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England: Crumpets

Buttered crumpets

This essentially English comfort food has been around for at least a few hundred years, though the actual timing is a little uncertain...

Over that time, the crumpet has gathered to itself a whole spectrum of meanings and associations in British culture: coziness, warmth, home and hearthside, the tea table loaded down with nice things... because where crumpets are, tea is usually not far behind. Toasted on one side under the grill or in the toaster or toaster oven, slathered with butter that seeps into all those lovely little holes... a crumpet is something special.

(Harry Potter readers, take note: where the US editions of the earlier HP books say "English muffin", they really mean crumpet. The US editors, then nervous about introducing too many British cultural references, substituted the closest North American breakfast breadstuff they could find -- but the texture and flavor of the crumpet are completely different from those of the English muffin.)

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us when the word first turned up in print, as a variant of the much older phrase "crompid cake":

[1694:Westmacott] They make Cakes of it (Buck Wheat)...as they do oat-cakes, and call it Crumpit. Crumpet...A soft cake made of flour, beaten egg, milk, and barm or baking powder, mixed into batter, and baked on an iron plate...Now usually a soft, round, doughy cake made with flour and yeast, cooked on a griddle or the like and usually eaten toasted with butter. [1769:Raffald] To make tea crumpets..."

The recipe may possibly have originated in the English Midlands as a variant of the older pancakes and griddle breads that were already commonplace. (There seem to be connections with the Welsh pancake called cremog and the Breton buckwheat krampoch.)

Naturally in the UK you can buy them in stores: but storebought crumpets can't really compare with the real thing made fresh just minutes before you eat it. The problem is that at first glance, it seems like a lot of work in that you wind up needing griddles, crumpet rings and so forth. But making crumpets is nowhere near as much work as it sounds like, and really rewards the effort. What's important is to find the right recipe.... and we've got it.

The basic concept hasn't changed much in the last few hundred years. Elizabeth Raffald's recipe from 1769 looks like this:

To make tea crumpets Beat two eggs very well, put them to a quart of warm milk and water, and a large spoonful of barm: beat in as much fine flour as will make them rather thicker than a common batter pudding, then make your bakestone very hot, and rub it with a little butter wrapped in a clean linen cloth, then pour a large spoonful of batter upon your stone, and let it run to the size of a tea-saucer; turn it, and when you want to use them roast them very crisp, and butter them.

This recipe was later improved by the addition of the crumpet ring, which made for a taller, more breadlike crumpet. While you can buy crumpet rings, they tend to be expensive: you can do just as well with the standard-sized flat tuna or salmon can -- just take the tops and bottoms off them.

Crumpets are not widely available in Ireland (where EuroCuisineLady presently resides) and therefore mostly have to be made at home. We've spent some years trying out different recipes, and this is the best one we've found.

The problem for a lot of would-be crumpet bakers has been that there are a lot of crumpet recipes out there that don't work. Either the batters come out too thick -- so the bubbles can't break and leave the necessary holes on top -- or they're too sloppy, and the bubbles either come out too small to let the melted butter in, or break too soon, so that again you wind up with a "blind" bake with no holes. This batter works perfectly, though.

EuroCuisineLady sometimes alters this recipe by using two packages of yeast instead of one. It seems to improve the flavor. Also, you don't really need the two kinds of flour for this recipe -- they're preferable, but not absolutely necessary. Just make sure you beat the batter the full two minutes the first time. You want to make sure the gluten develops enough.

The only even slightly tricky part of the actual crumpet-making is that you have to remember to butter the crumpet rings (or tuna cans or whatever) very well inside and on the edges between each batch. When you're ready to turn the crumpets, though the recipe suggests using tongs, it's just as easy to use a flat knife to nudge the rings up and off the crumpets as soon as the outsides are solid. That way you can set them aside to cool so you can handle them as soon as the crumpets presently in the pan or on the griddle or bakestone are done.

When you toast these, do it under the grill / broiler, or in a toaster oven that lets you do just one side. Then slather on that butter...

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (230g) unbleached white bread flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (230g) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 0.6oz cake fresh yeast (15g) or 1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups (510ml) lukewarm water
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons (10g) coarse sea salt, crushed or ground (use about half this if you're not grinding your own coarse sea salt. If you're measuring by weight instead of volume, you're fine.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup (140ml) lukewarm milk

And to prepare the crumpets, you'll need:

  • a griddle or cast-iron frying pan
  • 4 crumpet rings, about 3 1/2 inches diameter, greased

Instructions:

Sift together the flours and cream of tartar into a large bowl. Crumble the fresh yeast into a medium-sized bowl. Mix in the lukewarm water until smooth. If using dry yeast, mix the granules and the sugar with 3/4 cup lukewarm water and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining lukewarm water.

Mix the yeast mixture into the flour to make a very thick, but smooth batter, beating vigorously with your hand or a wooden spoon for two minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm spot until the batter rises and then falls, about 1 hour.

Add the salt and beat the batter for about 1 minute. Then cover the bowl and let stand in a warm spot for 15 to 20 minutes, so the batter can rest.

Dissolve the baking soda in the lukewarm milk. Then gently stir it into t he batter. The batter should not be too stiff or your crumpets will be "blind" -- without holes -- so it is best to test one before cooking the whole batch.

Heat a very clean griddle or frying pan over moderately low heat for about 3 minutes until very hot. Put a well-greased crumpet ring on the griddle. Spoon or pour 1/3 cup of the batter into the ring. The amount of batter will depend on the size of your crumpet ring.

As soon as the batter is poured into the ring, it should begin to form holes. If holes do not form, add a little more lukewarm water, a tablespoon at a time, to the batter in the bowl and try again. If the batter is too thin and runs out under the ring, gently work in a little more all-purpose flour and try again. Once the batter is the proper consistency, continue with the remaining batter, cooking the crumpets in batches, three or four at a time. As soon as the top surface is set and covered with holes, 7 to 8 minutes, the crumpet is ready to flip over.

To flip the crumpet, remove the ring with a towel or tongs, then turn the crumpet carefully with a spatula. The top, cooked side should be chestnut brown. Cook the second, holey side of the crumpet for 2 to 3 minutes, or until pale golden. The crumpet should be about 3/4 inch thick. Remove the crumpet from the griddle. Grease the crumpet rings well after each use.

 

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