I have started work in the early morning for many years now – and one of the challenges for early shift workers is what to do about breakfast.
Actual breakfast has to be eaten at your desk, and can be done quickly and healthily if you pack the food the night before. But if you are up at 5am, and won’t have a breather to make that breakfast much before 8am, there’s a long stretch of time in which to get hungrier and hungrier, and crabbier and crabbier. What’s needed is a small, nutritious snack that can be eaten on the way to work.
Enter the oatcake.
Oatcakes are widely recommended as a power snack – but the commercially available oatcakes in South Africa always seem to have sugar in them. A hunt on the Internet eventually turned up the perfect solution – a very plain oatcake recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
You can see the original here – right at the end of a set of recipes for biscuits and crackers. My own version has several adaptations, mainly to do with the lack of sophistication around oats here in South Africa. Hugh’s recipe calls for oatmeal and porridge oats. Oatmeal seems to be an unknown substance in ordinary supermarkets in South Africa (and health shop prices can’t be sustained over any length of time). And what is the difference between porridge oats and any other kind of oats, anyway?
So my recipe simply uses oats – the kind that comes in a Jungle Oats box (not instant!). I have used many makes of oats, even no-name brands from places like Shoprite, and the oatcakes have always come out fine.
However, I suspect that special British oats are “stickier” than the oats we can get here, making the rolling out a delicate affair. My recipe tells you what to do!
10 twists of black pepper (and a few more for good measure)
½ tsp salt
A handful of sesame, poppy or linseeds (or a mix) – optional
75ml extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and dust two oiled (Spray & Cook works fine) baking trays with flour.
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour the oil into a well in the centre, then pour in enough boiling water (fill the well – this is probably about 100 to 150ml of water) to bind it into a firm, not sticky, dough. Work quickly. Don’t worry if you over-water a bit – if you generously dust your rolling-out surface with flour, the mixture will sort itself out.
Form the dough mixture into a ball and leave it to rest for the time it takes to open a bottle and pour a glass of wine. So says HFW – I just leave it for a couple of minutes.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface (dust the dough with flour, too, if it’s sticky). But – due to the oats problem noted above, this dough is quite fragile. If you roll it out as you would pastry, the dough is likely to crack into several pieces.
Rather divide it in two. Take one half, put it on your floured surface and press slowly and firmly all over the dough to flatten it, and then do more pressing and very gentle rolling in all directions until it little thicker than two South African R5 coins put together. Cut as directed below, and then do the same with the other half of the dough.
Cut it into squares or rectangles – there will be unevenly shaped bits of dough around the edges. They can also get baked. Each half of dough should fill one baking sheet when cut up. Liift the cut-up squares and rectangles very gently on to the baking trays – balanced on the flat of the knife works well.
Bake for 20 minutes, then turn and bake for a further five to 10 minutes – they will turn a pale golden colour. Cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container.
And how do they taste? My husband says they taste of nothing. I think they taste subtly of baked oats with a peppery hit. Together with almonds, they are very sustaining. And the quiet plain-ness of them is very comforting at 6am on a dark morning.