Shop-bought crumpets can, as Elizabeth David said with characteristic disdain in English Bread and Yeast Cookery, be “terrible travesties…perhaps…delivered direct from a plastics factory”. Though I’ve eaten my fair share of those, toasted and slathered in butter, home-made are in a class of their own. However, they are tricky to get right.
There are two key issues, based on my experiments over the past couple of weeks. The first is the batter, the second is the heat level required to cook the crumpets through without burning the bases. I’ve tried to cover the variables, but you’ll need to trial the recipe in your own kitchen. I had more success on the Aga/Rayburn/MoneypitMonster than I did on my electric stove.
There are numerous different recipes available. Some use yeast alone, most use yeast with a later addition of bicarb. I tried several but after a couple of my experiments ended up in the compost bin I turned back to Mrs David. This is an adaptation of her recipe, which in turn owes a lot to Walter Banfield’s 1937 opus Manna, an interesting book but probably one best suited to bread nerds (like me).
You will need crumpet rings as the batter is quite loose.They are usually 2-3cm high: mine came from Lakeland. They’re perhaps a bit of an extravagance for an occasional treat, but when I tried my deeper food rings, I found the crumpets stuck to the sides and it was harder to gauge the correct quantity of batter.
The liquids, as in many bread recipes, are given in grams rather than millilitres for accuracy’s sake. You may need more than the stated amount, please see recipe.
150g plain (all purpose) flour
300g strong white bread flour
7g dried active yeast
580g whole milk/water, 50:50 mix
1 tspn sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tspn salt
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
150g warm water
Put the flour in a heat-proof bowl and place in a low oven for five minutes (a hot tip from Walter Banfield and one he said was a baker’s secret weapon when it came to crumpets and muffins).
Warm the milk, water and oil to blood heat. Spoon some of the milk mixture into a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in it, then sprinkle over the yeast and whisk it in. Leave until frothy then whisk again.
Mix the salt with the warmed flour, stir in the yeast and pour in the remaining liquid. Whisk vigorously until it’s smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl and leave at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the surface is bubbling madly and starting to dome slightly.
Lightly oil a large flat-bottomed frying pan or griddle and grease your crumpet rings with butter. I suggest doing a test run first – even professional baker Richard Bertinet says he always burns the first one and it can take a while to gauge the right heat. Put the pan on a low to medium heat and make sure it’s hot before you put a ring inside and pour in enough batter to come nearly to the top. Don’t overfill or it won’t cook through.
Read this paragraph twice. Cook very gently until the top surface has formed a skin. In theory this will take 10-12 minutes but don’t be a slave to these timings. You must wait until the whole top looks dry, otherwise the middle won’t cook. The crumpet should be a mass of little holes and if it isn’t, your batter is too thick, so add a little extra warm milk or water before making any more.
Once the crumpet has set, remove the ring, flip it over and cook the other side for two or three minutes. It should be golden on the bottom and lightly speckled on top. Once you’re sure you have the heat at the right setting, put four rings at a time into the pan and cook in batches, cleaning and re-greasing the rings each time, until you’ve used all the batter.
They may not be uniform or perfect, but I promise they’ll taste a heck of a lot better than shop bought.
Either hand them out as they’re cooked, as you would pancakes, or keep them warm in a folded tea towel or in a covered dish in the oven until they’re all done. Or cool on a rack, then toast lightly. They also freeze well, once cooked and cooled. Whatever, be lavish with the butter. You’ll have earned it.