7 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- Serve warm.
- To reheat, zap in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, then toast each side for 1 minute in a dry pan.
I’m still ovenless, so improvisation is still the name of the game here, with this gloriously crunchy and chewy granola you can make in the microwave!
I’ve used gluten-free oats and coconut oil to make it both gluten and dairy free, but you could easily substitute ordinary oats and butter.
You can customise the recipe by adding in your own choice of dried fruit after the granola has cooled. I recommend going for tart/sharp fruits to contrast with the sweet and crunchy oats and nuts.
You can also easily customise this recipe if you’re thinking of making edible gifts this Christmas. In addition to varying the fruit and nuts, you could also sprinkle some spice over the finished mixture such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mixed spice, etc.
250g gluten-free oats
60g coconut ribbons
120g pumpkin seeds
120g sunflower seeds
120g pecans – chopped
250g runny honey
110g coconut oil
110g dark Muscovado sugar
To add after cooling
chopped, dried apricot
- Tip the oats into a large, dry pan and stir over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until lightly toasted.
- Transfer the oats to a large bowl and add the coconut, seeds, nuts and salt. Stir thoroughly.
- Put the sugar, coconut oil and honey into a pan and heat gently until the coconut oil has melted.
- Pour the warm mixture over the oat mixture and stir well to coat.
- Pour half the oat mixture onto a piece of baking parchment and microwave on High for 2 minutes.
- Stir the mix, then microwave on High for a further 2 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
- Repeat with the other half of the mixture.
- When the mixture has cooled completely, transfer the granola to a large bowl and break up into clumps.
- Add in dried fruit to taste and mix thoroughly.
- Store in a sealed container. If the mixture is sticky, store in the fridge.
So, my oven died. The main one. I have two, but the top one is even deader. After that went, I was able to limp along for a few weeks making toast with only one of the grill elements working, but then that conked out. With the main oven now gone, I am oven-less. On the plus side, I now have somewhere to dry metalware without it cluttering up the worktop.
Replacing the oven was more challenging than kitchen appliance websites wold have you believe.
Next day delivery? Sure! Not a problem. Relax. We can have your new oven with you tomorrow – just pick a delivery slot.
Oh, you want it connected? *sharp intake of breath*
Wellllll…….that’s going to be a while.
I was initially fretting over what was going to happen with the blog, with no oven. Then I reminded myself that Stuff™ happens and it’s not the end of the world. I have a working ( for now) gas hob, so rather than do the whole wailing/gnashing of teeth/rending of clothes at our oven-less-ness, for the forseeable future we’re going to be looking at stove-top recipes instead.
With all the frosty weather of late, this chilli is as fine a place to start as any.
It’s a bit of a deviation from the traditional, but in a very delicious way. I found a recipe that sounded nice, I decided to make it, I didn’t have several of the ingredients so I improvised with what I did have, and Voila, Chilli!
Guinness & Chocolate Chilli
This makes a large batch. Depending on your appetite, probably 6-8 adult portions. This recipe has no beans, but you can always add some to make it stretch further, or even just because you like them. I suggest freezing it without the beans and adding them only when preparing it for a meal.
For minimal washing up, choose a pan large enough to accommodate all the ingredents and it’ll be the only one you need.
250g smoked bacon – diced small
600g good quality pork sausages – I used Black Farmer – skins removed.
700g lean cubed beef
3 onions – peeled and roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic – peeled
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2tsp ground cumin
1tbs ground coriander
2tsp hot, smoked paprika
2 x 330ml bottles Guinness
400ml carton of pureed tomatoes
400ml tin of chopped tomatoes
2tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1 x Knorr beef stock pot ‘blob’
75g plain, dark chocolate – 60% cocoa
- Fry the bacon in a hot, dry casserole or large frying pan until the edges start to brown. No additional fat is necessary.
- Lift out the cooked bacon and set aside.
- Cook the sausagemeat in the same pan. Break it up into smaller pieces and stir briskly until it is browned.
- Lift out the cooked sausagemeat and set aside.
- Cook the beef in the same pan until browned on all sides.
- Blitz the garlic and onions in a food processor and add to the pan with the beef.
- Cook the onion mixture with the beef until the onion becomes translucent.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and the cooked bacon and sausage.
- Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook until the beef is tender – 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Taste, and season to your own liking.
- Enjoy over rice with a blob of sour cream.
- Portion out and freeze remainders.
This recipe is just right for warming the cockles of your heart either after an invigorating walk or standing around a crackling bonfire.
It is a peasant dish, originating in Savoie, the region of the French Alps and is of a similar origin to Cholera Pie, in that it is composed of store-cupboard staples. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it is in any way a dull dish – it is packed with flavour and quite satisfying enough for a main meal, served alongside a crisp salad. Whilst this incarnation of the dish has only been around since the 1980s, it is actually derived from a much older regional recipe called La péla. In the older, vegetarian version, the unpeeled, raw potatoes are cubed and pan-fried in oil. Onions are added and when these turn golden brown, slices of reblochon are laid over the top. The dish is served when the cheese has melted.
