Top Pick Of The Week

March 9, 2010

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Scottish-style oatcakes are a lightly sweet, heavily addictive biscuit that’s perfect with cheese—and just about everything else. Photo Effie’s Homemade.

WHAT IT IS: Classic Scottish oatcakes.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: They taste homemade: simple, wholesome goodness that is simultaneously indulgent and exciting.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The back-to-old-fashioned-goodness quality of these oatcakes makes you realize that they have been missing from your life.

Effie’s Oatcakes: Bites Of Perfection

CAPSULE REPORT: When was the last time you had oatcakes? If the answer is “never,” order a bushel of these. If you’re craving more oatcakes, Effie’s Homemade is happy to oblige with exceptional oatcakes. They can be served with just about anything, but are a must with the cheese course. And they’re our new favorite “tea biscuit.”

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Some people marry their best friends; others go into business with them. Effie’s Homemade was founded two years ago by two friends of more than 20 years’ duration. Joan MacIsaac and Irene Costello had previously begun their partnership with cooking classes, then segued into baking biscuits, crackers and crisps for retailers. Whether teaching cooking or baking wholesale, their perspective is that great flavors come from quality ingredients, simply prepared.

The first product of the Effie’s Homemade line was inspired by a recipe from Joan’s mother, the eponymous Effie MacLellan. Effie grew up on a farm in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Oatcakes were a traditional farmhouse recipe. Taste one and you’ll wonder why they haven’t wandered far from the farm. With the artisan food movement looking to return to old-fashioned recipes, we hope this is the beginning of the oatcake renaissance.

Like a fine piece of shortbread, a fine oatcake is made from the best butter and sugar, but combined with oats instead of wheat* to deliver an honest, simple yet spectacular flavor. One bite, and it was all we could do not to demolish the entire shipment (which took us about three days to finish, with restraint).

*Some shortbread recipes include a small amount of oats.

Photo courtesy Effie’s Homemade.

Oatcakes can be found in sweet and savory varieties. Sweet oatcakes are biscuit style with a touch of sugar; savory versions are flavored with black pepper, cheese, herbs, sundried tomato and other ingredients. The texture and flavor of oatcakes complement most lunch and dinner foods; they can be served from the beginning of the meal—canapés—through the salad, soup, cheese and dessert courses.

Oatcake History

For many centuries, oatcakes have been considered to be the “national bread of Scotland.” They go back at least to the time of the Romans in Scotland: It was the Romans who brought the grain to the cold northern climes. While the Romans grew oats back home to feed livestock, in the colder climate of Scotland, oats were (and still are) the only grain that would grow. As oats became a major part of the agricultural economy, each town built a mill. Farmers would bring their oats to be ground, and the oatmeal would provide porridge and oatcakes, staples in the Highlanders’ diet.

Thus, biscuits—sweet or savory—were made with oatmeal instead of wheat flour. So think of a simple but sublime shortbread cookie—essentially wheat flour, butter and sugar. Then substitute oats for the wheat, and you’re beginning to get the essence of an oatcake. Oatcakes are much more versatile: They’re not as sweet or buttery as shortbread, so they go with just about everything, from breakfast to soup and salad to the cheese course.

Historically, oatcakes were made by baking rounds of oatmeal on a tray. Large rounds were sliced into triangular shapes. Scottish soldiers cooked oatcakes over the fire. Similar oatcakes were (and are) made across the sea in Ireland.

“Oatcake” also refers to the Staffordshire Oatcake, a crepe-like flat pancake made from oats that is popularly served rolled with a variety of fillings. In Scotland, an “oatcake shop” is the equivalent of a pancake house.

Continue To Page 2b: Serving Suggestions, Recipe, Where To Buy

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