How to make the perfect flapjacks, Irish mammy-style
Vanessa Greenwood: Plenty of flour and not too much syrup are the keys to success
Flapjacks – the simple way. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography
I am not a chef, but I can pinpoint the day I became a cook. I was four years old standing on yellow vinyl tiles in our 1970s kitchen with painted orange walls. I was making flapjacks. With a sky blue plastic bowl in an arm lock, I wielded a spatula through the oat flakes. My senses were filled with the heady aroma of warm golden syrup. I was hooked.
It was the beginning of an obsession with cooking. I made those flapjacks through my teens, until I realised my childhood recipe was slightly unusual (containing a mixture of cornflakes and oats).
I have always been surprised how few recipe books contain a basic flapjack recipe – the plain kind an Irish Mammy makes. Mea culpa! I have published fruity flapjacks, nutty ones and even free-from versions, but never a straight-up, unadulterated flapjack recipe.
My sister has a wonderful aptitude for consigning recipes to memory. This is her simple flapjack recipe that I scribble down after I call her for the hundredth time, promising I am definitely going to keep this one in a safe place. There are flapjack recipes scrawled on the back of envelopes all over my house. When she texts me “I can’t talk right now”, I know she is on a conference call and those things go on for hours. So I guesstimate the ingredients, using the judge-by-eye method.
No one wants to start baking when faced with more than half a pound of butter staring at them straight on. So, I usually start with 200g of butter, a little less flour and sugar, up the oats, and not too much golden syrup.
I have a few noteworthy secrets that create my ultimate flapjack. I think flapjacks need a little flour, well quite a bit actually, otherwise the biscuit is too greasy. I am a stickler for how much golden syrup is, or is not, required. Professionals tend to adjust this recipe, increasing the quantity of golden syrup to create a more “saleable” uniform square (with a distinctly less crumbly texture). For me, too much golden syrup makes them hard to bite through and dunking is simply not an option with flapjacks. Golden syrup can also make flapjacks sickly sweet.
Cooking times and oven temperature are important. Once the flapjacks start to colour around the edges, only minutes remain before the entire surface is golden. It is crucial to reduce the oven temperature after this golden colour spreads, so the edges don’t burn while the centre continues to cook through.
Squares (or fingers if you choose) should be marked out while the flapjacks are still warm and left inside the tin to cool. It will be a relief to my sister once this recipe is immortalised online. I can finally start recycling all those envelopes.
250g medium porridge oats
150g plain flour
150g caster sugar
3tbsp golden syrup (about 45ml)
½tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180°C fan.
Place the porridge oats and flour in a large wide mixing bowl. Stir to combine.
Heat the butter and sugar in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir without allowing the mixture to boil. Once the sugar is fully dissolved and blended with the butter to give a smooth consistency, stir in the golden syrup and vanilla extract.
In two batches, pour the hot liquid over the dry mixture, stirring well between additions. The oats should be fully coated and moistened.
Transfer the mixture into a square baking tin (approx 20cm x 20cm) and bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 20 minutes by which time the edges should be starting to turn golden. Continue to bake at this temperature for a further 5 minutes or until the centre top turns golden (keep an eye on the edges and if they start to darken too much, reduce the oven temperature straight away),
Once golden, reduce the oven temperature to 160°C fan and bake for another 5 minutes.
Once baked, remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes, then use a serrated knife to mark out nine squares, before gently slicing through the markings and leave the flapjacks in the tin to cool completely until firm.
For a larger rectangular tin, either increase the ingredients by 1½ times, or shape mixture into a square, then barrier with parchment paper and a heavy object inside the tin.