Growing up in Britain, I was quite confused when I first heard the American English usage of “flapjack”. I ate a lot of flapjacks when I was a kid, and it was a staple of my university years, so the idea that the name could be used for anything other than a sweet slab of oaty goodness did not compute. Apparently the American usage of the word is for a pancake, something made with batter and fried in a pan. Wuh? What in blazes? What the flip?
I’ve experienced a lot of this low-level cultural confusion lately, having done three months in the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome. Some days I’d talk to a California colleague and they’d look at me totally blankly, following neither my accent nor my idiom. Other days, it seemed like everyone was doing comedy English accents, taking the piss. Anyway, I digress (as usual).
This is a flapjack. It’s made with rolled oats.
We’re – finally – going hiking in the mountains this weekend, and when you’re hiking, you need energy food. Oats are perhaps the best straightfoward, real energy food you can get. Feed them to working horses and they’ll go and go. Eat porridge (gah – oatmeal!), muesli or granola for breakfast and you’re set till lunchtime. It’s all about the slow energy release from the complex carbohydrates. Oats are also great because the bran (the high fibre bit) reduces low-density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol”. I should probably say “some research indicates” it reduces LDL or something, but I thought there was a pretty good scientific consensus these days. Oats are also high in protein – not the increasingly problematic proteins of starchy modern wheat, but a different type that’s reportedly akin to meat or egg protein.
Humble, but a real superfood.
So flapjacks are great. Except for the fact that, when making them, you undo a lot of the good work of the oat in its natural state by slathering it with butter and refined sugars, in the form of sugar and golden syrup.
The butter is essential for proper flapjacks, but what defines them is really the golden syrup. Ah, golden syrup. I believe this doesn’t exist many parts of the world, but in my British upbringing it was v important – notably for the quintessential winter steamed pudding known as treacle sponge. Which isn’t made with treacle (black, ie molasses) but is made with golden syrup (golden). It looks like honey, but is basically a viscous liquid sugar. Technically it’s an inverted sugar syrup. Felicity Cloake in The Guardian also dedicates one of her “How to make the perfect…” blogs to flapjacks. She discusses the whole crunchy vs chewy thing, so I’m not going to go into that. She also includes a link to this useful site, with an in-depth discussion of flapjacks.
Suffice to say, flapjacks are stupidly simple and unsophisticated, they’re packed with rolled oats, they’re very sweet, and they’ll help you get across mountains. I just hope it doesn’t thunder and lighting when we’re up there among the peaks of Abruzzo National Park, as that’d totally freak out Fran. And, as much as I’d dearly dearly love to see one of western Europe’s few (really tragically few – maybe a three dozen or) remaining brown bears, let’s just hope one doesn’t get too excited about the flapjacks, as that’s totally freak us both out. We should be alright; if they were made with honey, that’d be another story, as bears love honey right?
As for a recipe. Well, I made a lot of flapjacks when I was at universty, and played around with the recipe extensively. I’ve not made them for years though, and my recipe is tucked away somewhere, in another country, in a shed, in a box, in a knackered old blue scrapbook. So instead, I used Cloake’s, with a few minor tweaks that I’d probably tweak some more were I to make them again any time soon.
Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
Line a baking tin with baking parchment. Cloake suggests a 30x20cm tin, but I think these would be better thicker, so if you have a tin a size down from that, I’d recommend using it.
Melt 250g butter in a large pan, along with 70g of brown sugar (Demerara is traditional; I used more of a soft brown as sugar types are little different here in Italy to in the UK) and 150g golden syrup. (Guys – seriously, electronic scales, tare function, easy. Tablespooning golden syrup is messy and inaccurate. Not that accuracy really matters for a recipe like this. It’s not a fancy cake with exacting chemical reactions.)
When the mix is all melted, add 450g of rolled oats. You can use a mixture of jumbo and quick-cook porridge oats, whatever you fancy. Add a pinch of salt too, if you’ve used unsalted butter.
Bake for about 25 minutes until nice and golden brown. Mine are a bit underbaked but the darned oven in our rental flat has very aggressive bottom heat so I didn’t want to char the bottom trying to get a golden brown top. I’ve had a charred bottom before, and it’s not fun.