Why hallo there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one man forges a food empire before falling to madness, hemophilia, and growing parliamentary executive power. I’m your Plantagenet of Regret, Jon O’Guin II. Today’s topic, if you couldn’t infer from my oblique English history references and use of “hallo”, is an intimately English dish. So English, in fact, that an informal poll of people I know actually had no idea what the dish WAS, merely that it was English. Today, we tackle the crumpet. (And since this is English, we’re tackling it in the SCRUM, not ‘on the gridiron’. SPORTS.) Of course, I have some opinions to share before we get to the nitty-gritty of it, and if you’d like to skip them, feel free to click this link to go straight to the recipe.
That’s the Way the Crumpet Crumbles
I’m going to say something more than a little controversial here, to open this up in the most accepting and forthright way I can: I really fucking hate the way England made food for a while.
Why so much fish? Why could we have Pork and Chips, or something? Chick-n Chips? That even sounds cuter.
Now, of course, there are plenty of reasons that statement could be allowed to stand on its own. (There are ongoing threats of nuclear war RIGHT NOW that, at their core, can be traced to England’s hard-on for foodstuffs back in the day.) However, we are none of us perfect, and I’m a big fan of British television and authors, so I will extend them a personal olive branch.
I complained recently that, pretty frequently in this gig, I dig down into researching a recipe, attracted by some fleeting ephemera, and learn that the history of the dish just…stops. That, at a certain point, the meal just showed up, no one took credit for it, and no one ever questioned it. And for some reason, England has the worst attitude about it.
Like, America, land of opportunity (and therefore opportunists) always has someone willing to step up and say “ME. I DID IT. MY FAMILY INVENTED THAT.” Even when we weren’t really asking. Like, sure, we’ll probably never know which restaurant invented the French Dip, but at least there are two guys willing to argue about it. France latches onto the first good story they hear about the dish, and just repeat it. China suggests (almost reflexively) that any dish they made was probably on accident, they just wanted to make something for the Emperor, and, “whoops, now we’ve created a new food that will be eaten by millions of people every year.”
“We never intended to make one of the ongoing best dim sum appetizers, please be gentle.”
England though, just shrugs. It’s like any time they got asked about some new food showing up around town, someone hissed “There’s no time for that now, William, we’re knee-deep in our sixteenth proxy war with France this century, we’ve absolutely no time to wonder why all our bread looks different.” And then when they actually DO look into it, it’s a viper’s nest of etymologies, racism, regionality, and lingual shift. Why? Well… that’s kind of complicated.
It’s worth remembering (and before we get too deep into this topic, I’d like to remind everyone that I am an American food writer and comedian, not an English historian, so while I might be more informed than many, I am by no means an expert in the subject) what exactly we mean by England. As an American, I’m used to using “England”, “Britain”, and “The United Kingdom” essentially interchangeably, and that’s not very correct. The United Kingdom is a legal and governmental entity that encompasses multiple nations, Britain is, technically, part of the name of the Island (Great Britain) on which most of the United Kingdom is found, and England is just the largest country on Great Britain and in the United Kingdom.
Jon’s ongoing hatred of the Isle of Man always features in these discussions.
THEY KNOW WHAT THEY DID.
For an American, the easiest way to think of this is…well, America. North America has 3 countries in it, not just the United States. The United States have multiple governmental components that were added at different times in different ways. And we at least had the advantage of doing a lot of our national expansion and conglomeration after wide-spread literacy and the printing press, when we could write shit down. England in the 400’s found itself having to deal with a bunch of Saxons and other Germans who had migrated into the country during Roman rule, the remaining Roman Brits, the Scots, and no one even speaking the same language to argue about who deserved what. Like, we all agree that Texas is pretty ready to assert at any given time that it could become its own country if it wanted to. Imagine how much WORSE that attitude would be if Texas was made a “state” long before we could prove we didn’t MAKE them do it.
This is just an overly long reflection that all we know about Crumpets is that they’re English-ish. Maybe they’re based off a Welsh dish called bara pyglyd, maybe they’re Saxon in origin. Hell, England doesn’t even know where the NAME comes from: maybe it’s Old English, maybe it’s French, maybe it’s just another word from Welsh, maybe it’s just straight up NORMAL English, they don’t know. What they do know is that they eat them.
Which is a somewhat funny echo of the informal poll, isn’t it?
America: “I don’t know what crumpets are, but I know they’re English.”
England: “We don’t know where they came from, but we know they’re English.”
