Oatmeal Alchemy


Before a formula becomes a recipe, it is a theory to be tested, scrawled down in smeary shorthand and annotated with layers of rushed commentary. Flax whole, amt. flex. Dough too dry (very thirsty). More salt on, not in. Increase by 1/3 for full sheet. Rosemary not optional. Here is a recipe so marked up, I don’t even know where I began.

I do know that I first became curious about baking with oats when I came across a recipe for Scottish oat farls in Rebecca Wood’s classic The Splendid Grain, a fantastic book I’ve cited before on this blog in connection to millet. Turned out, I really loved my oats crunchy and unsweet. I also wanted a whole ovenful of them at a time, as well as a simple recipe with few ingredients and no other grains in addition to the oats. (I am a cautious consumer of grains, preferring to burden my system with just one kind at a time if there’s a choice in the matter.) The key to these is grinding up some jumbo rolled oats into coarse meal. I imagine that so-called instant oats, which are rolled into much finer flakes, may work just as well—and straight from the bag, too. Interestingly, I haven’t liked the results with oat flour, which lacks texture and is invariably harsh-flavored from the rapid oxidation of its abundant oils.

Although it may seem that simple crackers just scream to be improvised upon (poppy seeds! sesame! caraway! fennel!), I wound up loving the synergy between oats, flax, rosemary, and olive oil so much that I now re-create this combination whenever I make these—which is often. They are my go-to for Anker’s school lunches, a perfect foil for cheese, and simply the most nourishing snack item I know of that packs well and lasts for days without refrigeration. In Ayurveda terms—these remarkable crackers are the rare cold, dry food that does not aggravate the problems with coldness and dryness typical of the vata dosha. Now you know: on the evenings before a travel day, I’m likely to be found in the kitchen, making a double batch of these.


200g/400ml jumbo rolled oats
half-teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole flax seeds
half-tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
50g/60ml olive oil
200g/200ml hot water
mid-sized coarse salt


Use a blender or food processor to grind the oats into a meal. Work in batches if necessary. Mix thoroughly with the regular salt, flax seeds (I like the golden kind), rosemary, and olive oil. Add the boiling water, mix thoroughly, and leave to rest for at least a half-hour—or even for a day or more, transferring the mixture to the refrigerator once it has cooled. When you’re ready to bake these, preheat your oven to around 170°, deploying the fan function if available. Roll out on a sheet of parchment and use a pizza wheel or large plastic bench knife to score into your desired shapes. After rolling and cutting sprinkle the tops with the coarse salt to taste. (If the salt is too coarse, use a mortar and pestle to crush it lightly into mid-sized crystals.) Use your rolling pin to lightly press the salt into the dough. Bake for 20 minutes or more (much more if you’re not using the fan), until all the crackers are brittle but still quite pale. Cool thoroughly and store in an airtight container.