Sunday, March 9, 2008

Cakes to crackers

I’ve been too busy lately to hit up the grocery store, which usually isn’t a problem since I eat out so much. But on the rare occasion that I actually attempt to work in my tiny studio, I quickly fall into bored eating. And this is when I realize that my kitchen easily (and embarrassingly) matches up to that of a frat boy's; an empty fridge with a door full of beer and condiments, a shelf stocked with liquor and a sink piled with dirty glassware. To my credit, there was one lonely apple left in the fruit basket, a single canister of oats and a cupboard stuffed with exotic spices.

I grabbed the oats and studied the Quaker man's face for a while, dreaming up some scandalous history for him involving a string of mistresses and a murderous streak. And then I wondered what to do with him. Oatmeal? No, I was out of milk and the stuff is a tasteless pile of mush when made with water. Granola? Nix that, the feat would be useless without honey or maple syrup. Scottish oatcakes? Of course! I remembered an article I read by Cynthia Clampitt on Hungry Magazine about this UK staple and how it's ungodly easy to make. All you need are the oats, baking soda, butter, a dash of salt and some hot water. So what the hell, I gave it a whirl.

After kneading the dough and 35 minutes of baking and another 30 minutes of cooling, my oatcakes were ready. I tore off a small piece of the flatbread in a hurried excitement, plunked it into my mouth and cringed. It was just a solid, chewy hunk of oatmeal. But really, what was I expecting given the bland ingredients? Perhaps the Scots need more sugar in their diet, or maybe I need to cut back on mine (probably the latter). It's not that I was anticipating a ton of flavor (the cakes are typically eaten with honey, preserves or some other sweet confection). I just wasn't thinking they'd be so dense and chewy, nor did I have the slightest clue if this was even the proper consistency. So of course, I had to give it another go.

What would happen, I thought, if I rolled out the dough until it was nearly paper thin? My first instinct was that it would burn and ruin yet another baking sheet (and my oven was still recovering from the horrific smell of last month's unattended granola incident). My second thought was that it would turn into some delicious crispy, healthy treat. Fingers crossed and no oats left to spare, I followed Clampitt's recipe just as before with a few minor tweaks. This time I rolled the ball of dough out until it took on the appearance of a thin-crust pizza and nearly doubled the baking time: 25 minutes on one side and 25 on the other.

The end result was a crunchy wholesome cracker that motivated me to make a cheese run to Whole Foods. I picked up some brie and honey, forgetting completely that I probably should've grabbed some real food for the week.


Cynthia said...

Glad they turned out right the second time -- because they are delightful, and should be crisp and crying out for cheese or jam. As the recipe notes, they should be about 1/8 inch thick, which is thinner than most pizza crusts. Also, dividing the dough in half and then cutting the rolled out halves into quarters, as noted in the recipe, gives you a lot more exposed sides to get crisp -- because it is supposed to be like a cracker. So I'm pleased you finally arrived at the tastier conclusion.

edibility said...

Ah yes, I'm certainly no stranger to trial and error. The brie and honey were a superb compliment with these things. I love that they're so damn simple-- they've become a serious staple in my kitchen. Thanks for sharing the recipe!