Flapjacks always go wrong! My flapjacks don’t work! Why do my flapjacks fall apart? You don’t have to look too far to find lots of tales of flapjacks gone wrong. Too chewy, too crunchy, but most often, just crumbly and collapsing into a super-sticky granola. I’ve had flapjack problems before, but put this down to errors on my part. After all, flapjacks are easy – aren’t they? And Nigella Lawson’s flapjack recipe in ‘Domestic Goddess’ is notorious for causing problems (there was a misprint in early versions of the book). So when I made some peanut butter flapjacks that were a little too willing to fall apart, I decided I was going to solve this problem once and for all. What makes flapjacks so maddeningly inconsistent?
Pretty much all flapjack recipes follow the same simple pattern: melt butter with sugar and syrup, and stir in the oats. Then bake to toast the oats slightly, caramelise the sugar a bit and dry everything out enough to be sliceable.They are such a simple idea, where could it possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out, quite a few things create pitfalls for the flapjack maker. The details of ingredients and method make all the difference between a chewy slice, a crunchy biscuit – or a collapsed pile of sticky oats.
After a bit of a marathon flapjack-making session last week, plus a bit of internet searching for others who had problems, here are my tips for successful flapjacks:
- You need the right oats – porridge oats. This is not the place for high quality, chunky, jumbo rolled oats. Those will make great granola, but rubbish flapjacks. You want Quaker oats, or Scotts – porridge oats that are rolled fairly thin. This helps them to absorb the syrup mixture, and holds the whole thing together. The jumbo oats just get coated, and the excess tends to boil over (see photo below). Instant cook/quick cook oats are a little too dusty, but can be useful to adjust the texture if there’s too much syrup.
- Melt the sugar completely. If you’re using sugar in addition to syrup, make sure it dissolves completely when you heat it, or you will end up with gritty sugar granules in the final result, and a more crumbly texture. The easiest way to do this is just to heat quite slowly, over a fairly low heat, and stir every now and then. To check if it has dissolved, use the trick advised in jam making: check the back of the spoon or spatula you are stirring with to make sure the liquid coating it is totally smooth and has no granules left.
- Adjust the oats/liquid before baking. As oats vary so much, even following the recipe carefully you can still end up with a mismatch between the volume of syrup and the oats needed to absorb it. So stop and look at the mixture once the oats have been stirred in. Is there any syrup pooled at the bottom of the pan? If so, add a few more oats, or leave it for five minutes to let the oats soak up some of the excess, and check again. Are there any dry patches of oats, or do they look thinly covered? You want everything to be coated and slightly glossy. If it doesn’t look right, throw in a bit more syrup.
- Match the baking method to the type of flapjack you want. This tip comes via Felicity Cloake’s Guardian column. Some think of flapjacks as crunchy squares – something like biscuits in slice form. Others prefer a chewy and caramelised version. You can produce both, according to this blog, with the same recipe, by baking at different temperatures for different times. High temperatures will produce a crunchier version, lower temperatures a chewier one.
- Bake until browned. Ovens vary, oats vary, so you need to be fairly flexible with the baking time. Adjust the temperature as above, and then bake until the top is a little browned. The oats taste better and have a greater dimension of flavour if they get a little colour.
Hopefully following these five tips will help you to make perfect flapjacks. And once you have a recipe that works for you, stick with the same brand of oats in future to ensure it will be consistent.