Long live the oatcake

Calling all people out there with kids and full-time jobs who manage to blog one, two, three (!!!) times per week: Kindly pull up a chair. I bet you're the same people who return e-mails immediately and never run out of dish soap. On all accounts, I have a lot to learn. You'll teach me, yes? In exchange, I offer Heidi Swanson's Oatcakes. You know they're something special when I say it's a fair trade.

I wasn't in the market for an oatcake - for any cake at all, really - when I pulled Heidi's book, Super Natural Every Day, from the shelf and sat down to my Grape-Nuts and tea. I was just there to visit page 1, home to the following words:
I live in a modest six-room flat with twelve-foot ceilings on the second floor of a Victorian apartment in the middle of San Francisco. And by "middle" I mean that if you threw a dart at the center of a map of this city, you'd likely hit my house. My street dead-ends into an east-sloping neighborhood park, and when you stand at the front window you can watch a parade of pugs and pinschers, big kids on dirt bikes and small kids on scooters, dealers, joggers, and the occasional flute player go by. There are times when two girls set up a music stand in the shade and practice trombone.
Over breakfast, I always try to read something that reminds me of what words can do. Before I pick up my manuscript each day, it helps to see proper evidence that writing is, in fact, possible. There are some bits of texts that I return to, and this paragraph is one of them. (Also in heavy rotation right now: anything by Mary Karr or John McPhee.) I so admire Heidi's economy of words, the precision of her images, the way she sets us down right in the middle of her home, her city, her world, to take it all in alongside her. I'd like to stand there at that window for a while.

Anyway, I was just passing through Heidi's pages that morning, not even planning to turn on my oven, when my finger found a sticky tab I'd placed who knows when. Suddenly, I was face to face with a recipe for oatcakes, ones that looked nothing like the round, flat discs I normally associate with that word. The only oatcakes I'd ever known were plush-looking crackers that crunched, more savory than sweet, but just barely. When I lived in the UK, I ate a lot of them, mostly because I was 22 and they were cheap - you could get a whole package for under a pound - and with jam and cheese they could pass for lunch. (Molly posted a recipe for that kind of oatcake not long ago.)

Heidi's, as you can see, are different, muffin-like in shape, and almost a cookie in substance. She packs them with walnuts and flax seeds, and sweetens them with sugar and maple syrup. I cut the sugar in half after my first go-around, and still find them sweet enough to call a treat. Let me be clear: There is nothing delicate about the Heidi Swanson Oatcake. The oats on top harden into a helmet of a crust that I like to break off bit by bit and save for last; the interior crumb, while softer, is dense and made for chewing. I couldn't be happier about that. These (almost 18!!) months since Mia came along have been the hungriest of my life. Long live what fills me up for more than a blink of an eye! Long live the oatcake.

Have a bang-up week. 

Heidi Swanson's Oatcakes
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

I've only tried these with walnuts and flax seeds, as Heidi recommends. It's a winning combination, but I think I might swap in coarsely-chopped sunflower seeds for the flax the next time around, just for a change. The recipe printed below includes only half the sugar of the original recipe. As I mentioned above, I think they're still plenty sweet this way. Note: I follow the weight measurements listed below; the volume measurements are Heidi's, and I have not tested them.

[Oh, and a question! I bought coconut oil for this recipe for the first time and I'm fascinated by the stuff. What else can I do with it? If you have suggestions, do tell...] 

300 grams (3 cups) rolled oats
225 grams (2 cups) spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour (I use spelt)
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
45 grams (¼ cup) flax seeds
85 grams (¾ cup) chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
70 grams (1/3 cup) extra-virgin coconut oil
85 grams (1/3 cup) unsalted butter
¾ cup maple syrup (I use Grade B)
35 grams (¼ cup) sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Position a rack in the top third of your oven and heat to 325 degrees. Butter a 12-cup muffin pan.

Stir together the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and walnuts in a large mixing bowl.

Put the coconut oil, butter, maple syrup, and sugar in a saucepan over low heat and stir, just until the butter melts. Let cool slightly, so that you don't cook the eggs in the next step!

Pour the oil and butter mixture over the dry ingredients, give it a few stirs with a fork, add the eggs, and stir again to form a wet dough. Spoon the dough into the muffin cups - they'll be close to full - and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges of each cake are golden brown. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then run a knife around each cake and transfer to a cooling rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature.


kickpleat said...

