Scottish Bannocks (aka Scottish Oatcakes) are easy to make using common pantry staples. Make them traditionally or include sourdough starter discard. Serve these Highland oatcakes with sweet or savory toppings for breakfast or as a snack!
[August, 2022: I've reworked the recipe and updated this post with all new pictures. Enjoy!]
Why this recipe works
- Bannocks are easy to make using common pantry ingredients
- Can be made using sourdough starter discard
- These oatcakes can be served with sweet or savory toppings for breakfast or as a snack
Longtime readers know that I'm a huge fan of Outlander, both the TV series on STARZ and the book series by Diana Gabaldon. Set in Scotland and America in the 18th and 20th centuries, the cuisine of the locales and time periods has provided me with many opportunities to discover new recipes to try. I even write a column for Outlander Cast (a fan website) called How They Made It that explores the food and drink of Outlander.
Scottish bannocks are one such item that's new to me. Before discovering the Outlander series on STARZ, I had never heard of them, but they're mentioned many times in the Outlander books. I went down a rabbit hole to find out more about them.
Bannocks, a History
(What are bannocks?)
Bannocks are a type of unleavened oat-based flatbread, cooked on a griddle (girdle, in Scotland) or baked in the oven. They are said to have originated in Scotland, but the First Nations in Canada also lay claim to them, the main difference being the type of grain flour used (wheat or corn).
Even Native Americans have their version of unleavened bread, Indian Fry bread, that's deep fried rather than baked. It's interesting to me how many cultures have the same type of bread, just different based on local grains.
I grew up eating pita and tortillas; later I discovered naan, roti, lavash and the like; and my girls baked Indian Fry bread at school. These are all examples of regional native flat breads that developed separately but with a common purpose.
What you need
The ingredients for a bannock recipe aren't fancy, as one would expect: flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and water.
(But wait, what about the oats?)
As these are Scottish oatcakes, you'd expect...well...oatmeal. However, there is a difference in the definition of oatmeal based on which side of the Pond you're on. For our purposes, I'm using rolled outs.
You can use your unfed sourdough starter to make sourdough bannocks. Just replace some of the flour and water with the starter (more on that later).
Finding the best bannock recipe
I've seen many different bannocks recipes (both more vintage and more modern), including several from Theresa Carle-Sanders' Outlander Kitchen website and cookbook. Some use oat flour, others use steel cut oats (aka pinhead oats in the UK).
The recipe that I settled on is from a lady in Scotland who shared it on an Outlander Facebook group. It's great how our group supports one another. Also, I love how Europeans use weight measurements instead of pesky volume measurements. There's no need to convert anything (well, except for temperatures because I'm still an American and we use Fahrenheit instead of Celsius in our ovens).
How to make bannocks
Step 1: Make the dough
Mix the oatmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl (photo 1).
Make a well in the dry ingredients, then pour in the melted butter and water (photo 2). Stir well until a dough forms.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to soften the oats (photo 3).
Step 2: Shape the bannocks
Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and roll it out to desired thickness, between ⅛ to ¼-inches (photo 4). Thicker bannocks will be chewier, while thinner bannocks will be crispier.
At this point you have a choice in how you shape the bannocks. Bannocks are usually round portions (or one large disk that's cut into wedges after cooking). I also like to cut rectangular portions that doesn't required re-rolling the dough. The choice is yours.
For round bannocks, use a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds (photo 5). Gather the scraps, roll out again, and cut more rounds. Repeat until you've used up all the dough.
For rectangular bannocks, roll out the dough to form a rectangle. The size will depend on how thick you roll the dough (photo 6).
Slice the dough into rectangles with a bench scraper or knife to your preferred size (photo 7).
Step 3: Bake the bannocks
For this easy bannock recipe, the oatcakes are baked in the oven. See the FAQs for instructions for cooking them on a griddle.
Place the cut dough pieces on a half sheet baking pan that's lined with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper. Bake at 350˚F for 20 to 23 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time (photo 8).
Remove to wire rack to cool (photo 9).
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions you might have...
Traditionally, bannocks were cooked over a fire on some sort of flat surface, like a griddle. Today, you'd preheat a pan (like a cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, then cook the dough on both sides until it's golden brown (between 5 to 10 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the dough). The bannock can be one large disk that's cut into wedges after cooking, or you can make individual portions as described in the recipe.
