Stottie cakes

banner

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For

    2

    large

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

A Stottie cake or Stotty is a large, round, dense white loaf that was traditionally about 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter and baked on both the top and bottom sides. It is a working-class staple, particularly in Newcastle as my friend Emma noted. She never encountered them until she moved to Newcastle in the 1980s.

The first published reference to a Stottie cake dates from the Daily Mirror of 9 December 1949. The article notes that there is no recipe and, ‘To make it you simply roll a piece of dough out to about the thickness of one inch, prick it all over with a fork and put it in the bottom of a hot oven.’ Today some bakers puncture the dough with their thumb to create a dimple, while others still prick the Stotties all over with a fork before baking.

To ‘stot’ means to bounce in Scottish and in Geordie, which is the vernacular of the Geordies – people from the Tyneside area of north-east England. Some sources claim the bake was tested by bouncing the bread on the floor, which could explain its name, but it could also mean that the bread is so heavy it would ‘stot’ or bounce if you threw it on the floor. Others explain that the Stottie was used to test the oven temperature, although why would you bake them in quantity to sell if the Stottie’s sole use was to test the oven?

The bread’s characteristics also match those of ‘oven bottom breads’, the flat, dense bread buns that are baked on the bottom of the bread oven with the left-over dough. However, those were hardly ever baked on both sides as Stotties are. From testing the bake, it is my belief that Stotties are a type of griddle cake or flatbread, made with the soft wheat available in England and ale barm, and baked on a very hot surface that would have created a heavy, dough-like bread with a pale, barely baked rim. It could have been baked in a skillet or on a griddle and turned mid-baking, just like a Scottish Bannock or an English muffin. Or it may have been baked on the bottom of the hot baking oven like oven bottom breads or Indian naan, then turned over and left to bake on the other side in the falling oven temperature.

Highstreet bakery Greggs, which started as a small Tyneside bakery in 1939, has been baking Stotties in the region for nearly 50 years. That isn’t surprising, since the company is headquartered in North Tyneside, near Newcastle where the Stottie originated. In 2010, ‘Ham and Pease pudding Stotties’, which are the traditional sandwich combination, were briefly taken out of the shop window, causing outrage from local people. Pease pudding is a spread made of cooked peas – the English answer to hummus (see my book, Pride and Pudding, for a pease pudding recipe).

The Stottie cake was immortalised by a local newspaper photographer who photographed Muhammad Ali devouring a dinnerplate-sized Stottie cake topped with seeds and stuffed with lettuce, onion, cucumber and tomato during a visit to Newcastle in 1977. To create the most authentic possible recipe for a Stottie (as there are none in my old cookbooks), I enlisted my friend Emma. She showed the pictures of my testbakes to her Geordie friends and in particular to a woman who had Muhammad Ali over for afternoon tea when he visited in that year he was photographed with the Stottie. It turns out that the pale-rimmed, dimpled Stottie is what most people remember. The dinnerplate-sized Stottie is more modern and baked for longer, less dense and usually sold halved or quartered as a sandwich.

This recipe makes two large Stotties that serve two or four, or four individual ones. The Stottie’s dense nature makes it a perfect partner to a bowl of soup. They also make perfect sandwiches and the next day they are great halved, toasted and topped with scrambled or poached eggs.

Ingredients

  • 15 g (½ oz) dried yeast
  • 350 ml (12 fl oz) lukewarm water
  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 5 g ( oz) raw (demerara) sugar or white sugar
  • 60 g ( oz) lard or soft butter, in chunks
  • 10 g (¼ oz) fine sea salt
  • flour, for dusting

Method

Add the yeast to the lukewarm water and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready for use. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and put the lard or butter on top. Pour in half of the yeast mixture and start kneading. When the water and lard or butter are completely absorbed, add the rest of the yeast mixture. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then let it stand for a few minutes (at this point the dough will be very wet). Add the salt and then knead for 10 minutes, scraping the dough off the dough hook and side of the bowl if needed, until the dough has come together in a smooth and elastic dough that is neither too dry nor terribly wet.

Cover the dough and set aside for 1 hour until it has doubled in quantity. Meanwhile, line a baking tray with baking paper and dust with flour.

Briefly knead the dough and divide it into two or four equal pieces. Take a piece of dough and lightly flatten it on your work surface, then pull the outer parts in like a purse and gently squeeze together like a dumpling so that the dough can no longer split open while rising. Turn the dough over so the squeezed ends are on the bottom. It should be nice and smooth on top – if not, flatten it and start again. Place the buns on the tray or board, dust with flour and press them down to a flat disc with a thickness of 1 cm (½ inch).

Cover the tray and buns with a light cotton cloth and rest for just 10 minutes while you preheat the oven to 250°C (500°F). Pop a well-greased baking tray, baking stone or griddle into the oven to heat up.

Carefully transfer the Stotties onto the hot baking tray – you might have to bake them in batches. Push your finger into the centre of each Stottie until you feel the bottom, or prick all over with a fork. Bake for 3 minutes, then turn with a spatula and bake for another 10-12 minutes until the middle of the Stotties are golden brown. If you’re making large Stotties, bake them for 20 minutes on each side.