All week I've been thinking of making Molly's oatcakes and now I see there's another contender! I love the sound of these and maybe this week calls for both recipes.

Anna said...

These look wonderful - the perfect sweet but still vaguely healthy treat to have with a cup of tea. I wonder if they'd be good with a thick slice of sharp cheddar? Yum.

I use coconut oil to make granola (just substitute the sunflower or olive oil for coconut) and Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for some very delicious macadamia coconut muffins that I've made many times. Coconut oil banana bread sounds spectacular too...

pas said...

These are lovely! I actually left the sugar out completely and to no ill effect. They were still plenty sweet from the maple sirup. My second modification was replacing the walnuts with sesame seeds. This one was dictated by an absence of walnuts but the presence of a giant bag of sesame in my pantry, rather than some special culinary insight. But I highly recommend it...it made them taste faintly like halva.

Will have to make another batch soon; thank you for the reminder, Jess!

Meagan said...

lol at "modest" and "6 rooms" being in the same breath!!

Kate said...

I've made both Oatcake recipes and love them both. The substantial crusted oat topping is fabulous over a salad too.

And that coconut oil is a kitchen-wide gem; not only is it amazing for cooking, but if you make stovetop popcorn with it, you might just get a little misty-eyed as the taste of it becomes something other-worldly.

Winter makes for a lot of flyaways in my hair, and a tiny dab of coconut oil smoothed over my locks takes those wispy, dry strands and makes them a bit more manageable. I also have one or two tiny spots of very dry skin on my face that coconut oil seems to soothe better than anything else.

Enjoy that stuff. The best I've found is Tropical Traditions online; they often sell their quart jars 2/1. The stuff lasts forever.

Tanya said...

I use coconut oil to roast veggies (I melt it first on the roasting pan and then try to remember not to burn myself). For popcorn as the commenter above suggested. I use it instead of olive oil when making curries or carrot soup or similar dishes that might benefit from a hint of coconut. It's a staple in our kitchen.

megan said...

Oooh, these look like a good addition to the wellness program...I was going to ask if I could leave out the walnuts, but one of your readers already answered that!

And...coconut oil is my moisturizer, given as I am to lizard-ness.

Love you -

sk said...

I LOVE coconut oil. I use it for pretty much everything, in place of butter. (Although I do love butter too, I am avoiding dairy in case it helps my baby sleep better!) As a previous commenter said, it's great for making popcorn, sauteeing anything, baking... I even it it on my raisin toast in the morning in place of a pat of butter. Very good.
It's also great as a moisturizer in winter.

Hannah said...

Yum! I like the sound of the crunchy tops. The best thing I know to do with coconut oil these days make Heidi's super easy butternut soup, which was on remedial eating a couple weeks ago. Since then I have made it four times, which I probably shouldn't admit. It has themost amazing browner butter on top. And now I'm imagining dipping an oat cake in it. Maybe one more pot before squash season ends ....

Anonymous said...

those look so good. how do you think the recipe would do doubled as a coffee cake in a bundt type of pan? half the streusel on top and half in the middle and perhaps from blueberries from the freeze mixed in? i was looking for somthing to take to the office next week and think this might fit the bill.

i have gotten to find a way to get that cookbook. perhaps if i scrouge the loose change in my car and start saving my pennies .....

SuperDesigner said...

I made some yummy granola bars with coconut oil: http://www.recipething.com/recipes/show/52568-quaker-style-chewy-granola-bars
(adapted from http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2012/05/17/quaker-style-chewy-granola-bars/)

Nishta said...

making these!

and to echo the coconut oil comments--subs in quite well to replace part of the butter in baked goods and is wonderful warmed and massaged into the scalp (I grew up with my mom doing that, especially in the winter).

good to hear your voice xx

kels said...

Team no-dish soap all the way, lady. The only way. Also... the phrase "economy of words" always makes me feel happy inside. Total nerd. Thanks for that on this cold Monday. :)

Rogue Unicorn said...

I adore coconut oil. I use it to replace butter in things that can hold up to some coconut flavor-pie crusts, soups, etc. It's awesome.
I also adore Mary Karr. Lit made me cry and wince and laugh.

Anonymous said...

