I have eaten an awful lot of crumpets over the last month. It’s been a selfless endeavour, needless to say, not at all motivated by a love of anything leavened that will support a slab of butter.
At the best of times, I eat a lot of crumpets; I suspect I have an influence over the national average of crumpet consumption per annum. But the number of crumpets I’ve eaten over the last month whilst working out the best recipe for them is so high it should be reserved for the confessional booth and pretty much nowhere else. Did you know, out of the unfathomable number of cookbooks I own, I couldn’t find a single straight crumpet recipe? Maybe I’m looking for love in all the wrong places, but my books failed me, and, as with most times of crises, culinary or otherwise, I ended up turning to the internet, feeling completely confused by what it offered, rejecting all its advice, and doing my own thing.
In theory of course, crumpets are straight forward: a loose yeasted batter, leavened further by bicarb which, as it cooks, causes tiny bubbles to form and burst, until you have a dimpled, hole filled structure, that will toast beautifully and hold huge amounts of butter.
The reality however is trickier: the goal of a hole-riddled structure with a perfect bubbled top is hard to achieve without burning the bottom of the crumpet. I tried recipe after recipe, cooking them for ages at a cool temperature, or fast on top heat, thinning out my batter, or spooning it thickly, yet my crumpets ended up a miserable combination of doughy, burnt, and more like an english muffin that a crumpet on top. Where were the holes that I saw in mockingly perfect shop-bought crumpets? The holes eluded me every time.
It was only about three weeks in, after a batch of over a dozen crumpets, that I accidentally discovered the answer, Archimedes-like: disconsolate at the prospect of eating my way through twelve miserable crumpets, I slopped the last small spoonful of the batter into the ring, and ignored it, assuming it would be closer to a pikelet than a crumpet. When I returned it had puffed up proudly to crumpet size, and was dotted all over with tiny, perfectly formed holes. Its bottom was a deep, dark brown, but perfectly formed, and not burnt.
The trick, you see, is incredibly simple: you need almost no batter to make the perfect crumpet. Put in far less than you think you should into the ring, leave on a medium heat for about five minutes, and the crumpet will do all the work for you. You will be rewarded with a surface littered with perfect holes, that won’t disappear when you flip the crumpet and cook the top side.
You need three things for the perfect crumpet:
(1) enough bicarb in the mixture so that it will react robustly on contact with heat (but not so much that it gets that terribly distinctive and unpleasant soda flavour);
(2) the right heat: on my hob this means having the gas on high enough for me just to be able to hear it squeal out as the crumpet cooks. This can take a little trial and error, but what you’re looking for is enough heat to encourage the crumpet to rise quickly, but not so hot that the bottom burns before the top has dried;
(3) confidence in a dark bottom: crumpets are meant to be dark underneath. Truly, a rich mahogany that forms a slightly shocking contrast to the pale top when you first flip it. Don’t panic about this: it’s only burnt if it smells burnt. If not, you can continue cooking with confidence in your new found crumpet skill-set. I found that I was less likely to burn the bottom when using a non-stick pan than when I used my cast iron skillet.
It goes like this:
Makes: 8-10 crumpets
Takes: 1 hour 30
Bakes: 20 minutes
140g strong white bread flour
75g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1. Mix the yeast, sugar and water together: the water should be warm, but not hot. I use it straight out of my hot tap. If it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast, if it’s too cold, the reaction will be slow. Leave for five minutes.
2. Mix together the two flours and cream of tartar in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture and stir in. Beat with a wooden spoon or spatula for two full minutes: the mixture will be wet, but this will start to activate the gluten. Cover and leave in a warm room for an hour or so.
3. Add the salt, beat for another minute, and leave to stand for a further fifteen minutes.
4. Heat the milk very gently just as your last fifteen minutes are coming up: you again need it to be warm, but not too hot: about body temperature. Add the baking soda, stir, and add to the mixture, stirring well.
5. Leave the mixture for fifteen minutes for the bicarb to start reacting. Meanwhile, get your non-stick pan and non-stick crumpet rings ready. Place on a medium heat, and make peace with the fact that your first crumpet may be a sacrifice.
6. When you’re ready to cook, place a crumpet ring on the pan: if you’re using good quality non-stick equipment, nothing will need greasing. Spoon the batter into the ring: you need much less than you think, just enough to cover the base of the ring, about two scant tablespoons.
7. If at the correct heat, the crumpet should visibly bubble up, with bubbles constantly forming and bursting on the top. After about five minutes, the bubbles will stop reforming when they burst, and the surface should be freckled with tiny holes. As soon as the top of the crumpet is almost dry, remove the ring carefully using a dry teatowel, and then flip over. The crumpet will need about 20-30 seconds on its second side. Remove to a cooling rack, and continue with the remaining batter. If your crumpet is burnt on the bottom, adjust the heat just slightly, and start again.
8. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
We ate these hot from the pan, with really good butter dripping down our chins, and then late on a Sunday night, toasted up with marmite and cheese, and with damson jam.