Sometimes, often in the most ordinary of places, or doing the most ordinary of tasks, a food idea pops into my head. While cleaning my teeth, or sitting on a bus, I will quite suddenly be day dreaming of chai syrup cake, or cinnamon raisin muffins, or chilli caramel corn. Maybe they are prompted by a memory, maybe a forgotten item in the pantry, maybe my sub-conscious is simply a melting pot of culinary thoughts.
Last week’s idea was oat cakes. I envisaged quite a substantial cracker, with a slightly flaky crumb held together by the creamy taste and texture of oats. Maybe with a mug of weak black tea and a chopped up apple or piece of dried fruit after dinner. Or paired with a sharp cheddar, a tangy blue and a glass of red wine.
I’ve made oat cakes once before, in year 7. We were studying Scotland and I chose to look at Scottish food. When it came to sharing day, the floury, dry, tasteless oat cakes sat untouched next to the infinitely more popular Kiwi onion dip, Mexican tortilla chips, French baguette and German spice cookies. Eleven year olds were more willing to try sushi over my oat cakes.
I haven’t made oat cakes since but the slightly romantic notion of a rustic cheese platter and a desire for home made crackers has only grown. After my foodie thought of last week, I felt sure I had a recipe for oat cakes in one of my favourite, but somehow forgotten, cook books, A Good Year by Lois Daish. This is a wonderful cookbook. It is a tiny book with a simple cover of a small bowl of cherries. There is no slightly padded coffee table cover with a self promotional picture of a celebrity chef. This book is simple and elegant. Each time I open it I feel I could quite happily work my way through the book, recipe after recipe.
Daish is a New Zealand food writer and the recipes are a compilation from her food column in the Listener magazine. This book follows a calendar year with a lovely introduction for each month focusing on one ingredient. For July, “Intensely sweet, sour and spicy, dark red tamarillos are a perfect tonic for a New Zealand winter.” And for November, “Strawberries, which are the first berries to ripen, are a sweet harbinger of all the berries to come – gooseberries, raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, blueberries, blackberries, and currents – black and red.” The writing is beautiful.
A Good Year does indeed include a recipe for oat cakes. Daish credits this recipe for oat cakes to Roy Duncan, which he gave to her after she complained her oat cakes tasted a bit like mine from year 7, dried porridge cardboard.
These oat cakes were just as I imagined. Eaten with a crumbly, sharp blue and the last little bit of plum jam, they had a pleasant crunch and a mellow taste.
1 cup standard flour
1 cup oatmeal or rolled oats pulsed in a processor
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
50g butter melted in 1/2 cup boiling water
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Mix the dry ingredients together and pour in the butter and hot water. Knead in the bowl until the mixture holds together. Tip onto a lightly floured bench and knead a little more before rolling out thinly. Cut into large squares and use a spatula to transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 10-15 minutes until light brown and crisp.