Common Oatcakes

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A simple pan-regional accompaniment to meals and snacks

Though in a broad sense the Middle Kingdoms’ climate does shade from a subtropical North through a temperate midland region into a highland-to-montane climate in the neighborhood of the southern Highpeaks, there are nonetheless some regions where microclimate makes cultivation of one or another foodstuff difficult or impossible. In particular, the best growth areas of the various alternate-Earth wheat species on the Kingdoms’ continent are widely scattered across the midland region. The Four Realms have no single large breadbasket; they have many small ones.

In the numerous places where the local wheat yield may vary unpredictably due to temporary climate trends—especially spells of wetter weather—farmers routinely sow a secondary crop of oats and/or rye so that in emergencies people will have something to fall back on. This makes breadstuffs based on oats a commonplace not just in the wetter, cooler South, but right across the Realms. Everywhere a traveler goes, they’ll come across simple oat cakes of one kind or another. Whether offered as something quick to break the day’s fast on, dunked in buttermilk; or as a nibble accompanying a mug of hot barley draft; or as a little something on the side plate next to a soup or egg dish, or accompanying a glass of wine in front of the fire before turning in… oatcakes are both the symbol and the expression of hospitality.

The ease and speed with which a substantial number of oatcakes can be thrown together, especially for the newly-arrived guest, also makes them popular. They can be baked on a griddle or in a pot… even in a bread oven if there’s one in the neighborhood. This simplicity of preparation is probably yet another reason why oatcakes traditionally appear on every variation of the Autumn Table set out for all visitors (and theoretically the Goddess) as part of the various harvest festivals of the Realms.* This resonance to the welcome properly due to any sudden visitor, even Herself, overrides any possible embarrassment that might otherwise come with offering a guest something so basic. 

Properly speaking, it’s the plain oatcake containing nothing but oats and oat flour, butter, salt and water that’s truly the common one across the Realms. The “raised cake” is the less common of the two, being typical only in areas where people have access via propinquity or trade to a supply of natron—which, by sorcerers or Firebearers manipulating chemical processes, can be purified into what we’d recognize as baking soda. These thicker, soda-raised oat cakes are seen as a regional “acquired taste”, and are probably most popular in the west of Arlen and the far south of Darthen, where natron is fairly widely available from local sources.

A still more unusual variant occurs further north, toward the Darthene midlands, where some people like to mix wheat flour with the oat flour on which the cakes are largely based. In most other regions of the Kingdoms, though, wheat flour is seen as being “too good to waste on something like oatcakes”, and is normally saved for bread and other yeast-raised baking. 

For home bakers located on our own Earth who’re interested in trying these recipes: folks who have trouble acquiring oat flour might want to do as we do, and grind rolled oats into flour as needed in a coffee mill. Otherwise, you might want to investigate a local health food store and see if they can order it for you..

*For more information about these ceremonies, see the background on this Darthene recipe.

This is the simplest version of the standard oatcake. 

The ingredients:

      • 180g / scant 2 cups rolled oats
      • 180g / 1.75 cups oat flour
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 100g butter (about 1/2 cup), melted
      • 150ml / about 5 fluid ounces boiling water
      • extra oat flour to dust the work surface (or wholemeal flour also works well for this, if you’ve got some)

The method:

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C (160C / 320F if you have a fan / convection oven).

Add the dry ingredients to a heatproof bowl and mix them well.

Then make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the butter, and mix it in. Add the just-boiling water and mix everything together until the ingredients start to come together. (If it seems to need it, add a little more hot water to help everything stick together.) When cool enough to handle, gather the dough mixture together into a ball.

Lightly sprinkle the work surface and the dough with some more oat flour or wholemeal flour. Gently flatten the ball out on the work surface: then roll the dough out to a thickness of 3mm /about 1/8 inch. If it cracks while rolling out, just push the cracked pieces back together.

Use a sharp round cutter about 3 inches / 8 cm wide to cut the dough into rounds. Place these on a nonstick baking sheet (or one lined with baking parchment or a silicone mat).

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. At this point, use a spatula to turn the oatcakes over so that they’ll have a chance for both sides to brown. After that, let them bake for another 10 minutes; then remove to a wire rack to cool.

Once completely cooled, the cakes should be kept in a tightly sealed cookie tin or similar airtight container, as they’re very hygroscopic and will quickly lose their crispness and go soft if left out on the counter. (They can be dried again in the oven, but they’re likely to toughen as a result.)

Serve plain, buttered, or as a snack with cheese, paté, or sliced meats.

The ingredients:

      • 180g / scant 2 cups rolled oats
      • 180g / 1.75 cups oat flour
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1 teaspoon baking powder
      • 200ml / 0.75 cups + 2 tablespoons buttermilk (or regular milk)

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.

Mix the oat flour, rolled oats, salt and baking powder together very well. Then stir in the buttermilk and mix until the dough comes together. (Add a little more buttermilk or milk if you need to do so to get the dough to cohere.)

Sprinkle the work surface with oat or wholemeal flour. Squeeze the dough together into a firm cohesive ball, then flatten it out on the floured surface. Roll it about 2cm thick (or up to 4cm if you’re planning to split these and toast them under the grill). Place on baking sheets lined with baking parchment or silicone mats.

Bake for 20 minutes and then turn so that the other side of the cakes has a chance to brown a little. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more: then cool on a rack. 

Paradoxically, these cakes aren’t at their best straight out of the oven. They seem to improve if allowed to soften a little after baking—and also, for some reason, they seem less stodgy inside. In any case, when they are completely cooled, store them in an airtight container until ready to eat.

Thicker raised oatcakes are good split and toasted, with lots of butter, or with cheese melted on top. Thinner ones are great with cheese, smoked meats and fish, or patés.


Meat, poultry, fast food

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The Door Into Sunset cover

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