It's not a pancake
In the United States, pancakes and flapjacks are essentially synonymous, but in the United Kingdom, asking for flapjacks in a restaurant will get you a blank stare. That's because there is a difference between flapjacks and pancakes on the other sides of the ocean. In England, Ireland, and even Australia and New Zealand, a flapjack is an oat bar, and these flapjacks are basically the polar opposite of a fluffy, light pancake. British flapjacks have a dense, almost cookie-like texture. Plus, they're baked, not cooked on a griddle or flipped in a skillet. But even though they're not the flapjacks Americans may know and love, British flapjacks are still totally delicious, especially when enjoyed with a cup of tea.
Eleanor Freeman, head of products and resident "chief taste expert" at Graze, a British snack company that makes flapjacks, explained that there are only four ingredients in a traditional flapjack: oats, butter or margarine, brown sugar, and golden syrup. That golden syrup is what makes the British flapjack different than a regular granola bar, and though it's a signature ingredient in British baking, most Americans probably aren't familiar with it.
Golden syrup is a kind of cane syrup, most similar to corn syrup but with a golden hue and a more buttery taste. The classic British brand is Lyle's Golden Syrup, which has been manufactured since 1881; they describe the taste as "smooth treacly syrup."
And it's this golden syrup that makes the difference between a flapjack and a granola bar. "Typically the texture is softer and more chewy than a granola bar," explained Freeman. "This texture comes from a special golden syrup that also gives them a delicious caramel-y flavor."
The result is a baked bar that's somewhere between the best oatmeal cookie you've ever eaten and a healthy, hearty granola bar. If straight up oats and sugar sounds too plain for you, don't worry. Because the basic flapjack recipe is so simple, it's easy to customize your oat bar according to taste by adding other ingredients. Dried fruit, like raisins, or nuts are always popular additions, but the sky's really the limit. One internet commenter mentioned ginger and chocolate as personal favorites. For Freeman at Graze, "My favorite right now is the pumpkin spice as it's perfect for this time of year. The dates add a delicious chewy texture and also natural sweetness, and then you have the warming spices coming through."
So if you go to the UK and order a flapjack, don't be shocked to get a granola bar, and if you really want flapjacks, just ask for pancakes instead.