Cape Breton Oatcakes
I made a few batches of my favourite Cape Breton Oatcakes yesterday in preparation for the coming week’s silage-making at the farm (I also made about a million other things and am not even close to being finished). I took a few shots of the oatcakes with my phone and was a little surprised when my Scottish friend commented on one of the photos.
He asked, “What’s the difference between a Cape Breton Oatcake and a regular Scottish Oatcake?”
I had no idea.
It’s funny how you take things for granted growing up. For me, growing up in one of the most beautiful places in the world, we would get loads of tourists each summer. They would often chat with me at whatever shop (or bar, or B&B, or resort) I was working in that summer and would always say the same thing.
“You are so lucky to get to live here all the time.”
I thought they were crazy at first. It’s not easy being from Cape Breton or living there year-round. The summer is beautiful, yes, but that’s when all the tourists come as well. It’s not often that a Cape Bretoner gets to enjoy the summer in the same way a tourist would, because we constantly work to make enough to last through the bleak winter months.
And those bleak winter months! From November til May you never know when the snow will start or melt. Living where my family did, we would sometimes be completely snowed in by the drifts. On occasion, our dirt road would flood when the snow started to melt and my dad would have to carry me piggy-back across the slush and into a car waiting on the other side to get to school (the last time I had to do that I was 15, poor dad).
So you might be able to understand why I thought the tourists were crazy when they made those remarks. Oatcakes were another source of contention for me. Many tourists had never had them before, or even heard of them. Many raved about them. Bakeries in my home town sold them by the dozens to tourists returning to wherever home was. I just didn’t get it.
In my teenage opinion, there were way better options out there than plain old oatcakes.
Looking back, I realize how annoying I probably was as a teenager. And those tourists were right. Cape Breton is a wonderful place and oatcakes are the bomb.
Back to the conversation with my Scottish friend. I asked him to send me a good recipe for Scottish Oatcakes so I could compare them to Cape Breton Oatcakes. As it turns out, and many of you may already know this (but bear with me), Scottish Oatcakes have no added sugar and are mostly used in a savoury context. Cape Breton Oatcakes, as you’ll see in the recipe below, often call for both brown and white sugar in addition to the other ingredients.
In Cape Breton, we eat oatcakes with butter and have them with tea. Sometimes you might spread a little jam on them. In Baddeck at The High Wheeler Cafe, they make an oatcake sandwich cookie with a peanut butter filling. Then, they dip half the cookie in melted chocolate. Highly addictive. My friend told me they like to have Scottish oatcakes with haggis, stovies, mince or with cheese. Very interesting!
One of my favourite chefs in Toronto is Geoff Hopgood, chef and owner of Hopgood’s Foodliner. He’s originally from Nova Scotia and his restaurant is first-rate. The food is so well executed, with definite elements of fine dining, but the atmosphere and menu are so very “down home”. I love his warm crab dip served with triscuits. His version of a Halifax donair is my favourite in Toronto. And, the first time I ate there, I had smoked mackerel with pickled shallots and crème fraîche on an oatcake. It blew my mind, because I could never consider an oatcake as anything but sweet.
Now I know better, and I won’t be taking oatcakes for granted ever again.
Cape Breton Oatcakes
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (or porridge oats)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 cup cold butter, cubed
3-4 Tbsp milk
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (200 degrees Celsius, no fan). Line a baking sheet with parchment.
- In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugars and baking soda. Add the cold butter and rub it in until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is well incorporated.
- Add 3 Tbsp of milk and mix. If the mixture doesn’t come together easily, add the other Tbsp of milk. Shape dough into a ball.
- On a well floured surface (the dough will be slightly sticky so really go for it with the flour – it won’t affect the outcome, I promise). Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut dough into squares with a palette knife, or use a large round cookie cutter to cut the oatcakes.
- Carefully place the cut oatcakes onto the baking sheet (I use a palette knife to help with this as the dough can be delicate).
- Bake the oatcakes for about 15 minutes. Check after 10. They should be golden brown on top and, when cooled, should be crunchy, not chewy.
- Serve with hot tea, clotted cream, sweet butter, jams, cheeses or anything else that tickles your fancy. Store in an airtight container to retain the crunch-factor.