It’s a sunny Sunday in February and I’ve just returned from a gentle walk with coffee-in-hand. It feels like an early spring day, with the sun balmy upon my face and my coat collar undone. I don’t want to get ahead of myself; it’s still winter and I know that next week the grey skies and freezing temperatures could be back with renewed vigour, but for now I’m going to indulge in fantasies about the summer time. It’s been hard to blog when the light is so dull and the days are repetitive. I study German every day and the rigid form of grammar and school-work contrasts sharply with the creative rhythm of baking and blogging. January was all about hunkering down and surviving the dark with a little morale intact, the luxury of writing was suspended in favour of wrapping up warm.
For February I have chosen to celebrate the velvety scents of vanilla – our stalwart baking spice. Vanilla, of course, makes an appearance in just about every sweet baking recipe there is but I think it’s high time it enjoyed some time in the spotlight. Flapjack is by no means sophisticated, but I am not a sophisticated baker. Flapjack should be sticky, sweet and chewy. It should be almost fudgy in texture and moreish in crumb. I’ve made many attempts over the years to reduce the sugar content, trying various recipes and wasting many a bottle of maple syrup on batch after batch of soggy, oaten disasters. I’m sure there are ways to create ‘healthy’ flapjack but I myself have never discovered one. Instead I have concluded that for flapjack to be flapjack one must embrace sugar, butter and syrup.
When making a traditional flapjack I would choose to use Golden Syrup. It has the unctuous consistency that only super-refined sugar products can have and a flavour that one can aptly describe as ‘golden’. However, vanilla is a delicate spice and in need of a gentler syrupy counterpart. I chose honey for its floral undertones and amber glow. Before baking my flapjacks, I used a vanilla pod to make a batch of vanilla-infused honey. I’m obsessed with flapjack consistency and believe the fat and sugar should hold the oats together, allowing the batch to cut cleanly. For textural reassurance and creaminess, I added several tablespoons of cashew butter to my warm syrup-butter mix. The addition of cashew butter and sunflower seeds allows me to indulge in the fantasy that, somewhere along the line, these sticky little oat squares might hold some nutritional value.
Honey Vanilla Flapjack
400g instant oats (Gluten free if necessary)
200g light brown sugar
200g clear honey
50g cashew butter
50g sunflower seeds
1 vanilla pod
1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 160°C Fan/180°C/350°F.
- Line a square cake tin (around 20cm – 30cm) with baking paper
- Add the honey to a saucepan and heat very gently.
- Split the vanilla pod and add both the seeds and the empty pod to the honey.
- Add the cashew butter, sugar, butter and vanilla extract to the pan and heat everything gently until incorporated and pourable. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
- Remove the vanilla pod and discard.
- In a separate bowl mix the oats and the sunflower seeds.
- Add the honey-butter mixture to the oats and stir until all of the dry ingredients are coated.
- Pour the mixture into the pre-prepared tin and distribute evenly, flattening with a spatula.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until the edges begin to turn slightly golden.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into square.
- Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
It is worth making a pot of this beautiful, velvet-scented honey to keep in the fridge for drizzling on porridge, pancakes and yoghurt. I approach vanilla as if it is a perfume and must be built in layers to create real depth and long-lasting flavour. This means infusing syrups and batters with vanilla pods as well as adding vanilla extract.
2 vanilla pods
- Add the honey to a pan and warm gently on a low heat.
- Split the vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife
- Add the seeds and the empty pod to the honey and allow to warm gently for 5-10 minutes. Do not allow the honey to become too hot or to bubble.
- Discard the vanilla pods and pour the honey into a sterilised jar.
- Keep in the fridge for up to one month.