Baking for Bookworms: Oatcakes from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander

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When Claire first arrives in the 1740s (from the 1940s), it naturally takes her a while to adjust and figure out exactly where she is. When she is brought to the laird of clan MacKenzie, she is brought refreshment and questioned about her presence, but not before she does some snooping and finds out that it’s 1743:

“He had brought with him the tray of refreshments; mugs of ale and fresh oatcakes spread with honey. I nibbled sparingly at these; my stomach was churning too vigorously to allow for any appetite.”           98

Though this is one of the first mentions of oatcakes in the book, it certainly is not the last, and it’s no wonder given that oats were the most common grain available in Scotland at the time. Gabaldon uses kippers and oatcakes in the book to give the setting a distinctly Scottish flair–the setting is inextricably twined with the magic of the story.

I was surprised to find that Scottish oatcakes were more closely related to a cracker than a cake or a bread. I had thought they were sweeter, thicker, and quite different, but as they are, I find them to be very pleasing and quite simple to make. After reading and comparing many recipes, I created this one. You can make a more savory cake by omitting the sugar and you can also add spices.

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Scottish Oatcakes

  • 2 cups steel cut oats (also called pinhead oats)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or shortening)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup hot water (depending on texture)

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a food processor (or you can do this in a bowl with a pastry cutter), put all dry ingredients and pulse until oats are the desired size– a mix of large and small pieces is okay.

Drizzle in the melted butter and the hot water until just combined.

Traditionally, the cakes are rolled with a rolling pin into a circle and then cut into triangles. I pressed my dough into a circle and cut it afterwards. You can also roll the dough into balls and press them flat, or cut the dough into any shape that pleases you.

Spread the oatcakes with honey, as in the book, or with anything that strikes your fancy like jam, cream cheese, or peanut butter. You can also use them to dip into stews or soups.

These oatcakes really surprised me–has there ever been a time where you heard or read about a certain food only to find it was quite different than what you had pictured? Let me know in the comments.

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