A wonderful wedding took us to Halifax recently. The wedding was beautiful, the venue being The Lord Nelson Hotel. This Halifax landmark setting is historically charming, blended with an elegant upscale décor.
The morning after the wedding, guests from the groom’s side were invited to a great buffet breakfast/brunch in the hotel, the arrival time depending on how late guests partied. One of the items on the buffet was a platter of Nova Scotia Oatcakes. I have not enjoyed these treats since I last visited my children on visitor’s day when they attended Camp Kadimah near Lunenburg, N.S. That was over 15 years ago. Oatcakes are crisp, like a shortbread cookie, and lightly sweetened with a touch of salt. The one I love is the Halifax style, about the size of a hockey puck. They are hearty and sometimes partly dipped in chocolate or infused with peanut butter.
Oatcakes are so popular in the region, that they are a staple at the local Tim Horton’s. The history of the oatcake originates in Scotland, being that oats were one of the only crops that would grow in Scotland without worry of its survival. Oats were easy to transport. Scottish Highlanders carried oats in little pouches to be mixed with water and cooked over a fire for a quick meal.
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Oatcakes were introduced to Nova Scotia by immigrants from Scotland as early as 1773. The original recipes were for a savoury snack, and excluded any sweetener. As time went on sugar or other sweeteners were added changing it from a savoury staple to a sweet indulgence. Oatcakes were eaten at every meal and were easily transported for a snack or meal elsewhere. Both savoury and sweet oatcakes continue to be baked today. Oatcakes are difficult to track down here in Ontario, but are simple enough to prepare at home. Enjoy them for breakfast, perhaps with a little peanut butter, as a substitute for biscuits with a cup of tea or coffee, or a snack when you are on the go.
o 2 cups large flake oats
o 1 cup all-purpose flour
o 1/2 cup brown sugar
o 1/2 cup white sugar
o 1 1/4 tsp. salt
o 1/4 tsp. baking soda
o 3/4 cup butter or vegetable shortening
o 1 tsp. pure vanilla
o 1/4 cup boiling water
o extra flour for pastry board and for kneading dough
Preheat oven to 375. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper. In a food processor, or in a large bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda.
Add the shortening or butter and pulse if using a processor. If you are using a bowl, use two knives, a pastry cutter or a large fork to combine mixture until it is crumbly. Pour in the hot water and pulse/stir until everything comes together and is sticky.
Turn out the dough out on a well-floured board and sprinkle with flour. Press mixture together, continuing to sprinkle with flour until dough is no longer sticky. Pat dough out to about 1/2-in. thick. Cut with round cookie cutter. Bake on prepared baking sheets until golden, about 12 minutes. You can remove them from the oven at this point for chewier oatcakes or reduce the oven to 325 and bake until lightly browned, approximately 10 minutes, for crisper oatcakes. Cool.
Keep the oatcakes stored in an airtight container up to a week. Freezes well. Makes approximately 2 dozen oatcakes.