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I have a little electronic diffuser in the room I write in. It is a small white cylinder, that sits in the corner of the room, far away enough from my desk so that I have to actually get up to fiddle with it, but close enough that as it pipes out its scented steam, glowing and vibrating ever so gently, it feels comforting, as if it’s quietly breathing alongside me.
I’m not really one for resolutions, but I allowed myself a small hope this year. A hope that 2017 would be the year that I learnt how to just sit still at my desk and write. Please, God, let me learn how to write. Because it’s one thing when you’re writing 500 words for a complete piece, on a single topic, once or twice a week, but it’s quite another one when you’re trying to write a sprawling book about grief and love and law and failure and learning and cake. Which is what I’m trying to do.
Writing with purpose and staying power is still a new thing for me: I’ve spent the last fifteen years announcing to anyone who would listen that I can only work if there is a deadline looming over me, but I fear that the truth is I am lazy to my core; that it’s not that I thrive on pressure, but rather that it’s only the absolute last minute terror of a deadline that can break through my thick, lazy shell.
So I’ve tried to develop a routine. Quiet, murmuring radio four drama on the radio, an enormous hothothot mug, in an attempt to stop me wandering off on the pretence of boiling the kettle, and a little stream of steam in the corner of the room.
Since the New Year, I’ve been filling it with rosemary oil. Not consciously – I have a little collection of different oils that I veer between depending on my mood. But, as I was making these oatcakes, fragrant with honey and rosemary, it struck me that this is what I have been smelling for the last 3 weeks.
Rosemary is a calming scent: clean, green, almost medicinal, a brighter, sweeter scent than its woody appearance would suggest. It is calming and cheering and conjures up shadow memories of huge marinated lamb legs, glassy, roasted potatoes, and fragrant cakes. And now, these oatcakes. Alongside the rosemary and honey perfuming the biscuits, the oats are toasted and give a deeply savoury contrast, with the pinhead oats making it nubbly and nutty. The biscuits are fragile, much more so than the shop bought equivalents, shedding rubbly crumbs when bitten, but they outshine their supermarket brethren in every possible way. I love them.
It goes like this:
Rosemary and honey oatcakes
Makes: 12 biscuits
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 20-30 minutes
300g porridge oats
100g pinhead oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of honey
1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary
100ml boiling water
1. First, toast your oats. Place both sets of oats into a large pan and shuffle them gently over a medium heat until they smell toasted. Don’t leave them as they will burn if unwatched.
2. Pour the oats into a large bowl, stirring slightly until they’ve lost some of their heat. Stir the butter into the boiling water until it melts. Add the rest of the ingredients, the salt, honey, chopped rosemary, the butter and water mix and stir until all the component parts are combined and it has the texture of wet sand.
3. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line two baking trays with baking paper.
4. Roll the dough out gently: you can use a rolling pin here, but often I just press with my hands until it’s even. You want the thickness of a couple of pound coins stacked together. Cut the oatcake using a 5cm round cutter but don’t remover the cutter from the dough. Slide a palette knife underneath the biscuit and lift onto the baking tray, now remove the palette knife and biscuit cutter. Continue cutting the dough, lifting and placing, and rerolling the dough until you have used up all of the mixture.
5. Bake for fifteen minutes in the middle of the oven. Remove from the oven and turn each biscuit over, supporting them with a palette knife or spatula. Bake for another 5-10 minutes. The biscuits should be golden and dry, and smell toasty but not burnt. Remove to a cooling rack (carefully!) and allow to cool completely.
6. Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake
These will keep well in a sealed container for a couple of weeks. We ate some that night with really strong cheddar and some gooey blue cheese, but we’re keeping the rest back to serve smugly on Burns Night with soused mackerel, quick pickled onions, and lots of Scottish butter.