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Staffordshire oatcakes

Though not in name, the Staffordshire oatcake is thoroughly Real Bread.

A native of the northern part of the county, its main ingredients are rolled oats and low protein wheat flour, both from grains that thrive in our delightfully damp and not too warm British climate. 

Simple to make and high in fibre, the Tunstall tortilla is an excellent, homegrown flatbread, ideal for making wraps.

Ingredients:

Makes about 5 nine inch (ie 23cm) oatcakes

100g porridge oats
100g stoneground wholemeal wheat flour
50g sourdough starter*
150g water
200g milk
2g salt
A little oil to grease the griddle or pan

*You can find recipes for a starter in the first issue of our members' magazine, True Loaf. You can also find them in many books, such as Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley, Crust by Richard Bertinet, The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard and on numerous websites, such as this one from The Times

Method:

Put the oats, flour, starter and water in a bowl and stir together.

Cover the bowl (re-use a plastic bag, rather than add more clingfilm to landfill) and put in the fridge overnight.  You can cut the time to a few hours by leaving at room temperature – either way, it’s ready when bubbles form at the surface of the batter and might have a vague whiff of vinegar about it. 

The next morning, stir in the milk and salt. It’s always hard to describe consistency but you are going for something close to emulsion paint, albeit porridgey emulsion paint.  It should be a batter loose enough to ladle but not as liquid as cream. 

Oil lightly a griddle or heavy-bottomed frying pan (ideally about 25-30cm in diameter) and place over a medium heat.  Ladle in the batter and swirl around to form a disk about 3mm thick.

Cook until the batter sets and bubbles pop through the surface like those in a crumpet or pikelet.

Flip over with a spatula or fish slice and cook for about a minute more. Unlike the biscuity Scottish variety, oatcakes of Potteries extraction have a texture that can be described pretty accurately – though unflatteringly – as like a damp flannel.  Be assured, this is a supremely tasty damp flannel.

To serve:

Use them as you’d use a pancake, tortilla, chapatti or other flatbread - flat, rolled or folded with the filling of your choice. They’re best hot and personally, I like them with cheese and bacon or just butter.

If you want to keep your oatcakes, put them on a wire rack covered with a clean teatowel until they are cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a day or two or layer them between sheets of greaseproof paper, seal in a bag or container and freeze flat.  Not sure how long they’ll keep frozen as I’ve not yet managed to leave them for more than a few days before scoffing the lot.

Variations:

• You can use white flour if you like, though wholemeal gives better flavour and is higher in fibre and micronutrients.
• If you prefer using cultured yeast to sourdough starter, try Elizabeth David’s recipe in English Bread and Yeast Cookery.
• If you use rolled oats (such as from a supermarket’s premium range) instead of porridge oats, you’ll need to break them down into coarse meal e.g by giving them a quick blitz in a blender.
• If you’re avoiding wheat, substituting 100g of finely ground oats for the wheat flour works fairly well, though the oatcakes don’t always hold together and you might need to adjust the amount of liquid you use.
• Don’t try to use instant porridge – that will end up strange goo that tastes of damp flannel.

© 2009 Chris Young for  http://www.realbreadcampaign.org/