Coconut oil is amazing - and so healthy! Are you familiar with My New Roots? She uses coconut oil in a great deal of her recipes....


Art & Lemons said...

I'm also in the no-dish soap, try to do it all well, but can't seem to manage camp. At least there's oat cake to be made...

Jess said...

Hi, all!

Whoa, so much to do with coconut oil! Granola, cakes, soups, roasted vegetables, moisturizer (!), hair cream (!!), popcorn, toast... That little jar in my cupboard is about to get very busy. Thank you all so much for taking the time to share.

I found this old Melissa Clark piece when I was clicking around. She talks about some of the science behind coconut oil about halfway through the article. Fascinating.

kickpleat - I haven't yet tried Molly's oatcakes, but they're on my list. I have a feeling they will kick the butts of the packaged ones I'm used to.

Anna - Coconut oil banana bread... YESSSS.

Pas - Ah ha. I was actually thinking that these might work without the sugar, but I was afraid something strange might happen to the texture. Thanks for sharing your success; I'll give it a go. And: oatcakes that taste like halva?! Sesame seeds it is. Next time.

Meagan - Huh. I see your point. But does an apartment or house have to be small in order to be "modest?" It seems to me that size is just one potential marker of modesty. There's also decor and how one chooses to live, no? To me, the opposite of a modest home is not a sprawling one, but one that is ostentatious and showy, regardless of size.

Kate - That popcorn you describe? Sold. And coconut oil for the hair you say... I'm game. We do slather Mia up in olive oil once in a while. Maybe we'll give her a coconut rub the next time around.

Tanya - Coconut oil in carrot soup! Love that idea. I'll try the roasted veggies, too, though I may melt and pour and then transfer to the pan... (Be careful!)

Megan - Wait, you've known about coconut oil all this time and never said a word? And you call yourself a friend. (Miss you.)

sk - ON TOAST. Brilliant. Though I'm wondering, have you tried coconut butter? We happen to have a jar of that around here too. (Eli was going to use it in a drink on Oscar night, but somehow that never happened.) So far, I've only tasted a bit from a spoon, but I think it would be great on toast, too.

Hannah - And wouldn't you know, I've got a butternut squash on my counter? Thanks for the recipe tip.

Anonymous - Actually, no, I don't think this would work doubled in a Bundt pan. The batter is very thick, more like a cookie dough, really, and I have visions of the whole thing just crumbling to bits on its way out of the pan. One thing you might try is pressing dough into a greased square or rectangular baking pan and cutting into bars. That might work. If you give it a try, I'd love to hear how it goes. Oh, and so you know, that's not a separate streusel on top. That's just the oats up there baking to a crisp.

SuperDesigner - Thanks you for the links!

Nishta - Hi, friend. Can I please come hang out with you and your mom? I love when you talk about her. xo.

kels - Phew. So glad I'm not the only one. (We borrowed from our neighbors this morning.) Thank you for YOU.

Rogue Unicorn - I've only read The Liars' Club so far, but Lit is next on my list. I can't wait.

Anonymous - Thank you for the link. Such a beautiful site. It's new to me - I'll have to explore.

Art & Lemons - It does feel that way sometimes, doesn't it? Ah well. One foot in front of the other, right?

Anonymous said...

Jess, I just love your writing! It's a lovely treat every time a new post goes up. Visions of you in your kitchen and your delicious family brighten my day. On coconut oil, I must add that something fabulous happens if you rub it on a sweet potatoe cut into chunks and then roast them with chicken thighs (skin and bones on/in) sprinkled with some garlicky seasoning. A gorgeous aroma and a happy table.

Cheers! Sally

molly said...


Two words: Magic Shell.

Two ingredients: 12 oz. bittersweet, 1/3 cup unrefined coconut oil. Melt. Stir. Pour over good vanilla ice cream.


I rarely actually eat ice cream. I've not eaten magic shell in three decades. I've had six servings of both in the past five days. Ridiculous.

(Better get me some oatcakes to correct this imbalance.)


Jess said...

Sally - You are so kind! Thank you for your encouraging words. And for letting me know exactly what we'll be having for dinner one night this weekend. That sounds unreal.

molly - Ha! I read about that in the Melissa Clark article I linked to, above, and it immediately took me back to after-school play dates with my friend Cathy, who introduced me to squeeze-bottle Magic Shell. I could never get over the way it hardened like that. Will get on this coconut oil version right away.

