February 25, 2015

Caught between the past and the present: bannock


Have you watched the television series Outlander? For some people it was too slow-moving, but I found it mesmerizing. It was so gorgeously filmed that every scene made me feel like I was looking into a painting, and so steeped in historic, breathtaking scenery that I started believing my living room was hanging with moss, and I could almost hear horses coming down the hall. I loved the two main characters, Clair and Jamie, and the combination of realistic historic facts combined with the sci fi element of time-travel. I never intended to read the books on which the series is based until I read a short essay written by a friend who is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She classified Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books as "historical/adventure/sci-fi/romance," under the general category of escape fiction, and said that she was hooked on the series. She called the books a guilty pleasure, and the fact that she, a serious reader and writer, had read and loved them, motivated me to check them out.

I was curious to see what the books on which the series was based were like, so in December, I downloaded Outlander, the first title in the series, to my kindle app. I had no idea what I was in for. When I read the first book I was surprised at how closely the series followed it, and how engrossed I became with the lives of the characters. Seriously, I never expected to read more than volume one, if that much — the books are LONG (one of them was more than 1400 pages!) — and there are eight of them (so far). They are not my usual style of reading, but once I got started I fell right down the rabbit hole, and all I can say is I'm now on book eight. Yes, book eight. I read obsessively, crave whiskey, and my dreams now take place in the 18th century. If you think I'm kidding, I assure you I'm not — at least not about the obsessive reading or the dreams. (No, I haven't started drinking.)  The weirdest thing about the dreams is that they don't involve the characters from the book, but they do take place in the time period I'm reading about.


If you're not familiar with the books or show, they begin with a woman who accidentally time-travels through a set of mystical standing stones in the Scottish Highlands. She travels from 1945 to 200 years into the past. It's a time-travel, historical fiction, romance (with a lot of sex) novel with a particularly intelligent, feisty, beautiful female heroine and an equally appealing (to put it mildly) male protagonist. The action is non-stop so there's never a good place to pause reading, which is why I hardly ever do. Consequently I have a long list of things to accomplish once I get through book eight.

Probably, had I been living in 18th century rural Scotland, I wouldn't have been a vegan or vegetarian — it would have been hard since country folk depended on wild game and home-raised animals for so much of their diet. I feel really lucky that I live in a time and place where I can choose what I eat. One of the non-animal foods I kept reading about with interest, though, was the bannock, which is a Scottish biscuit type of bread, often made with oats as well as wheat. The characters in the book were eating them day and night — pulling hot bannocks from the hearth and spreading them with jam and butter so often that I finally reached a point where I had to have a bannock. Had to, even though I had no idea what a bannock was beyond some sort of bread. Since I'm here in the 21st century, I googled bannock and came up with a lot of similar recipes, but because I can't seem to eat wheat without a lot of digestive distress, I needed a gluten-free recipe. I couldn't find one I liked, so I've made my own, based on the wheaty ones. And I used my nice, 21st century oven, rather than an open fire.


Before reading Outlander, I'd never had a traditional bannock or even heard of one, so I have no way of knowing whether mine tasted authentic or not, but it was wonderful. I ate it hot from the oven and it had the texture of fresh baked bread, with biscuity overtones. It was also very easy to make. I left a piece out over night and it was dry and nasty the next day, so it's probably best to consume the bannock fresh, or wrap it well to keep it soft. I made one large bannock, but you could make smaller ones and bake them a shorter time.

The first bannock I made I cut into pieces, but the next one we just pulled apart into delicious chunks — much more authentic, I think. Pull yours apart, aye? I made my bannock in 30 minutes, start to finish.

Don't you want to just rip off a piece and take a bite?

Bannocks (gluten-free version) - one 6-inch bannock
(Updated with flax to be slightly lighter.)
  • 1 cup gf flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)*
  • 1/2 cup oat flour (plus more as needed) (gluten-free if needed)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon water
  • oil for the pan
  1. Oil an 8-inch cast iron griddle with the oil
  2. Place the gf flour, oat flour, baking powder, salt, flax in a bowl and whisk until combined.
  3. Add vinegar to measuring cup, then fill to 1/2 cup mark with water. 
  4. Add liquid to dry and beat with a spoon until a very soft dough is formed.
  5. Add additional oat flour, a tablespoon at a time, if needed, to form a workable dough. Then use your fingers to gingerly work the oat flour into the dough until it's pliable. You will probably need to add additional oat flour to get a soft but easily handled dough. It will only take a few minutes to accomplish this.
  6. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper or a lightly floured wood board and pat into a round approximately 6-inches in diameter and 3/4-inces thick. If desired, you can also make two or three smaller rounds instead of just one.
  7. Heat an 8-inch cast iron griddle until a few drops of water sprinkled on the surface dance and evaporate. Add the oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Carefully place the bannock(s) on the griddle and place in the hot oven.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes, then flip the bannock over and bake about five minutes longer or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped. (Smaller bannocks will take less time.)
  9. Enjoy either plain or with margarine and jam. Or, split and use for a burger bun!

*If you're not gluten-free, just use wheat flour instead of gf flour mix.

