Baking for Bookworms: Oatcakes from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander


When Claire first arrives in the 1740s (from the 1940s), it naturally takes her a while to adjust and figure out exactly where she is. When she is brought to the laird of clan MacKenzie, she is brought refreshment and questioned about her presence, but not before she does some snooping and finds out that it’s 1743:

“He had brought with him the tray of refreshments; mugs of ale and fresh oatcakes spread with honey. I nibbled sparingly at these; my stomach was churning too vigorously to allow for any appetite.”           98

Though this is one of the first mentions of oatcakes in the book, it certainly is not the last, and it’s no wonder given that oats were the most common grain available in Scotland at the time. Gabaldon uses kippers and oatcakes in the book to give the setting a distinctly Scottish flair–the setting is inextricably twined with the magic of the story.

I was surprised to find that Scottish oatcakes were more closely related to a cracker than a cake or a bread. I had thought they were sweeter, thicker, and quite different, but as they are, I find them to be very pleasing and quite simple to make. After reading and comparing many recipes, I created this one. You can make a more savory cake by omitting the sugar and you can also add spices.


Scottish Oatcakes

  • 2 cups steel cut oats (also called pinhead oats)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or shortening)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup hot water (depending on texture)

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a food processor (or you can do this in a bowl with a pastry cutter), put all dry ingredients and pulse until oats are the desired size– a mix of large and small pieces is okay.

Drizzle in the melted butter and the hot water until just combined.

Traditionally, the cakes are rolled with a rolling pin into a circle and then cut into triangles. I pressed my dough into a circle and cut it afterwards. You can also roll the dough into balls and press them flat, or cut the dough into any shape that pleases you.

Spread the oatcakes with honey, as in the book, or with anything that strikes your fancy like jam, cream cheese, or peanut butter. You can also use them to dip into stews or soups.

These oatcakes really surprised me–has there ever been a time where you heard or read about a certain food only to find it was quite different than what you had pictured? Let me know in the comments.

Baking for Bookworms: Pineapple Upside Down Cake from Dollface by Renee Rosen


Pineapple upside down cake tends to be a standout dessert no matter where you encounter it, but in Renee Rosen’s book Dollface, it’s a standout dish for reasons beyond its distinct and colorful appearance. Vera, the main character, leaves her childhood behind to enter the dangerous world of the 1920s flapper. It’s only a matter of time before she finds herself on a mobster’s arm (or two) and though she ends up married, there’s little that’s “settled” about it. The pineapple upside down cake is one of her forays into domesticity, and the cake’s demise just moments after this quote takes place, speaks to how perilous her world truly is. If food is one of the ways we create a home, than it can also be a sign of the security we lack:

“For my first stab at home entertaining, I turned to a recipe for upside-down pineapple cake in Mrs. Wilson’s Cook Book. I’d made a practice cake the day before that had fallen as soon as I’d removed it from the oven, so I’d started over, measuring the flour and baking soda from my newly purchased canisters. I prepared the shortening and with my new hand beater blended the ingredients into a fluffy, frothy batter. After it came out of the oven, I was so stinking proud of myself. The cake on my counter looked not too different from Mrs. Wilson’s photographs. I set it in the center of my buffet, carefully covering the top with a glass cake dome.”             181


Pineapple Upside Down cake is one of those lovely, simple cakes that can be made in one bowl, that don’t have to be frosted, and stay marvelously moist. In short, it’s one of my favorites.

recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can pineapple rings (you can use fresh pineapple of course, but I like the perfect roundness of the canned, not to mention it’s cheaper and easier)
  • 6-12 whiskey soaked maraschino cherries (the soaking part is optional. I found these in my liquor store and they were amazing. You could easily make them yourself–keep the juice for cocktails and soak for at least a couple hours, or you can use regular cherries. I like these cherries and I don’t normally like the regular maraschinos, but if you’re really against the little things, you can use whole pecans too)
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • grated rind of one lime, plus 1 tablespoon juice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Melt butter and pour in (or melt it in) either a cast iron skillet, a pie pan, or a deep cake pan. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and press in the pineapple rings. I typically start on the edges and work my way around before putting the ring in the middle. Put the cherries in the middle of the rings and between the rings as you like (I cut mine in half and stick them in so the cut side faces up).