Sophia said...

A "helmet of crust"? Love this and the whole post. The oatcakes sound lovely and I must admit I invariably reduce the sugar in recipes - having lived in the UK yourself maybe you agree that many American recipes tend to have 1/3 to 1/2 more sugar than European versions. Also, if I reduce the sugar the first time I make a recipe I don't even know what I am missing compared to the original version!

hydrolagus said...

I'm looking forward to trying these oatcakes. I need some protection against the cafeteria's pastries and these sound like they will do the job.
As for coconut oil: if you want to make a vegan pie-crust and don't like the idea of using something like Crisco, go for the coconut oil. It makes absolutely lovely crust.

sara forte said...

well don't these just look like a hearty breakfast. I have crossed this recipe in Heidi's book but have not tried them yet, glad to read of your good thoughts. I really like coconut oil. My favorite use so far has been on roasting winter squash (which I know is on it's way out, at least on my end). I melt it and toss the squash with coconut oil and tons of spices and it turns out so tasty. The cold leftovers are great on salads too. Works great in granola, most baked goods...good luck with your experimenting!!

Kasey said...

Ha! I will say that I return emails promptly but I ALWAYS run out of dish soap and forget to replace it (drat!). I have been meaning to make Heidi's oatcakes since the day I bought her book. You inspire me!

Kate said...

Oh, I used to live in Heidi Swanson's neighborhood and reading her description makes me miss it so much! SF is such a magical place.

I started using coconut oil a couple of months ago. I use it as a facial moisturizer, it's a great massage oil, and it helps tame my thick wavy hair. In the kitchen it works particularly well in curries. My baby loves it mixed with sweet potato. And it's great on toast, with avocado.

Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic said...

Ah! You tricked me! I was thinking the English style cracker-like oat cake ... but these'll do. I love that you sit down and find words in the morning to set your day. Me, too :)

Coconut oil ... my favourite properties of it are that it has a low melting point - meaning liquid at around 30degC and solid in the fridge. Making it great for homemade fudgy-chocolatey things, but also a wonderful eye makeup remover and skin balm. It's also anti-bacterial, which makes it great for stuff like all-natural deodorant.

Do you mind if I post you some links? These are some of my fave ways to use it:

my fave cookies:

choc spread for toast (or icing):

it's non- pore clogging, but if it feels too heavy all over your face, I still recommend it as an eye make up remover. Best ever on that account:

Vicks vaporub, without the petroleum:

An all-natural deodorant/antiperspirant I use:

Hope this gives you even more ideas, for things to love your skin and tummy with :)


Lore said...

Heidi's "Nikki's healhty cookies recipe" uses coconut oil as well. I tend to replace its chocolate for nuts. I've made multiple batches as it is one of my favorite treats!


kimberlypeck said...

so happy to see this post today...this is just what i needed! i made these gluten-free using a combo of buckwheat & reg. GF flour, plus i used all coconut oil instead of butter. oh so good, oh so yummy! even my kids are eating them! thank you :)

Lisa said...

These look SO so good; I have the book but hadn't tried them yet. We've just moved, and I think tomorrow morning I'll christen this new-to-us kitchen with these, if my little guy is amenable to helping.

Coconut oil! I love it. I buy it by the gallon from Nutiva - best deal I've found online. I use it most of the ways people described already. I think it's especially tasty on orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes, and I quite liberally substitute it for butter or olive oil in recipes. The only misstep was Alice Medrick's almond cake in Pure Dessert - that needs straight butter. But in things like muffins, sautes, waffles, popcorn, granola ... gosh, have used butter or lard or coconut oil in almost all of those interchangeably and happily.

I also use it in my deodorant (just 1 part baking soda, 1 part arrowroot or cornstarch, 2 parts coconut oil, and sometimes some lavender essential oil), in my toothpaste (!), as diaper cream or on cuts and big bites, as a hair conditioner (just a TINY TINY SMIDGE rubbed into my hands and then through the end of my hair - I guess I use it more to manage frizz), as a facial moisturizer (again, just a smidge, more than that feels greasy to me).

There are some fun sweets to make with it, although I haven't tried them - here's one: http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/2013/02/coconut-almond-joy-bites.html

Sweet Loren's said...

