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. This was why I found myself 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.
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. The cider makes the apple deliciously moist and stops them drying out and burning in the oven. I also add a little cinnamon, and the result is something a bit like the love child of a sticky toffee pudding and an apple crumble.