My maternal grandmother (Tutu) was not much of a cook. A perpetual dieter, she was far more interested in what she wasn’t eating than what she was. However, as a woman raising children in the 1950s, it wasn’t possible that she escape the kitchen entirely and so learned to make a few things to fill the gaps when the maid or my grandfather were unavailable.
Oddly, her specialties involved either beef (broiled steak, hamburger patties, and pot roast) or rolled oats (hot oatmeal and oatmeal cookies, mostly). When she made meatloaf, she would bring her two favorite ingredients together, relying on the oats to act as a binder. Beaten eggs and generous amounts of onion salt rounded out that recipe.
When I was old enough to pay attention, she took me into the kitchen and taught me her secret for making creamy oatmeal. You always start the oats in cold water and you heat them very slowly. That way, you give them the chance to soften and release their starch. As we stirred the quietly simmering oats, she’d say, “Cook them like that and you don’t even need butter!”
Truly, I think that’s the element that pleased her most.
I still make oatmeal just like she taught me and rolled oats are one of my absolute pantry staples. When I have a jar of oats, I feel flush with possibilities. Taking oats just as they are, you can make granola, muesli, or healthy breakfast cookies. Grind some of those oats into flour and suddenly your options widen to quick breads, scones, and cakes. Darn flexible, those oats.
At the moment, there are three oat-filled recipes bringing me a great deal of joy. The first is a loaf of sandwich bread that also makes admirable toast. The oats make it hearty and pleasingly nubby. Next is a little oat-based snack bar that is held together by mashed banana and sweetened with dates, orange juice, and a hint of maple syrup. Studded with toasted pecans, it makes a great afternoon snack. Finally, there’s my family’s favorite maple oat cake. This was the birthday cake of my childhood and because it only uses oat flour, is great for people with wheat and gluten sensitivities (just make sure you get oats that have been certified gluten-free).
How do you employ oats in your kitchen beyond your morning cereal bowl?
Oatmeal Sandwich Bread
- ¼ cup honey
- 1½ teaspoons sea salt
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 tablespoon butter, plus more for greasing the bowl and pan
- 1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups whole wheat flour
Place honey, salt, oats, and butter in a large mixing bowl and add 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Stir to combine and let stand until the oats puff up and the mixture is lukewarm (110-115ºF).
In a small bowl, stir yeast into 2 tablespoons warm water. Once the yeast is fully dissolved and has puffed a little, mix it into the oat mixture.
Add flour to oat mixture and stir to combine (use your hands here if you can’t hack it with a wooden spoon). Gently turn and knead just a little, until all the flour is incorporated.
Set the dough ball on the countertop, rinse and dry your mixing bowl, and lightly grease it with a dab of butter. Place the dough back into to the ball and cover it with a slightly damp kitchen towel. Set the bowl somewhere warm and the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
Grease one loaf pan. Remove the towel from the dough and gently deflate it. Roll up the dough so that it’s approximately loaf-shaped and nestle it into the prepared pan. Recover it with the towel and let it rise until the dough peeks over the top of the pan by about an inch.
While the bread rises, preheat the oven to 425ºF. Place pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Once that time is up, reduce the heat to 350ºF and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes, until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If you have an instant read thermometer, use it to check the bread. It’s done when the internal temperature reads approximately 200ºF.
Turn bread out of the pan and let it cool on a wire rack.
Banana Oat Bars
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 2 large bananas
- 4-5 large dates
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup melted coconut oil, plus more for greasing the pan
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup toasted and chopped pecans
Place rolled oats in a medium mixing bowl.
Combine bananas, dates, orange juice, coconut oil, maple syrup, nutmeg, and salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Add puree to oats and stir to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes.
While the oats soak, grease an 8×8 square baking pan with coconut oil and preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Once the oats have absorbed most of the liquid in the puree, stir in the toasted nuts and then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. Bars are done with they are nicely browned on top and have pulled away from the sides of the pan a little.
Remove from the oven and let them cool. Slice into bars and serve. They can be individually wrapped in parchment or plastic and frozen.
Makes 12 bars
Maple Oat Cake
- ¾ cup butter
- ¾ cup real maple syrup
- 4 beaten eggs
- 2 cups unsweetened applesauce
- 2 cups oat flour
- 2½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon allspice
Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 4 ounces butter
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- ¼ to ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter one 9 x 13 or two 8 x 8 cake pans.
Cream together butter and maple syrup. Add eggs and applesauce and beat until well combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, thoroughly combining after each addition. Pour cake batter into prepared pan(s).
For smaller pans, bake just 30 minutes. If using a single, larger pan, bake for 45-50 minutes.
Combine butter and cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat with a hand mixer. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat to incorporate. I prefer a very lightly sweetened frosting, so I use just ¼ cup powdered sugar in this frosting. For a more assertive sweetness, use ½ cup (or more!).
Spread evenly on top of the cooled cake(s).