Traditional British Flapjacks the way you know and love them! Made with oats, butter, sugar and golden syrup, these oat bars are baked until lightly browned with a deliciously deep caramelized flavor!
I grew up enjoying flapjacks in England and have sampled many a flapjack from many a bakery. Whether you’ve had them many times before or are a newcomer, get ready to fall in love with one of the UK’s most treasured and traditional baked treats!
What are Flapjacks?
While the term flapjack referred to a pancake in the United States and Canada in years gone by, it originated in the UK where it refers to a baked bar prepared from oats, butter, golden syrup and sugar that is formed into a large, flat rectangle, baked and then cut into small rectangles.
Dating back to at least the early 1600’s in England, the term “flap” refers to a flat cake while “Jack” refers to an ordinary, or common, man (like “Joe” today in the U.S.). In other words, this centuries-old pastry was of the common folk; unadorned with simple, accessible ingredients.
One of the earliest mentions of the flapjack in print appears in Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” (1607) where the fisherman says to Pericles:
“Come, thou shalt go home, and we’ll have flesh for holidays, fish for fasting-days, and moreo’er puddings and flap-jacks, and thou shalt be welcome.”
While historically a flapjack could refer to a number of simple flat cakes, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that it’s association as a baked oat bar became cemented.
The flapjack is the ancestor of the American granola bar and in other countries is also called a cereal bar, muesli bar or simply a “slice” (e.g. Australia). Traditional flapjacks are very basic and are made with just a few simple ingredients without pomp and circumstance.
Below is a bakery we stopped at in the Lake District where the flapjacks were made after traditional fashion – simple and delicious.
Flapjacks can still be found in bakeries all around the England.
Alternatively, flapjacks can be made with any flavor combination your heart desires, including dried fruits, nuts, toffee pieces, and even spread with jam in the center or topped with icing or chocolate ganache. You can find bakeries throughout the UK that offer these variations.
One of the best selections I’ve seen was last year at the Royal Cornwall Show where the Devon-made Flapjackery display made my mouth water. Of course we couldn’t resist buying several varieties to enjoy while watching the air show, the parachutists, the “massed parade of hounds” (so fun!) and other demonstrations, and while admiring the finest farm animals in the south of England.
Are Flapjacks Chewy or Crunchy?
Yes :) You’ll find them both ways and it purely comes down to personal preference. The texture can be easily adjusted according to your taste: Make them thicker for a chewier consistency or make them thinner and bake them for a bit longer for a crunchier consistency. I like and make them both ways.
What Kind of Oats Do I Need?
You need quick cooking rolled oats. NOT “instant oats.” And NOT old-fashioned rolled oats. Quick cooking and instant oats are both intended to cook quickly, but instant oats are rolled thinner and cook even faster. They are similar but their cooking times vary as well as their texture. For the right texture use quick cooking rolled oats to make traditional British flapjacks.
What is Demerara Sugar?
Demerara sugar is a raw cane sugar with large, sparkling crystals and a golden brown color with a caramel-like flavor. Demerara is the traditional sugar of choice for making flapjacks both because of its flavor and because it retains some of its crunch even after it’s baked.
Is There a Substitute for Demerara Sugar?
If you can’t find demerara sugar you can substitute turbinado sugar as it also has a coarse texture and subtle caramel flavor.
What is Golden Syrup?
A kitchen staple in Great Britain for over a century, Golden Syrup (also known as light treacle) is a thick amber-colored inverted sugar syrup known for its deep caramelized, buttery flavor. Outside the UK you can find it in some well-stocked grocery stores but in many areas can only be accessed online.
While you can buy it online we highly recommend making your own. It’s vastly cheaper and is fun and super easy to make. So don’t substitute this vital ingredient! Check out our recipe for Homemade Golden Syrup!
How to Make British Flapjacks
The process is super simple:
- Melt the butter, sugar, golden syrup and salt in a saucepan.
- Pour the mixture over the oats.
- Spread the oats onto a lined baking sheet according to desired thickness, shape into a rectangle or square, and pat it down with a spatula or similar.
- Bake, let cool and then slice into rectangles or desired shape.
Thickness is a matter of personal preference. Make them thicker if you prefer them chewy, make them thinner if you prefer them crunchy. I like them both ways but lean more towards thinner/crunchier. Letting the flapjacks bake longer will also result in deeper caramelization and crunch.
Note: Flapjacks are naturally gluten-free, just be sure to use gluten-free oats.
Let’s get started!
Preheat the oven to 325 F. **For best results we recommend turning the fan off if you have that option.
In a saucepan heat the butter, sugar, salt and golden syrup until the butter is melted and the sugar is mostly but not entirely dissolved. (The demerara sugar crystals add a nice crunch to the finished flapjacks.)
Place the oats in a large mixing bowl and pour the hot sugar mixture onto the oats. Stir to thoroughly coat the oats.
Spread the oat mixture out onto a lined baking sheet.
Spread the oat mixture according to desired thickness, forming it into a rectangle or square, and pat it down with a spatula or similar, forming . Bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned. The middle should be springy but not extremely soft.
Let cool 10 minutes then cut into rectangles (or desired shape).
Transfer the flapjacks to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
For more authentic British treats be sure to try our:
- Sticky Toffee Pudding
- Eccles Cakes
- Spotted Dick
- Bara Brith
- Mincemeat Pies
- Scottish Shortbread
- Yorkshire Parkin
- Victoria Sponge Cake
- Millionaire’s Shortbread
- Yorkshire Pudding
Traditional British Flapjacks
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup demerara sugar (highly recommend for its larger crystals that add crunch to the texture, but can substitute turbinado sugar instead. In a pinch you can use light brown sugar.)
- 1/2 cup golden syrup
- OR Homemade Golden Syrup (click link for recipe - it's EASY and CHEAPER!)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups quick cooking rolled oats (NOT instant oats or old-fashioned rolled oats)
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. *For best results we recommend turning the fan off if you have that option.
- In a saucepan heat the butter, sugar, salt and golden syrup until the butter is melted and the sugar is mostly but not entirely dissolved. (The demerara sugar crystals add a nice crunch to the finished flapjacks.) Place the oats in a large mixing bowl and pour the hot sugar mixture onto the oats. Stir to thoroughly coat the oats. Spread the oat mixture out onto a lined baking sheet according to desired thickness, forming it into a rectangle or square, and pat it down with a spatula or similar. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned. The middle should be springy but not extremely soft. Let cool 10 minutes then cut into rectangles (or desired shape) and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.Note: Number of servings depends on what size you cut the flapjacks.