Make the batter by first combining all the dry ingredients. Add in milk and vegetable oil and beat for one minute. Add vanilla, egg, and lime and beat until just combined.

Pour batter evenly over the fruit.

I love the way the pineapples make little crenellations like on a castle tower or rampart.

Bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and springy to the touch. Cool in the pan for five minutes before flipping onto a cake plate or platter.

This would have looked so pretty on my glass cake plate, but I have no clue what might have happened to it… Oh well.

I love that these cakes are so distinct–these and the french macarons are some of my favorites to look at. What’s your favorite dessert to gaze at (even if it’s not your favorite dessert to eat)?

Baking for Bookworms: Folded Peach Tart from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes


Frances Mayes’ memoir takes the reader on a culinary journey. So much so in fact, that she includes dozens of recipes within the book. Here is one of them, which celebrates two of my favorite things: dessert and fruit (and thus it should be no surprise that tarts are some of my favorite dishes)

The tart is only mentioned with the peach tart, so I will just include her commentary on the recipe:

“I learned to make folded pie crusts from a Paul Wolfert cookbook. On a cookie sheet, you spread the crust, pile the filling in the middle, then loosely fold the edges toward the center, forming a rustic tart with a spontaneous look. The peaches here–both the yellow and the white varieties–are so luscious that eating one should be a private act.”      137

The food in this book is inextricably intwined into the setting. Each informs the other and the food brings the magical place in Tuscany into reality.


Folded Peach Tart

First, you need a crust. You can use your favorite pie/tart crust for this recipe. This is my favorite sweet tart crust (from Williams & Sonoma’s The Weeknight Cook). The easiest way to make this crust is in a food processor, but you can also use a pastry blender or even your hands.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup butter (cold, cut in cubes)
  • 1/3 cup ice water

Combine flour, sugar, and butter until they resemble fine crumbs. Add water and blend until the mixture just comes together.


Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Press into 3 disks and wrap in plastic wrap. You can keep the other two in the fridge for a few days, or you can put them in the freezer for a month. Refrigerate the one you’re going to use for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

  • 3 peaches, cut into chunks or slices
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup toasted almonds (I totally spaced putting these in, but I would really recommend it, it would have added an insanely awesome amount of crunch)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, or chai spice (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Roll out your crust to slightly larger than pie size. Lay on a baking tray.

Combine the filling mixture of mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and spice. Mix peaches in and spoon into the center of the crust.

Fold the crust around the filling, leaving a four-five inch hole in the middle.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until just golden. Let cool completely and enjoy.

Peaches always make me think of summer. What’s your favorite summer fruit? Let me know in the comments.

Baking for Bookworms: Oatmeal Cookies from The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick


Cynthia Ozick’s book is a veritable treasure trove of unique Baking for Bookworms worthy dishes. It’s not that there’s such an amazing number of dishes mentioned, but the ones in the book are just such a far cry from eggs and toast.

Each stage of Ruth Puttermesser’s life, a different dish is important to her, or multiple dishes. When she’s young, she has a thing for fudge and other sweets. Later, she eats vegetable soup with her lover. The cookies come from one of the last definable phases of her life, when her niece comes to her from the USSR.

“They sipped their tea. Lidia produced the half-dozen oatmeal cookies she had been slipping into the pocket of her new leather coat–emptying or filling pockets seemed to be in the family line–at the very moment Varvara [Barbara] was firing her.

‘Foolish Varvara,” Lidia said. Nibbling her cookie, she looked almost childlike; her nostrils vibrated.”


Lidia, Ruth’s niece, is always taking from people, and never giving back. She is cynical, worldly, and out to get what she can before it can be taken from her. However, she’s also clearly looking for a kind of sustenance and warmth. There are aspects of her personality, like her optimism about new plans, that are “almost childlike.” Cookies bring that out in you.

Now I definitely don’t advocate stealing cookies from your former employer–especially when it’s much more delicious to make them yourself.


