May 20, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Fat city

By |2018-03-21T19:00:31+01:00May 11th, 2014|"Suzanne's Taste"|
The best oatcakes contain a secret weapon: duck fat.

Some friends visited us recently — restaurant owners who are also wine judges, cookbook writers and all-round food gurus — and along with our morning cappuccinos I brought them my Scottish oatcakes. I’m addicted to them. They’re my morning luxury, and I take them plain and simple. I love their unsweetened texture with or without marmalade or honey. They’re also perfect with cheeses (the truly decadent might add peanut butter to reach nirvana).

Oatcakes are also a simple alternative other morning concoctions. You don’t have to heat water, stir in porridge, get out a bowl and spoon, milk, butter, sugar (or whatever it is you put on your porridge), and then wait for the mix to cool.

My guests were so pleased with their little heart-shaped morning biscuits that they suggested I put them out on the market (which I did once with my focaccia).

My oatcakes do have a secret ingredient. Duck fat.

Years ago, when we first arrived in France, we became friends with an extraordinary cook. He served us little peeled ovals of sautéed potato that tasted as if they’d been infused with butter.

“Oh, no,” exclaimed our new friend, hearing the mention of butter. “I never use butter when I can use duck fat! Duck fat is so much better for you and melts at a lower temperature.”

Hmmm… wasn’t that also one of Julia Child’s early secrets in opening the eyes of American cooks with “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”? But some questions popped into my mind. Would there be enough ducks to go around? Was duck fat sold in supermarkets? Would finicky cooks even use it?

Well, I’m fortunate. Every Sunday, our little farmer’s market in southern France offers the queen of all duck comfit, pâté and mousse. It offers a quick solution to an otherwise time-consuming process. After the legs are removed from their glass jar, the rendered duck fat is yours for the oatcakes.

I don’t use much, mind you, though duck fact is lighter than either vegetable shortenings or butter. Objections might come from the fat-conscious, the dieting crowd, and the gluten watchers, but I consider them members of a passing fad: My view is that eventually everyone will insist on a touch of duck fat in his oatcakes.

Meanwhile, I’m writing this oatcake treatise in the heart of London after having bought three kinds of oatcakes at British retailer Waitrose, a slick little supermarket. After a taste test, I’ve decided the homemade versions have a strong advantage over the compressed commercial ones. They’re lighter and crisper, probably because they don’t have to travel and sit on shelves.

Here’s my own private oatcake recipe. It should yield about two-dozen cakes, give or take a few and depending on the cookie cutter.


In the bowl of a food processor put:

  • 3 cups oats.

  • 2 tablespoons of sugar.

  • 2 tablespoons of flour.

  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder.

  • 1 generous tablespoon of duck fat.

  • A handful of grilled almonds.

  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.

  • A pinch of salt.

  • A pinch of cinnamon.


— Heat the oven to 190C or 350F.

— Brush a cookie sheet with olive oil. Process the dry ingredients until they are chopped fine. Add cold water just until the mixture sticks together when you remove it to press it into a flat circle. Dust a board with flour and roll out the dough, using small bits of flour if necessary so that the dough does not stick.

— Roll the dough to about 1/8th-inch thick. Using a thin-edged glass or cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds and with a pancake turner, lift them onto the oiled cookie sheet.

— Bake the oatcakes for about 15 minutes or until light brown, and then turn off the oven and let them sit in the residual heat to crisp.

They do travel, by the way, just in case you’re staying somewhere that has only morning corn flakes or granola (which can turn even in the best of hotels).

I happily brought mine with me on our London trip, wrapped carefully in foil. A Scottish friend declared them a success and asked for more. But I did tuck away a few Scottish Duchy oatcake originals from Waitrose, for when my duck fat runs out.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.