3.03.2013

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.