There was a lot of discussion on that Outlander Facebook thread about how thick to roll out the bannocks. Some people said they should be thin and crispy, others thicker and chewier. There's no real consensus, so it comes down to your personal preference. I find that between ⅛ to ¼-inches is a good place to start.
Sure! If you maintain sourdough starter (like I do) and are always looking for ways to use your unfed sourdough starter (again, like I do), then bannocks are a great way to use the discard. Simply reduce the flour to ⅓ cup (45 grams), the salt to ½ teaspoon, and add in ⅔ cup unfed sourdough starter (150 grams). Omit the water entirely. Make the dough as directed, adding the sourdough starter with the melted butter.
Can you still call them bannocks if they're made with sourdough? I do, but I want to be culturally sensitive. Hopefully some nice person will let me know if that's ok (and send me a picture of a puppy. I love puppies!)
Pro Tip: What is Oatmeal?
Updated in Jan 2019: Speaking of Outlander and how to make bannocks, I wrote a blog post for OutlanderCast about using an 18th century vs. modern bannock recipe. Suffice to say I learned a thing...or two...or three, especially about the language barriers between the US & UK. It's worth a quick read (and a laugh). Where a recipe is written matters...a lot.
Spoiler Alert: Oats in the US and UK are not the same thing. Oatmeal in the UK is what we call oat flour in the US. Along the same lines, rolled oats in the US are porridge oats, and steel cut oats are pinhead oats over the Pond.
The upshot is that using rolled oats (like I do in this recipe) gives the bannock a chewier texture. Use oat flour for the rolled oats for a crisper bannock, or make your own oat flour by pulsing them in the food processor to a fine powder beforehand.
Sweet or savory, bannocks are great
Both traditional bannocks and sourdough bannocks are wonderful. They have a softer texture than a cracker, but aren't bendy. I like the dry earthy oat flavor that's contrasted by the melted butter. The sourdough version has a slight sourdough tang under it all.
You can enjoy bannocks with sweet toppings like butter and jam, or savory toppings like blue cheese and smoked salmon. I like to eat them for breakfast with eggs, but they're also nice for an afternoon snack.
Bannocks can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or refrigerate for up to 5 days. They also keep well in the freezer stored in an airtight bag, and defrost on the counter for a few minutes before reheating (if desired).
Discovering Outlander has led me down many paths, and the culinary dishes I encounter because of it are so fun. I love making scottish bannocks, along with scottish shortbread and cranachan (a raspberry & oat trifle made with scotch).
I wonder what I'll discover next?
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
When you maintain a sourdough starter, you have a dilemma. What do you do with your unfed sourdough starter discard? I've got lots of suggestions for sweet and savory ways to use your fed sourdough starter and the sourdough starter discard.
And if you sign up to receive my weekly featured recipe email, I'll send you the recipe for Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread. Just click the subscribe button below. Enjoy!
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Scottish Bannocks (Scottish Oatcakes)
- 1½ cups rolled oats, see Recipe Notes
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, see Recipe Notes for Sourdough Bannocks
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, see Recipe Notes for Sourdough Bannocks
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ⅓ cup water, see Recipe Notes for Sourdough Bannocks
- Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line a half sheet baking pan with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix the oatmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients, then pour in the melted butter and water. Stir well until a dough forms. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to soften the oats.
- Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and roll it out to desired thickness, between ⅛ to ¼-inches. Thicker bannocks will be chewier, while thinner bannocks will be crispier.
- For round bannocks: using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Gather the scraps, roll out again, and cut more rounds. Repeat until you've used up all the dough.
- For rectangular bannocks: Roll out the dough to form a rectangle (the size will depend on how thick you roll the dough). Slice the dough into rectangles with a bench scraper or knife to your preferred size.
- Continuing: Place the cut dough pieces on the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.
- Remove to wire rack to cool. Enjoy with sweet toppings like butter and jam, or savory toppings like blue cheese and smoked salmon.
- Bannocks can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or refrigerate for up to 5 days. They also keep well in the freezer stored in an airtight bag, and defrost on the counter for a few minutes before reheating (if desired).