A couple of years ago, I confessed to my Cheshire-based in-laws that I had never eaten a Staffordshire oatcake. Well, I qualified, I was fairly sure I hadn’t eaten a Staffordshire oatcake, but I couldn’t swear to it, as I wasn’t entirely sure what one was. I think I envisaged it as similar to a Scottish oatcake, which is most like a savoury biscuit for cheese.
Within three hours, we were sitting in a strange but charming café, each with a Staffordshire oatcake in front of us. Terribly efficient my in-laws, especially when the reputation of Cheshire dishes are at stake. There I was disabused of my notions: Staffordshire oatcakes have less in common with the Scottish oatcake, and more with pancakes.
The clue to their difference, of course, is in the name: the Staffordshire oatcake is made from oats, blitzed up into flour, and mixed with a combination of other stronger, wheat flours (I like a combination of plain flour and wholemeal flour to give a really rounded flavour). This is mixed with milk and water in a yeasted batter. The oatcake is nubblier, nuttier than a normal pancake, but without the intense hoppiness that the buckwheat flour gives to a Breton galette. Staffordshire oatcakes are, traditionally, hotcakes, meaning they are cooked over hotplates or griddles, but I have neither, and am quite happy to substitute a frying pan instead, which seems to do a very serviceable job.
Traditionally, these oatcakes were made in the Staffordshire potteries area, which encompassed the six industrial towns that now make up Stoke-on-Trent. These would be sold to customers from the windows of houses, but sadly the last household purveyor of oatcakes ceased trade in 2012. So now, if you’re in the market for homemade Staffordshire oatcakes, you’re going to have to make them yourself – luckily they’re as straightforward as they are satisfying.
My favourite way to eat these is with crispy bacon and melted cheese; some oatcake aficionados like the best part of a full English breakfast in their oatcake; my husband favours the simpler cheese and onion – but like any good pancake, they make an excellent vehicle for whatever filling you fancy, savoury or sweet (just don’t tell the locals if you’re plumping for sweet: you’ll be chased out of Cheshire, hot plates at your back).
Makes: 4 large oatcakes
Takes: 1 hour 15, including resting
Bakes: No time at all
50g wholemeal flour
50g plain flour
1.5 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon easy bake yeast
½ teaspoon salt
Butter, for greasing
- First, blitz the oats in a food processor until they are the consistency of coarse flour. Combine with the wholemeal flour, plain flour and salt.
- Heat the water and milk together in a small pan until they are body temperature. Stir the dry ingredients, the yeast, and the water and milk together, cover, and leave for an hour until the mixture is bubbly.
- Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat; when hot, add a small nob of butter. Pour a generous spoonful of the mixture onto the pan, and swirl to distribute. When the batter has cooked on one side, flip the pancake and cook through. Sprinkle toppings of your choice directly onto the cooked pancake in the pan, and fold the pancake over to contain them, before serving.