Friday, March 20, 2020

Crumpets and Tea--trying out a treat I've only read about

Buttered crumpets and tea. Crumpets always sounded appealing when they showed up in a novel, but for a long time I had no idea what a crumpet even looked like. I assumed it was a baked good (not exactly), and apparently good with butter (true), and I also vaguely assumed it was sweet.

Not so, apparently. When Cook's Illustrated offered a crumpet recipe in their March/April 2020 issue, I decided I would have to try it. A few weeks ago, I did.

As I mixed the batter, I realized there was no sugar in the recipe. Well, there's no sugar in a lot of French bread recipes either, but French bread works beautifully with butter and jam, as well as with savory toppings. So I just figured I would have to put jam on them.

Watching the crumpets cook was interesting. They got bubbles all over, which was almost disturbing, and the recipe advised touching the surface with a spatula to turn the bubbles into little holes, then flip the crumpet to cook the other side. The result, then, is something like a pancake absolutely full of little holes.

Crumpets have holes on top and a smooth side below
These many little holes are good at trapping the butter that melts on a hot crumpet, and that helps me understand one of the descriptions of buttered crumpets found in House of Many Ways, an excellent book by Diana Wynne Jones.

To set the scene--Charmain is at the palace, where she is unexpectedly invited to tea with the king and some newly arrived visitors.
     Charmain thanked the gentleman again and took two. They were the most buttery crumpets she had ever encountered. Waif's nose swiveled to dab gently against Charmain's hand. "All right, all right," Charmain muttered, trying to break off a piece without dripping butter on the sofa. Butter ran down her fingers and threatened to trickle up her sleeves. She was trying to get rid of it on her handkerchief, when the lady-in-waiting finished saying all anyone could possibly say about the weather, and turned to Mrs. Pendragon. (p. 178)
 Charmain isn't the only one having a problem. The lady-in-waiting asks about Mrs. Pendragon's little boy.
    "Yes, Morgan," Mrs. Pendragon said. She seemed to be having trouble with butter too and was mopping her fingers with her handkerchief and looking flustered.
    "How old will Morgan be now, Sophie?" Princess Hilda asked. "When I saw him he was just a baby."
    "Oh, nearly two," Mrs. Pendragon replied, catching a big golden drip of butter before it fell on her skirt. "I left him with--"
And now we'll leave Charmain and Mrs. Pendragon to struggle with their hot buttered crumpets and other, as yet unmentioned, problems.

Back to my homemade crumpets. We toasted the crumpets (one was slightly underdone, one slightly overdone, one seemed about right) and buttered them.

Buttered homemade crumpet (with a bite missing)

So what did these particular buttered crumpets taste like? Slightly salty. And buttery. It made me think about the appeal of plain bagels grilled in salted butter. Not sweet, but wonderfully buttery and chewy and slightly salty. The texture was different, of course, but the comparison helped me understand why they would be appealing.

I should add that I don't like my sweets to be particularly salty. When I have bread and butter and jam, I always use unsalted butter. Salted butter puts me off jam almost completely. So perhaps for other people, crumpets and jam is a better combination than it is for me.

All in all, I'm not sure I'll bother to make them again. It was fun, but there are so many other exciting things to make that I like better. I'm glad I tried it, though.

Till next post.

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