24 comments:

  1. I absolutely love Outlander, it was indeed gorgeously filmed, romantic, and the show made me want to go visit Scotland…it’s really a lovely show! I can’t wait for the show to return! This is so random! ;)

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    1. I want to visit Scotland again! I want to see the Highlands where Jamie and Claire lived. BTW, I must have accidentally published this before it was finished! I didn't even realize it until I saw your comment in my email. I wonder how much of it got shared before I was ready! Oh well.

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  2. These look so yummy! I love oaty biscuity breads like this. I read about half of that book before it seriously angered me. Trying not to spoil anything for your readers, I'll just say that the part with the belt made me want throw the book out the window. I didn't, because it was an ebook and I didn't want to lose my Kindle! :D

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    1. I just made it again tonight and it WAS yummy. I can't believe how yummy considering how few ingredients there are. I love the texture — just right soft and chewy. As for the books, they are definitely gritty and full of detail, and sometimes I wanted to strangle the author, but I can hardly put them down. Sometimes I have to not read too closely, but mostly I'm all in.

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  3. I've never seen the show but it sounds nice. Bannock is also something that looks delicious.
    Can you toast it to have it taste better the next day? It looks like it'd be great with butter and jam.

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    1. I just made it again tonight, and there weren't any leftovers so I don't know about toasting. Next time I make it I'm going to wrap it up some leftovers so they don't dry out.

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  4. I'm not familiar with the show or the books but after reading your post, it's going to be the next book I read. :-) I wonder if you can freeze the leftover bannock like you would do for bread?

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    1. I wrapped last night's leftover in plastic wrap and it was delicious this morning.

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  5. Wow, what a review! I first heard of the Outlander series from my mom who is reading the books and loves them. I don't think she even knows about the show, and I didn't either until from you. I think I'll hold off reading them until I'm done homeschooling, ha ha! They are long for sure!

    I can totally relate to wanting to eat what you see or read about over and over. When I was a kid and watched Bugs Bunny, I loved my whole carrots and ate them right down to the rooty nub. When I read Invisible Man by Ellison, I had to have a hot yam, and I hated yams! Ah, the influence of fiction.

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    1. Your comment about the carrots and yams made me laugh. Maybe I should show my grandkids some bugs bunny cartoons!

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  6. I never heard of bannock, but the recipe seems easy. Maybe I'll try it someday =)

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    1. I had never heard of it either, but I've made the recipe three times and I'm ready to try some variations!

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  7. This looks so good! And I have not watched Outlander, but now I want to. It sounds like the kind of show Dave and I would bot really dig.

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    1. I thought the series was really well done - visually beautiful and charismatic actors.

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  8. This looks like a beautiful bannock, and gluten-free. Will try some time.

    Having lived in the UK for 8 years, would like to also suggest you try a variation and make it a Selkirk Bannock. Here is the non-veganized recipe, which is easily adaptable. We love Selkirk bannock and hope you will, as well. http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1129665/selkirk-bannock Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for the link. I'll check out the Selkirk bannock now.

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  9. I've never even heard of Outlander - clearly I've been missing out! I've never had a bannock, but I'm rather partial to a farl for those carby griddle cake days!

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    1. A farl? I guess I'll have to go back to Google to see what it is? :)

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  10. I had never heard of Outlander before I started reading this post. Then I went to do a search and decided to watch it. But I watched the wrong Outlander. What I watched was a movie, The Outlander, which was totally different. Then today, as I was coming back to post a comment, I realised you were talking about a tv series! doh! lol. Well, I'm going to start watching the tv series now. I love the Scottish sceneries, I had the chance to live in Scotland for a very short while on and off when Kevin was working in Dundee. It's a very beautiful place, so peaceful. I am sure I'll love the series more for the sceneries and Scotland than anything else. As for the bannock, I love these types of bread, sort of in between a bread and a scone. I might try this out in a skillet.

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    1. Definitely a TV show. I've finished reading the books now, and more than with any other books I've read, I miss the characters! I heard there will be a 9th book and I can't wait.

      Did you know there's a blogger who lives in Dundee? Her blog is called Tinned Tomatoes. She's vegetarian, her husband is vegan and they have a little boy who is very food savvy.

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    2. I didn't know about this blog. I am going to check it out, I'm sure it will bring back some good memories of Dundee. Thanks :)

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  11. I have tried this recipe several times,and none of the results look anything like your pictures,it doesn't rise much,and it doesn't get that round shape.I must be doing something wrong :(

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    1. As soon as I saw your note, I went to the kitchen and made the recipe again. I really want my recipes to work when people try them! It did work, but I found I had to use the whole amount of oat flour this time plus a little more, and changed the recipe to reflect that. Since all flours are a bit different, it's hard to give an exact measurement, especially for a coarser bread like the bannock. Make sure to add just enough oat flour to get a dough similar to bread dough, though a bit softer. Form the round shape before it's baked, and keep it about 3/4" to 1" in height. It won't rise a great deal, and is meant to be pretty flat on top. One side will crack a bit and the other will be smooth. I'm so sorry you had trouble with the recipe and wish I could make some with you to figure out what went wrong! Were you using a GF flour blend?

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  12. I used a flour that isn't 100% GL,but contains very little,I use all the oat flour,but maybe I should try reducing that,also I grind the flax in a mortar as I have not found flax meal,so it's not exactly meal.I end up with a very small dough,so not much to work on,it ends up small,flat and unevenly I'll try again with a GF blend.

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