LOVE this recipe! I have an award-winning all natural cookie dough & brownie batter company called Sweet Loren's (www.sweetlorens.com), where I use whole grains and coconut oil in all of my products. Coconut oil is a really tasty AND healthy fat to use: it melts in the mouth; mimics butter perfectly in some recipes; has a high burning point so great to bake with; and your body burns it as energy so you don't feel heavy after eating it. I find that using oils instead of butter in baking is even better some times, because the flavorless taste of oil really brings out the other flavors of your baked good, while butter some times overpowers (albeit delicious!) in flavor. If I can help with any other coconut oil questions, please let me know! Happy baking!

Loren xxx

Sweet Loren's
info@sweetlorens.com / 347-746-7167

Loren Brill said...

I LOVE coconut oil! I use it in my whole line of baked goods, Sweet Loren's (www.sweetlorens.com). I love coconut oil because it is a great, healthy, tasty fat that not every one knows about! Some don't like it because it is a saturated fat--but as all people here know, not all fats are the same and it is all about portion-control. Coconut oil: has a high burning point so great to bake with; mimics butter perfectly in some recipes; your body burns it as energy immediately; and it has such a clean/flavorless taste that the flavors of your baked goods can really come through. If you have any questions regarding baking with coconut oil--please let me know if I can help! I am a big fan and on a mission to spread delicious, healthier baking around :)

Loren xx

Sweet Loren's (www.sweetlorens.com)

Amy said...

Many times I thought about buying coconut oil but I was never really sure what to do with it. Now I am!! I'm so gonna buy this stuff and try your oatcakes :)

Senka I said...


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Kind regards,

Katherine {eggton} said...


I have been lurking here without commenting for a little while now, and oh how I love the way you write to us!

I've a couple things to tell you now that I've broken the seal.

First, I've been meaning to email you because I just started reading the New Republic and there were several articles in the most recent issue about writing (in particular, one on humor and the failure of the personal essay as a form today.) I will send them to you.

Second, I sent my mother the piece you wrote about running into Toni Morrison. She's 67 and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her book group is reading Toni Morrison's latest book, and she was so tickled by your story (and the beautiful way it was told) that she read it out loud at her last book group meeting. Isn't that adorable?

Third, I'm in the throes of Easter preparations. We're having 13 people over for brunch tomorro and things in the kitchen are getting downright unruly. Instead of freaking out over the status of the test-run orange rolls ("flacid" is the word that comes to mind), I sat down and said to myself: "wait. I just need to make one of those party maps that Jess makes." So that's what I did. And now I know how tomorrow is going to come together! My drawings are terrible but they made it more fun to, and identifying the serving platter in advance is helping a lot. I just put post-it notes on the plates themselves since they'll be used in more than one course.

So. Thank you for injecting a moment of sanity and artistry into a harried day today.

Have a great weekend!

mild said...

wow! they look so wonderful and i bet they taste as good

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

"Over breakfast, I always try to read something that reminds me of what words can do." Such a perfect way to set the tone for a good day. I hope you don't mind my borrowing your ritual. Thank you.

I recently bought my first jar of coconut oil for this "bread". http://mynewroots.org/site/2013/02/the-life-changing-loaf-of-bread/ I loved it.

Danielle said...

Hi Jess, you have given me to great gifts in this post: the first, a reminder of these oatcakes, which I have made before and loved, but somehow forgot (how is it so easy to forget such things!) - the second is your morning ritual. I know what you mean about Heidi - in fact I think the paragraph is actually really like a metaphor for her writing. I laughed at the comment about 6 rooms and modest being in the same sentence - but somehow her writing is like that. It is economical and almost sparse - and yet it is so inhabited with life. So rich. A modest six room house. Anyhow, thanks! Really enjoying your blog.

Rosie said...

These sound so delicious. I'm English and have lived in the UK my whole life, so have only ever tried the type of hard, cracker-like oatcake you mention in the post. These ones sound like they're a whole lot taster, for sure! Can't wait to try them!


jehanne@thecookingdoctor said...

Came here through Orangette, and gosh I have a lot of reading to catch up! What a lovely blog u have here. And whilst I am guilty as charged for being full time workign mommy, I will let u in the tips if only u tell me how to remain svelte after giving birth!