Crumpets

How crumpets came into being is unknown. The earliest references to them are to be found in the late 17th century, when they were made from buckwheat flour and sound very similar to blinis, the small Russian yeast pancakes served with caviar. Elizabeth Raffald, the eighteenth-century cookery writer, described something very similar to today’s crumpets in 1769, by which time they were made from a wheat-flour batter raised with leaven — a piece taken from the day’s bread dough – and cooked on a griddle before being toasted before an open fire.

Charles Dickens was certainly partial to crumpets and, in Nicholas Nickleby, called an imaginary baker who specialized in them the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company, a splendidly mellifluous title.

Their heyday was probably the 1920s and 30s, when afternoon tea would not have been complete without hot buttered crumpets and jam. You can certainly make them, but to do the job properly you will need some 8.75-cm / -inch metal crumpet rings (or straight-sided pastry cutters) to put on the flat metal surface on which you cook them. While this is traditionally a griddle, a heavy frying pan or flat-surfaced non-stick pan will do just as well.

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Ingredients

  • 450 g/ 1 lb plain flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • one 8-g/ ¼-oz sachet of dried instant yeast (the small-grained fermipan type)
  • 700 ml/ pt milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • butter, for greasing

Method

Start by sifting the flour into a bowl with the sugar and yeast. Warm the milk to hand-hot and beat this with the flour to form a smooth batter. Cover the bowl and leave to stand at room temperature for 1 hour, when the batter will have more than doubled in size before falling.

Beat in the salt and bicarbonate of soda and leave to rest for 10 minutes, while you heat your griddle or frying pan dry over a low flame. You have now reached the tricky point of determining whether your batter is the right consistency: if too thick, the honeycomb of holes which is the defining point of the crumpet will not occur; if too thin, the batter will run from under the rings. Getting the heat just right is another determining factor of success: if too hot the batter will burn before it is ready to be turned; if too cool, the mixture will rise incompletely and be leaden. Test both with a spoonful of batter before proceeding. If too thick, thin with a little water and if too thin, beat in a little more flour.

Grease the rings and place on the griddle. Put 3 tablespoons of batter into each ring. As soon as the upper surface is set and filled with holes, which takes about 8 minutes, remove the rings with a cloth and turn the crumpets with a palette knife or spatula, cooking for a further 2–3 minutes. The first side should be a chestnut brown, the second only barely coloured and the crumpets about 3 cm / inch thick.

Eat at once or toast the pale side and serve with butter and jam or honey.

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