“I don’t really know what a Yorkshire pudding is, but I’m damn sure it’s British.”
So, with all that said and done…what the fuck ARE Crumpets, and how do you make them?
The Mystery is Solved
They’re bread. Crumpets are a type of bread.
Take a long look at those puffy bubbles, you aren’t going to see many of them in the rest of this, as a warning.
Specifically, they’re a ‘griddle bread’, meaning…exactly what it implies, they’re made on a griddle. You take a fairly simple dough, whip it up, and pour it onto a pan. Bake them on one side, the top bubbles and dries into something that looks like the inside of an English Muffin, and boom, you’re done.
Modern recipes are NICER than medieval ones, adding in multiple leavening agents to make the dough soft and airy such as yeast and baking soda, but the basic format hasn’t changed. (Though this means the results have differed wildly, since it implies the original crumpets were much firmer and flatter.)
Hell, my recipe for them (courtesy of Gordon Ramsey’s Home Cooking) is functionally 2 steps: mix together the dough and let it sit for an hour, then toast it for 12 minutes. Which is why it’s amazing how many times I’ve messed it up.
Normally, by the time I write these posts, it’s been a couple days, maybe a week or two since I made the dish, and in that time frame, I typically haven’t made it again. Even when it’s been months since I made the dish, I typically don’t revisit the recipe before writing up its post. This isn’t because I hate improvement or anything, but rather because I don’t see producing the ‘correct’ version of the dish as my role: I’m here to make the mistakes and turn out something that’s at least edible, so you guys can take what I learned and make them better. However, this dish has the unusual distinction of having the MOST attempts I’ve made on a recipe before writing it up. Let’s find out what happened.
A New Mystery Unfolds
I said this was a simple recipe, and that wasn’t a joke. All told, you need 7 ingredients, and maybe 6 minutes of effort to start it. The thing is…well, the thing is that I’m an idiot. See, part of the reason I spent so much time talking about England, and why I made crumpets in the first place is that I’m actually in an English play: I’m in The Importance of Being Earnest, at WWCA in my home town. We open this weekend, in fact. Thus, for an early rehearsal cast-bonding activity, we were scheduled to have High Tea together, and I thought “Awesome, I can bring crumpets! I have this recipe from Gordon Ramsey!” At which point I did the CLASSIC dumb move of ‘not trying a recipe before the day of the party to work out any kinks.”
Which is always a foolish move unless the party is, itself, about working out some kinks.
Yes, for a recipe with 85 minutes of prep-time, I started it 2 hours before I had to BE at rehearsal. At which point I made the realization that I didn’t know where the cookbook with the recipe was. I had the ingredients, but no cookbook. I was able to hunt down a blog using their version of the recipe and get it all started, but then I became filled with doubt.
The biggest part of the recipe is that it needs to sit for an hour to properly puff up the batter and fill it with bubbles from the yeast and baking soda. And that was a common refrain: crumpets have a BATTER, not a dough. They’re very liquid. That’s one argument for where their name came from: the metal rings needed to hold them in position, or “cramps”, making them “cramp-ets”. (This recipe avoids using those metal rings by making one huge crumpet instead of several smaller ones) And my first batch of dough was…well, dough.
Big ol’ gloopy mess.
So, after about 10 minutes of waiting, I realized where the cookbook was, got it, and started another batch. Except now I was starting an 85 minute recipe with 75 minutes before I had to leave.
The first one was a craggly mess of un-shaped dough, but I think I know where I went wrong with it: I used too little liquid that was too hot. See, part of this recipe is heating a small amount of milk and water to about 110 degrees before adding it to the dry ingredients. This is because 110 degrees is the sweet spot for yeast to bloom. I…didn’t check my temp on the milk in the first batch, and later batches suggest I was probably WAY too high, like, around 160 degrees, which is hot enough to KILL yeast.
RIP, little yeasty boys.
So my second batch I was more careful, and I had extra water, and despite not getting the full time to puff up, it turned out much better. I still had to cook it weirdly, and it didn’t look like it was supposed to, but it was edible. The first one was ALSO edible, but this one didn’t embarrass me visually.
Not great, but, you know, not a mess like below.
Fun fact: you may recall a couple weeks ago I had a scare where I might have eaten glass? That was from this: One of the toppings I used on my crumpets that evening was flavored creamed honey (honey that has been crystallized in a specific way to create a spreadable topping), and I broke one of the containers, and tried to get one last spoon of honey from the jar before throwing it away, only to have glass crunch in my teeth when I chewed my slice.
