The Working Waterfront

My own hand-made oatcake invention

Inventing a recipe that satisfies a craving

Barbara Fernald
Posted 2021-10-18
Last Modified 2021-11-10

In early July I was shopping on the mainland at a local health food store when a friend handed me a square orange and yellow cardboard box labeled Effie’s Handmade Oatcakes.

“Have you ever had these? They’re really good!”

Nope, but I bought a box, stashed it in my cupboard and forgot about it. Lately I’ve been yearning for those dense slightly sweet Carr’s Wheatmeal Biscuits, but do they even make them anymore? I haven’t seen them in the stores for a very long time.

Imagine my delight when I finally opened the oatcakes and they had a taste and texture quite similar to…

Imagine my delight when I finally opened the oatcakes and they had a taste and texture quite similar to the thick crackers I was craving. The oatcakes were even better. The next time I went off island I bought two boxes and proceeded to consume them with a speed I usually only associate with eating Girl Scout cookies. I was hooked!

On my next trip off the island, I was unable to find my new favorite snack. That’s just the way of it these days. You never know how long you might be waiting for a preferred item to come back on the shelves.

When I realized that the interruption of my oatcake supply could be open-ended I starting looking online for a recipe. I’d been making sourdough crackers all summer long. They were labor intensive but fun to do so I liked the idea of trying to make my own oatcakes.

Oatcakes have been a dietary staple in Scotland for centuries. They traveled to Canada with Scottish immigrants in the 18th century, so I narrowed my search to recipes from Nova Scotia because I felt a kind of maritime allegiance.

Oatcakes are basically a shortbread made of oats, flour, butter, and sugar. I looked at one recipe and tweaked it with some suggestions from another recipe. I cut the sugar by a third and replaced a cup of white flour with whole wheat.
This is what I came up with and I’m happy to say I nailed it on the first try!

Nova Scotia Oatcakes

2 cups of oats
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1/2 cup cold water

Stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Cut butter into small pieces and rub into the dry mixture with fingertips until crumbly.

Mix in water with a fork until a ball forms. Divide in half.

On a floured surface roll out dough to 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thickness. It helps to have a well-floured rolling pin. The dough can be sticky. (Mine were just under ½-inch thick.)

At this point you can cut out squares or circles. I just neatened up the edges of the mass I’d rolled out and cut rectangles using a pizza cutter. My pieces weren’t uniform, but it was much faster.

Grease a sheet pan or use parchment paper. Transfer cut shapes to the pan. They can be pretty close together, just not touching.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. If they are lightly browned, remove from oven. Ta-da!

At this point mine were not quite done enough. I wanted a crisper oatcake, not chewy. So I turned each biscuit over and put them back in the oven for five more minutes.

Oatcakes will keep on the counter for a week in an air-tight container and up to three months in the freezer.

If you’ve never tried oatcakes, you might just want to grab a box of Effie’s when you see them. I had no idea what I had been missing. My favorite way to eat them is with a chunk of cheddar cheese on top. They go pretty well with dark chocolate, too.

If you become besotted with them, as I did, this recipe will work to satisfy your oatcake needs and you’ll still have extras to share. Chances are you already have the ingredients on hand, so you don’t even have to leave the island!

Barbara Fernald writes, lives, and bakes on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).