Wednesday 1 January 2014

Staffordshire Oatcakes

These are a kind of pancake that don't actually taste of anything.  The idea is that they can be served wrapped around literally any sweet or savoury filling, since there is no possibility of a flavour clash; and the texture of the oatcake brings out the flavour of the filling.

They are ideal for travelling, because you can wrap them up in paper in such a way as to be able to take a few bites and re-wrap every so often.  And despite the fact that oatcakes can be surprisingly filling, mini-oatcakes with ice cream also make a great dessert after a barbeque.

My parents and three of my grandparents were born in Stoke-on-Trent, even although I wasn't born there.  That does not stop me appreciating the Food of the Gods, at any rate, and I think I have the heritage.
  • 250 g. plain flour
  • 250 g. oatmeal
  • 500 ml. warm water
  • 500 ml. milk
  • 1 sachet (7 g.) bread machine yeast
Mix liquid, which should be at body temperature or maybe slightly higher; don't exceed 40 degrees.  Add dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly for 1 minute, then cover loosely and leave to stand for 40 minutes to 1 hour until it has frothed up and then steadied out a bit.  Mix again for another minute.

Heat a large, heavy-based frying pan, melt a lump of butter over it and ladle in a dollop of the oatcake batter.  Shake the pan about to cover the whole of the base and keep frying, watching the clock.  As soon as the oatcake is beginning to come loose from the pan, note how much time has elapsed  (about a minute with a 30 cm. pan; maybe 90 seconds if the oatcake is really thick)  and time this long again.  By this time the top side should be hardening all over and should be full of 3 - 4 mm. bubble holes.  Turn over the oatcake.  You can toss it if you are experienced with pancake-tossing; otherwise, slide the oatcake sideways onto a plate, then pick up the plate and invert it over the pan.  Note, the bubble holes in the side cooked first will be a lot smaller, mostly under 1 mm.  Cook for as long on this side as you did on the other side, then slide sideways onto a plate.

As a guide, you should get 6 - 8, 30 cm. oatcakes out of this much mixture.  It's best to add fillings, roll up and serve at once -- even microwave awhile if needed, to make sure the fillings are properly hot.  But you can allow the oatcakes to cool  (put a layer of kitchen foil, greaseproof paper or similar between each one and the next to avoid them sticking together)  and serve later.  They will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Fillings:  Oatcakes were basically a lunchtime meal for the Staffordshire miners; so fillings such as bacon, mushroom and cheese or scrambled egg, perhaps with chopped sausage, would have been popular.  Or use something else that comes out of Staffordshire -- just down the A50 via Uttoxeter to Burton-on-Trent this time, find a nice real ale from a local brewery and cook up some cheap steak in an ale gravy with onions and mushrooms.  Thicken the gravy enough, and you can almost eat a steak and ale oatcake bare handed.  (But it probably would be even more delicious served on a plate with chunky hand-cut chips, petits pois and corn-on-the-cob.)  Leftovers can probably be wrapped up in an oatcake, too.

And while an oatcake doesn't make a very good substitute for a pizza base, spread with the sauce and with cheese and pizza toppings rolled up in the middle it makes a different kind of meal altogether.

Dessert oatcakes to be served with a sweet filling probably are best made in a smaller frying pan.  Fill with any combination of fruit, jam, jelly, custard, whipped cream, ice cream, grated chocolate and sticky sweet syrupy liquids and sprinkles you like.

If travelling, you may even want to prepare an oatcake with mostly a savoury filling, but then a bit of sweet filling -- jam or fruit compôte and custard, say -- at one end. You can cut off a piece of oatcake to make a barrier between the sections.  Roll up, wrap in paper, mark which end to open first and there's main course and pudding in one!

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