5 minutes plus 20 minutes soaking time
"The culinary adventures of my childhood featured a hefty dose of butter, sugar and oats. Under the guidance of my mother, I learned how to make sublime creations that were known only as ‘Aztec biscuits’ in my house. They involved melting butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan, stirring in some oats and raisins, and baking the resulting golden puddles for a few minutes until crisp round the edges and gooey in the centre. Flapjacks, another manifestation of these humble ingredients, were also a favourite; one of the highlights of school dinners when I was younger (and believe me, there were few) was when flapjacks appeared on the dessert menu. Gigantic, triangular and packed with raisins and sugar, I always used to try and get seconds. I still remember the day my best friend brazenly reached out over the lunch table and took a huge bite of my flapjack, and the resulting fury and misery that followed."
Such was my love of these treats that I figured that oats, their common denominator, must be absolutely delicious and edible straight from the jar, without needing the faff of butter and sugar too. This was why I found myself one day sticking a spoon into the jar of porridge oats in our larder cupboard and taking a big mouthful. Alas, how naïve of me to assume that if you take the butter and sugar away from something, it will still be as delicious. Dry oats are unfortunately not the food of the gods, and definitely more suitable for horses than girls. I can still feel the sawdust-like texture in my mouth.
A decade and a bit later, I still can’t resist the combination of oats with butter and sugar. I add them to my crumble toppings, and bake them with maple syrup for my breakfast. I mix them with coconut syrup and coconut oil to make homemade granola bars that taste like flapjacks but are a little bit better for you. Sometimes, though, only a flapjack will do. They are not by any stretch of the imagination healthy, but you are inhuman if you can resist the heady combination of toasty, earthy oats, molten butter and butterscotch-scented sugar that they promise.
I like to add dried fruit and sometimes nuts to my flapjacks, as that homogenous texture and flavour can sometimes do with a little brightening up. Raisins are good, dried apricots and pistachios are good, desiccated coconut is tasty, but this recipe is by far the best I’ve ever tasted. It involves a simple but genius move: soaking foamy pieces of dried apple in cider for a few minutes before stirring them into a syrupy flapjack mixture, given texture from jumbo oats as well as regular oats, and demerara sugar. The cider makes the apple deliciously moist and stops them drying out and burning in the oven. You have that glorious toffee flapjack flavour, but also the sweet tang of apple to complement it. I also add a little cinnamon, and the result is something a bit like a love child between a sticky toffee pudding and an apple crumble.
These only take a couple of minutes to make and half an hour to bake, but the smell of your kitchen will have you swooning and I bet you’ll eat at least three in one go. You can, of course, omit the apple pieces if you just want a great flapjack, or if you’re making these for children or the teetotal, swap the cider for cloudy apple juice. You could also scatter them with some chopped hazelnuts or pecans, but I like them just as they are. Enjoy.
First, cut the apple into 1cm pieces and put in a bowl with the cider. Soak for around 20 minutes, then drain well. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the sugars, syrup, salt and cinnamon.
Grease and line a 20x20cm square tin with baking parchment. Add the oats to the butter mixture, mix well, then stir in the apple pieces until evenly dispersed.
Pour into the prepared tin, level with a spoon, then bake for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the tin before cutting into squares.