There are lots of Tartiflette recipes online, many of which veer dangerously close to being a variation of either Dauphinois Potatoes or a potato fondue, neither of which are authentic. In this recipe, which comes from a little French book of Grandmothers’ recipes, the flecks of bacon and onion and the rich, melted cheese just coat the potatoes without overpowering or drowning them in too much liquid.
Speaking of potatoes, allow me to recommend a very special variety which is both my absolute favourite and absolutely perfect for this recipe. Grab them if you can find them: Pink Fir Apple Potatoes.
Similar in appearance to fingerling/Anya potatoes, but with a distinctive pink blush to their skins, they have the unique quality of being a slightly floury, waxy variety with such a delicious flavour, you can eat them on their own. By which I don’t mean ‘on their own with some butter, salt and pepper’, I mean, literally, with nothing else – they taste that good.
If you’re unable to find any Pink Fir Apple, then Anya are an acceptable substitute.
The other main ingredient is Reblochon cheese. This is a soft, rinded cheese with quite a pungent flavour that melts beautifully – a little goes a long way! It is available in UK supermarkets either as a small (10cm) whole cheese or in portions of half of a larger (15cm) cheese.
You can assemble this recipe and heat through immediately, or make ahead and pop it in the oven when you need it. It takes less than 30 minutes to warm through.
This recipe will serve four, or three if very hungry. Actually, it’ll serve one if you’re ravenous, but I think it’s best to draw a veil over that particular mental image.
800g Pink Fir apple or Anya potatoes
150g smoked bacon lardons
2 medium (apple-sized) onions, chopped fine
125ml reduced fat creme fraiche
1 reblochon cheese, 200-250g
coarse-ground black pepper
chopped parsley to garnish
- Bring a pan of water to the boil.
- Wash the potatoes and then steam them in their skins over the boiling water for 15 minutes. Set aside.
- Put the bacon and onion into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and starting to caramelise.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the creme fraiche.
- Cut the reblochon cheese into fat matchsticks.
- Cut the potatoes into 2cm slices.
- Butter an ovenproof dish.
- Layer the ingredients: 1/3 of the potatoes, 1/3 of the bacon mixture, 1/3 of the cheese, pepper.
- Repeat 3 times until the ingredients have all been used .
- Cover tightly with foil and set aside until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Put your dish into the oven with its foil covering and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove foil and bake for up to 10 minutes more, if necessary, to crisp the top.
- Sprinkle with the parsley and serve with a fresh salad.
I’ve decided to go all autumnal this week with this comforting, root vegetable tart. It was inspired by a recipe from 1604 for parsnip pie.
It can make the basis of a light lunch or be served as an accompaniment to a main meal.
Its simple flavours are enriched by generous use of butter, with which both carrots and parsnips become glorious. And by generous, I mean about 50g, less than two ounces in old money, so hardly extravagent either budget or health-wise.
And yes, I’ve hopped onto the current ‘spiral tart’ craze to provide the impressive appearance, but I would argue that it is only a development of the apple rose tart, so neeners!
Like the apple rose tart, and unlike most of the current crop of spiral tarts, this tart also has a filling beneath the decorative vegetable ribbons – the remains of the vegetables carved up for the decoration are steamed and then mashed together with lashings of butter and pepper. They give the tart both substance and richness.
I don’t usually mention cooking equipment, mostly because my kitchen is too small to have much of anything, but I heartily recommend this kind of saucepan set:
The top two tiers are steamer pans, over a regular saucepan. You can cook all the side dishes for a Sunday lunch in this – potatoes in the bottom and up to four vegetables in the steamer baskets – at the same time, on one burner/ring on the stove, removing the baskets from the stack as the contents are done. I use mine daily.
Other vegetables you might like to try with this recipe: beetroot, turnip, swede, butternut squash, courgette.
Carrot and Parsnip Tart
1 x 20cm partially blind-baked shortcrust pastry tart shell
5 large parsnips
5 large carrots
salt & pepper
- Peel the carrots and parsnips, then cut into ribbons. I find a Y-shaped peeler is best for this.
- Cook the ribbons in a steamer basket over boiling water for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Chop the remains of the vegetables into cubes and steam over the boiling water until tender. The parsnips will probably require more cooking than the carrots, so have them in separate steamer baskets so you can remove them when done. Even though they will be mashed, you don’t want them mushy.
- Mash the cooked vegetables together. Don’t be too thorough with your mashing – it’s nice to be able to see flecks of both vegetables in the mix, and it gives a mottled, almost marbling effect. Add 30g of the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
- When cold, spoon the mashed vegetables into the tart shell and smooth over.
