James Beard’s Crumpets

If, like ours, your house does not feature central air conditioning, you probably noticed that we had a few hot days recently. We have one small window air conditioner which keeps our bedroom comfortable, and the house, which was built more than sixty years before home air conditioners were available, does a pretty good job of handling heat waves.

Air conditioning has a long history. The ancient Egyptians, Romans and Chinese all developed various ways to cool the air. The Egyptians made evaporative coolers by trickling water down reeds hung in windows and the Romans piped cold water through building walls. Nearly 2,000 years ago a Chinese inventor, Ding Huan, invented a large rotary fan powered by servants to cool the air for the emperors of the Han dynasty.

But lacking servants and having only one small window air conditioner and a couple of fans, Jerri has devised a fairly effective energy management routine. As the temperature drops at night we open windows and use a fan to pull nice cool air into the house. When the temperature rises next morning we close the windows and use the fan to circulate the air. During beastly hot spells like we just endured we keep the bedroom air conditioner running in hopes that some cooler air will fall down the stairs to the main floor.

When I start gasping and complaining, Jerri suggests that I man up, that her mother used to remind her that “Grandma Goering lived 90 some summers without a fan.” Kansas farm women were tough back then. Tougher than most of us, I suspect.

One thing you don’t do on hot days if your home lacks central air conditioning is heat the oven unnecessarily. We bake breads, cakes and pies in the evenings or on cooler days. Even if you have central air you may want to hold down the electric bill or simply not waste energy. Generating the electricity we use to cool our homes contributes to climate change that is partially responsible for those long hot spells. Using less electricity can help reduce the need for air conditioning a little bit, which as we all know is better than doing nothing.

Another thing you can do is bake breads that don’t require heating the oven. Crumpets are an excellent example. You just bake them like pancakes on a hot griddle. Once mainly a bread eaten with butter and jam at teatime in Great Britain, crumpets are now enjoyed by people from New Zealand to Wisconsin. You don’t even need to like tea. Try a crumpet instead of toast with eggs and bacon for breakfast or a nice toasted crumpet dripping with butter and honey for dessert.

Wonderful things, crumpets, and they are easy to make. Stir up the batter, let it sit, then spoon it into rings sitting on a hot frying pan. Empty tuna cans used to make perfect crumpet rings, but the extruded kind now used for tuna don’t work. You can make do with water chestnut or bamboo shoot cans, or you can buy crumpet rings in many kitchen supply stores or online at reasonable prices.

I have used James Beard’s recipe for crumpets for over thirty years with never a failure, which is something I can’t say for a lot of recipes I have tried.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup boiling water
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1 T hot water
8 to 10 crumpet rings or tuna cans with the tops and bottoms removed

PROCEDURE:

Put a half cup of milk into a large bowl and stir in a half cup of boiling water.

When the milk mixture is lukewarm, stir in the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes to proof. When the liquid gets bubbly, mix the salt with the flour, and add it to the yeast mixture. Beat the batter with a spoon for several minutes, then let the batter rise until it has doubled in bulk and is slightly bubbly.

Dissolve the soda into a tablespoon of hot water and beat it into the batter. Let it rise again until it has again doubled in bulk.

Heat a griddle or large frying pan over medium-hot heat. Grease the rings and pan. Place the rings in the pan and spoon batter into the rings to a depth of about a half inch. Cook until dry and bubbly on top.

Use a table knife to loosen the crumpets and remove them from the rings. Turn the crumpets and brown them lightly on the other side.

Transfer them to a rack to cool. Serve them warm from the rack, or toast and serve them later with plenty of butter, jelly, jam or honey.

NOTES: If you can make pancakes, you can make crumpets. Crumpet batter is like a thick pancake batter that you spoon into the rings rather than just pour onto a griddle.

The problem with the water chestnut cans is that they are about an inch and a half high, which makes it a bit awkward to loosen the crumpets. A pair of tongs or pliers make it easy to remove the rings.

I like to use an electric griddle to bake crumpets because I can set the thermostat for about 325 degrees, which results in a nice brown crust when the top is nearly dry. A cast iron skillet over medium high heat works okay too. You can check how the crumpets are browning by lifting them with a turner. A properly done crumpet will be moist but not sticky.

4 Responses

  1. jrackell

    thanks for posting this. I’ve tried various crumpet recipes on and off and had poor results, but got a very nice crumpet texture with this one.

    The problem I had is the crumpets were very salty. You have 1 1/2 tsp salt for about 2 cups of flour. The crumpet recipe in Beard’s Delights and Prejudices book (you can check the recipe out on Google Books) has 1 tsp for 8 cups of flour. So you have very different salt to flour ratios.

    Interestingly, the Beard recipe mentioned above doesn’t use baking powder. He does mention that they are not like “store bought” ones, so maybe that is the difference.

    I’m wondering do you get many holes in your crumpets? Mine were a little lacking in holes (one of the hallmarks of a crumpet I’ve been led to believe), but the crumpet I made was much thicker than your recommendation since it was cooked in a frying pan on account of not having rings, which might account for the low hole count.

    But all in all, they tasted good, the crumb anyway, so thanks again. I like your smaller batch size too, since I was wasting a lot of flour experimenting with other recipes.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Since James Beard does use more salt than we prefer, I often reduce the amount he specifies. I use the crumpet recipe from Beard on Bread but it is possible that I “scant” the amount of salt. I am not familiar with the Beard cookbook you reference, but I Googled Beard crumpets and found one in The Armchair James Beard which is identical to the one I published, except that Beard there says to use one teaspoon of salt. You might want to reduce the salt to a teaspoon the next time you make them

      I probably end up with about one and one-quarter teaspoons of salt, and we do get enough holes sin the crumpets to trap a lot of butter! The baking soda helps generate holes.

      You can still find crumpet rings for sale, and I recommend them. We have eight old tuna cans, but today’s tuna cans will not work and water chestnut cans are really too high. You might try a store like the Kitchen Collection that may carry them.

      Good luck.

      1. jrackell

        I notice the Armchair Beard crumpet recipe uses 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda versus your 1/4 tsp of baking powder.

        I guess the powder produces more bubbles (because of added potassium bicarb) which accounts for the lower quantity of baking powder in your recipe?

        Otherwise, like you said, besides the salt, the recipes are identical.

        I had tried the crumpet recipe in The River Cottage bread handbook, amongst others, but the crumb was all mush and didn’t have the more bready crumb this recipe gives you and what I would expect in a real crumpet. There were quite a few complaints of that particular recipe from others too.

        I’ve tried the rings, bought from Amazon, but they can get kind of rusty and for me are a bit too fiddly and time consuming cooking four at a time (owing to having only four rings), so I was glad to know that they can be cooked nicely by just throwing all the batter into a small frying pan. It produces one giant crumpet, thick crumpet.

        thanks again!

  2. Hi,

    I use only a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, but that much seems to work fine.

    It sounds like you make a tea cake when you bake all the batter in a frying pan. You can cut it in eighths and have the same kind of treat.

    Good luck,

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