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No matter how long it’s been since your official days as a student, there’s something about the arrival of fall that makes us all transition into “back-to-school” mode. Whether that means organizing your kitchen, shopping for new pens, or making an effort to wake up a little earlier each day, this time of year invites us to bring just a little more energy and organization to our routines.
As it just so happens, I am a student—a part-time student—and I have reluctantly been one for far more years than I like to think about. I’ve been in grad school for so long that I can’t help but orient my life around the semester season, and, whether I like it or not, September is a month that is loaded with meaning: Each year at this time, I leave behind the freedom of working for myself full-time, and I return to a tug-of-war between professional life and student life once again.
There are small consolations that make the transition easier, and one of them is the excitement I get each year about making my own back-to-school snacks. By the end of each semester, it’s very likely that I’ll be relying on commercial snack bars (and incalculable amounts of coffee) to carry me through evening classes and long, disgruntled stretches in the library. September, though, is a time for optimism and good faith, and for me, this means committing to snacks that are that much tastier and more meaningful because they’re homemade.
These oatcakes have been my favorite for the last few years. For a very long time homemade fruit and nut bars or snack balls—the kind made by blitzing dates and almonds or walnuts in the food processor—were my go-to, and I still make those, but even they get a little monotonous after a while. I started craving something a little starchier, something that resembled a muffin or a cookie more than a handful of trail mix. (And when you’ve been memorizing medical terminology for 3 days straight, it’s pretty reasonable, I think, to crave a cookie, or a muffin.)
The thing about muffins, though, is that they’re not always very filling, especially if I don’t pack them full of dried fruit or oat bran or other healthful sundries. Ditto for cookies. Oatcakes are a perfect compromise, a cross between a soft, comforting baked good and a wholesome bar or whole grain snack. The texture owes much more to whole rolled oats than to flour, and it’s also studded with dried fruit and chopped nuts (in this case, dates and walnuts, though you can definitely vary these based on what you have and like).
I’ve relied on these textured, filling little cakes both as reliable snacks and also, in a pinch, as portable breakfasts (especially if I pack them up with one of those convenient squeeze packs of nut butter for a schmear, and maybe a piece of fruit). They are versatile, dense, and hearty—a snack or mini-meal that has real staying power. And while you make them, your home will fill up with all of the familiar, cinnamony scent of autumn baking—which may make the transition back to a new semester (or a new season) feel pretty sweet.
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 1/3 all-purpose, spelt, or whole wheat pastry flour (use gluten-free certified oat flour to make the recipe gluten-free)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 2/3 cup pitted and chopped medjool dates
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or canola oil, or safflower oil, or melted coconut oil)
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
What was the after-school snack you dreamed of as a kid? Tell us in the comments.