- Arrange the ribbons of vegetables in alternating circles on top. You can begin in the middle or on the edges of the tart.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Melt the remaining butter and brush lightly over the top of the vegetable ribbons.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then cover lightly with a foil tent to prevent the vegetable ribbons from burning, and bake for a further 10 minutes.
- Cool in the tin for 10 mintes before removing and serving.
This is a deliciously simple, autumnal dessert that, although it can be assembled from very few, ordinary ingredients, ends up tasting so much better than the sum of its parts – the crisp, golden outside, hot and sharp insides and cool cream or hot, rich custard make this a dish of delicious contrasts. It is one of the many British desserts that evolved to use up stale bread and cooked fruit. Whilst the filling can be almost any fruit purée you have to hand, the construction needs to observe a few rules if it is going to look as impressive when served as it tastes.
Firstly, the fruit purée needs to be relatively firm and ‘dry’, with little or no visible liquid. If your cooked fruit is especially moist, then just set it in a sieve to drain – the resultant liquid can be sweetened and served as a pouring syrup or saved for use in/on other desserts. Alternatively, set it over a low heat in a wide pan, to help evaporate the excess liquid. If you think your fruit is still too soft, you could consider whisking in an egg yolk or two to help thicken it during cooking, making it more of a fruit custard.
The bread should not be plastic-wrapped and pre-sliced. The best charlottes are made when the bread can absorb some moisture from the filling in much the same way as it does in Summer Pudding, and sliced bread just doesn’t have a suitable surface for this. Not that having your bread sliced by a machine is bad – it can make it wonderfully thin and regular – just buy a whole loaf and get the bakery to cut it for you on their machine. If it’s not stale, just leave the slices you intend to use out on the counter for an hour, they’ll dry just enough. During baking, the dry outside will, thanks to the coating of butter, crisp up and turn wonderfully golden, and the inside will draw moisture from the filling and pull everything together, so that you have a firm pudding to turn out.
The final important consideration is the shape of the bowl in which you construct your charlotte. It needs to be both oven-proof and domed/tapering. Straight-sided charlottes are usually cold desserts such as the Charlotte Russe, which uses sponge fingers and a firmly set cream and is also thoroughly chilled before being served, which helps greatly with presentation. A traditional, domed pudding bowl, or individual pudding bowls, are ideal. Their tapering form is most conducive to maintaining an impressive shape of your hot charlotte. The fluted tins commonly marketed as brioche tins are also the ideal shape, with the added detail of fluting giving the turned-out dish a very elegant appearance.
This is an adaptation of Mrs Rundell’s recipe from 1808. Her version calls for raw apples, sugar and butter and is baked slowly for 3 hours with a weight on top to help compress the apples as they shrink during cooking. This recipe is much shorter, just over one hour, but this length of time is necessary for the bread to crisp, turn golden and be sturdy enough to support the fruit filling until serving time. Higher heat and baking for a shorter time means that, when turned out, the pudding slowly sags and collapses, like a Victorian matron with her corset removed. The use of an already-cooked puree makes preparation that much quicker and the cooked pudding less prone to loss of volume.
I used some apples from a friend’s garden for this recipe, and added no sugar – the sharpness was a great contrast against the rich, buttery crust. I highly recommend this approach. If your fruit is especially sharp, consider using a sweet custard as an accompaniment.
750g fruit pulp
stale white bread slices
pouring cream or custard to serve
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan.
- Butter the inside of your bowl(s) generously with softened butter.
- Cut the crusts from the bread. Cut a circle or flower shape for the bottom of your bowl and put it in first. It will make for a neat top once you turn out the pudding, and also hide the ends of all the side pieces of bread.
- Line your bowl(s) with the crustless bread. How you choose to do this is up to you. Personally, I keep the pieced of bread whole and patch where necessary. If your bread is fresh and springy, you can make things easier for yourself by using a rolling pin to flatten them slightly. If you are using individual pudding bowls, you might want to reduce this to a width of 1.5cm, as the smaller form will need thinner slices if it is still to look dainty when turned out. Place the slices inside the pudding at a slight angle and press into the butter. Leave the excess sticking out of the top of the bowl for now. Make sure there are no spaces or holes for fruit to leak through. You can see on the above photo that a little apple juice has squeezed out and been caramelised by the heat of the oven. Delicious, but a flaw if you’re after an unblemished exterior to your charlotte.
- Fill the lined mould with the fruit puree.
- Butter slices of crustless bread for the top of the mould. Fold the ends of the bread at the sides inward and place the final pieces of bread butter-side upward over the top.
- Spread a little butter onto a sheet of parchment and place this butter-side down over your filled bowl.
- Add a cake tin on top together with an oven-safe weight, such as a foil-wrapped metal weight or quarry tile.
- Bake for about an hour until the outside of the buttered bread is crisp and golden brown and the filling piping hot. For individual puddings, bake for 30-40minutes.
- Remove the weight/tin/parchment and bake for a further 10 minutes, to allow the lid to crisp up.
- Remove from the oven and turn out onto your serving dish.