You can easily put add-ins into these cookies. I kept it simple. Mainly because when I was little, I never got oatmeal cookies with just the yummy oatmeal part. They always stuck raisins in. Of course, now I actually really like raisins. But we didn’t have any in the house, and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies aren’t really my thing. If they’re your thing, by all means toss them in at the end.

This recipe is adapted from Maureen Kirk’s. The cookies I baked turned out a little flat, so I’ve adapted the recipe for you. The pictures are from my test run, so this recipe should give you prettier, puffier cookies.

Maple Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups Scottish oatmeal (if you aren’t able to find this, you can use another 1 1/2 oats, I like the smoother texture it brings to the cookies, and it also has a great flavor)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (the maple flavor is subtle, but lovely)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of your preferred mix-in like chocolate chips, raisins, dried cranberry, etc. (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix together the oats, flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir around so everyone gets comfortable with each other.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, or until paler and fluffy.

Add in egg, vanilla, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Beat until combined. In two additions, add the flour mixture. Beat until just combined.

Line two baking trays with parchment on nonstick mats. Using two spoons, dollop tablespoon size balls down. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until browned on the edges. Let cookies begin cooling for a few minutes on the sheets and then transfer to a cookie rack.

These have a wonderful flavor and nice chewy texture.

Is there a food that reminds you of a particular period of your life? Croissants remind me of college. I’d have a coffee and croissant for breakfast on Friday mornings before class.

Baking for Bookworms: Shirley Temples from Charlotte au Chocolat by Charlotte Silver


Charlotte Silver’s memoir has an extremely close relationship to food because it is the memoir of her childhood spent at her mother’s restaurant in Boston. She was, in fact, named after the French dessert Charlotte au Chocolat. Her favorite drink as a child was a Shirley Temple, and while as an adult she lost her taste for this sweet beverage, I decided that I would try my hand at making this childhood favorite a little more grown up, using homemade grenadine syrup and mixing it with seltzer water (or club soda or soda water–whatever pleases you) instead of a lemon-lime soda to make it a little less cloying.


There are several mentions of the drink sprinkled throughout the memoir, but this is one of my favorites for its detail:

“As soon as I sat down at the table, the bartender made me my Shirley Temple. The martini glass teetered on the edge of the tray. When my waiter handed me the glass, the darker pink of the liquid splashed on the lighter pink of the tablecloth. Maraschino cherries rimmed the orange slice floating in the center and the grenadine tinted the ice cubes pink. I swallowed the beverage fast and waited of the waiter to come back to the table so I could ask for another one.”     81-82


I adapted my recipe for homemade grenadine from The Kitchn


  • 1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup sweetener of your choice (sugar, agave, honey)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla (optional, but it gives it a richer, subtler flavor)

Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan on the stove and turn to medium heat. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and let come to a boil. Boil for several minutes until the mixture thickens slightly. Store in a clean jar in the fridge (lasts about a month)

You can add this to just about any drink, but to make a Shirley Temple, add two-three tablespoons your choice of clear soda (I definitely recommend club soda for a more adult drink).

You can garnish with orange, cherries, or mint leaves.


I absolutely love this grenadine, and love the fact that it has no high-fructose corn syrup or dyes.

Baking for Bookworms: Cheese Soufflé from Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Souffle in a loaf pan. So wrong, and yet, so right.
Souffle in a loaf pan. So wrong, and yet, so right.

I’ve already talked a little about this book in my last post, but today we’re focused on food. I may or may not have said that I wouldn’t be cooking from non-fiction about food, but if I did so, I lied. I read a lot of cooking memoirs and they have really delightful recipe ideas in them, which I would be remiss not to share. But I won’t cook from cookbooks. That just seems like cheating.

Anyway, Margaret Powell writes about her experiences in service as first a kitchen maid and then a cook (in a feisty memoir that inspired Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs), so naturally she has a lot to say about not only what was prepared, but the way it was prepared. Her memoir treats food both as a job and chore and also as an experience, one associated with memory and even class struggles. Her adaptation of her cooking for different households (including, in the end, her own) was really interesting, and her story shows that flexibility and a willingness to learn are just as important in the kitchen as knowledge and experience.