As you might guess, that put a damper on the whole experience, but overall, I was impressed with the results. And, as this post was scheduled, I figured I’d make one more batch, to try and get that perfect topping. I could let it rise the whole time, I had learned my mistakes, this time, things would be different.
It ended up looking almost exactly like my FIRST effort.
Which, I suppose, I must reveal my shame for observation. Don’t feel bad if this is how your crumpet turns out, since I did it TWICE.
I think what happened is that I did TOO good a job this time: in reviewing the recipe for this batch, I noticed I was supposed to stir the batter before griddling it, a process I’m fairly sure I didn’t use in the first attempts. I think I over-stirred it (or potentially under-stirred it), removing the air-bubbles that were needed to make the top correctly. (FUTURE JON’S NOTE: In transcribing the recipe, I see I also apparently under-watered the batter again. I thought it was equal parts milk and water, but it’s ½ cup milk, 2/3rds cup water, so maybe that missing 1/6th cup water made a notable difference. Baking is finicky like that.)
Still, the whole thing was eaten by my family within 20 minutes or so, because even when it looks bad, it still tastes perfectly fine. And as failures go, I’d rather it be ugly to the eye than disgusting to the tongue when it comes to food. And a couple other categories, come to think of it. But yeah, maybe I’ll eventually get it to work, maybe not. It’s not a huge trouble, since, as noted, the results are perfectly edible, just visually lacking. We served ours with some clotted cream, a British condiment that is, well… Cream, that’s been clotted. It’s texturally a lot like butter, but with a much purer milk flavor. It’s also like, 60% fat. We also served it with more creamed honey, because I don’t learn. It’s more traditionally served with a tarter jam, like Strawberry or Raspberry, but we didn’t have any, and we wanted to keep things simple, since the recipe was so easy.
Clotted cream is amazingly simple, as far as condiments go.
So I recommend giving this a try, especially if you think you can succeed where I failed and actually get those damn tops to look right. I’ll probably give it another shot, if for no other reason than the fact that a packet of active dry yeast is 2.25 tsp, and this recipe uses 1, so now I have a tsp of yeast I need to use since it’s been exposed to air. Not using it would be like just throwing away money! 50 cents, to be specific, but hey, a saving is a saving. Whether fifty cents, a farting, or some other obsolete British coin removed during the decimalization of their currency
To help Jon reach the lofty heights of not making bread to save 50 cents, consider supporting us on Patreon, where for a low commitment of $1 a month, or just over threepence a day, you can keep the site in full working order, and keep those little copper coins trickling into our coffers. Of course, such largesse is costly, we understand, and therefore understand if it is beyond your means at present. In such a case, you are not without recourse: simply employ yourself as a crier for our posts, by sharing our posts, liking our tweets, inviting your friends to our humble Facebook page, and otherwise engaging with us in the social sphere. If you’d like Jon to stop talking in an affected upper-English style, say no more, as he’s already finished with it.
THURSDAY: I WAS GOING TO TACKLE A NEW TOPIC, BUT I FIND I’VE FALLEN BEHIND ON MY DUE DILIGENCE. SO LET’S TALK MORE THOROUGHLY ABOUT ENGLISH CUISINE, BY RAIDING THEIR PANTRIES AS THEY RAIDED SO MANY OTHERS.
MONDAY: WE BARELY MAKE IT OUT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM, BY POPPING OVER TO IRELAND, IN RECOGNITION OF SAINT PATRICK’S DAY. JON CORNS BEEF AND CANNONS COLS. HOPEFULLY. THE BEEF IS A LONG PROCESS, AND WE’RE STARTING IT TODAY/TOMORROW, SO MAYBE IT’LL GO WELL, MAYBE IT WON’T.
And now, the
Honkin’ Homemade Crumpet
½ cup milk + 2/3rds cup water, mixed
1 ½ cup white bread flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
Pinch of sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast
Oil and butter for griddling.
1. Warm the milk and water to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit over medium-low heat. While warming, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Make a well in the middle, and add the yeast. Pour the warmed milk and water over the yeast, and beat into a thick batter. (If mixture seems too thick, add up to an additional ½ cup of warm water). Let sit covered until doubled in size, around 1 hour, and a spongy consistency.
2. To cook, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir the batter, and pour into the pan. Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 10-15 minutes, until batter is dry and set with little holes. Dot with butter around the edges, allowing to melt. Flip crumpet, and toast for 5 minutes on other side, until lightly browned. Serve warm with desired toppings.