She talks about soufflés as a more positive experience than some of the ones in the book with a household that inspired her to develop her skills.

“And it was so pleasant when Lady Downfall came down in the mornings; she’d say, ‘Good morning, Margaret. Have you any suggestions for lunch?’ in a pleasant tone of voice. Or, ‘Oh Margaret, as there’ll be such a large dinner party we’ll have a cold lunch today. That’ll give you more time for preparation tonight.’ Consideration, you see. A rare quality.

This gave me the incentive to cook as well and better than I had done. One of my specialties was soufflés. I used to make marvellous soufflés, I had a light hand in those days. Either savoury ones, or sweet ones.”                                                                                           (157)

This cheese soufflé is probably much simpler than the ones Margaret prepared, but that just makes it easier for the rest of us without professional culinary skills. This could be eaten for any meal. Paul and I had it for dinner, but you could easily make it for breakfast. It looks pretty impressive, so you could certainly serve it to company.

Serves four. Recipe adapted from Steamy Kitchen.

You’ll need:

  • 7 large eggs
  • 4 ounces sour cream
  • 1/3 cup milk (I think anything but skim would work–I used 1%)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground mustard
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (I used sriracha)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 ounce each grated sharp cheddar, muenster, and gruyere cheeses (you can really use any cheese blend you wish–but these are absolutely delicious)

Preheat oven to 350. Put a metal rimmed baking sheet into the oven (to catch drips).

In a bowl combine the eggs, sour cream, and milk. Beat with an electric beater until combined (about 30 seconds). Add spices and beat again.

Melt butter in round soufflé dish and wiggle it around until it covers the bottom and sides. If you don’t have a soufflé dish, don’t despair. You can do what I did and use a loaf pan. It won’t get the same dramatic height, but it’ll still taste delicious, and that’s what counts.

Mix the three cheeses together and press all the cheese into the bottom of the dish/pan. Gently pour in the egg mixture, until it’s about an inch from the top. If you’re using a loaf pan, there won’t be any more, but there will be if you use the correct dish. Put it in the oven now to prevent spilling on the way.

Put the dish on top of the tray and add the rest of the egg mixture (if needed). Bake 55-60 minutes until puffy and golden brown on top. Revel in its glory quickly, as it deflates in less than a minute. Serve with a salad or fruit.


Ever made a soufflé before? What was your most memorable experience? Let me know in the comments.


Chewy Dark Chocolate, Orange, and Ginger Cookies–A Golden Syrup Recipe

As I said last Friday, I’ve got to use my golden syrup up since I didn’t have a glass jar to sterilize. I thought I’d share the recipes I chose to use the stuff up. I’m using it as a sweetener in my tea and coffee of course, but I also made these cookies, and I thought you’d enjoy them too.

I’ve decided I need a really good kitchen scale because doing all the conversions is a real pain. Luckily, I’ve done all the work, and you get all the reward with these complex, flavorful cookies.

Chewy Dark Chocolate, Orange, and Ginger Cookies, makes about two dozen

adapted from Ruby Tandoh’s recipe for The Guardian

You’ll need:

  • 3 rounded tbs of golden syrup
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tbs canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix together the syrup, brown sugar, oil, vanilla, and milk in a bowl with a spatula until well combined. Add the salt, baking soda, and flour and then the ginger, chocolate chips and orange zest.

Spoon cookies onto a prepared cookie sheet (with either a silpat or parchment paper) with lots of space between the cookies. The cookies will spread a lot, so try to keep the cookies around the size of a tablespoon. Bake the cookies for twelve-fifteen minutes.

I’m sorry to say I don’t have any pictures of these cookies to share with you. I made mine way too big and the edges burned… but if you make yours nice and small, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

What’s your favorite cookie to bake around the holidays?

**Edit Note: So I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really love orange zest–pretty much in anything. I love orange juice and oranges and things that are meant to taste citrus-y but I’m not an orange zest lover. If I made these again, I’d definitely omit the orange. And unless you write odes to orange zest in your spare time, I suggest you do so as well.

Also, the cookies were a little oily, so I’ve changed the ingredients to reflect a slightly lower amount of oil.