Sometimes you see a picture and you just know it's British; a pint of beer in a pub, The Tower of London, the Queen, fish and chips, scones and jam, a pot of hot, steaming tea...and crumpets. All these things are quintessentially British and Britain would not be the same without them.
Crumpets are the perfect snack to nibble on at tea time in the UK, particularly at this cooler time of the year. If you haven't experienced the delight of biting into a round, hot crumpet, slightly crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, butter dribbling down the sides of your mouth, a cup of tea at your side, feet up in front of the fire, rain tapping against the window, then you really should. Ok, perhaps not the rain, but all the other things! Hot buttered crumpets are very much part of tea time culture in the UK and one that I would thoroughly recommend trying if you haven't already done so.
Crumpets (in case you didn't know) are a small griddle cake made from flour, water and yeast, and a few other ingredients, and are mostly eaten either for breakfast or at tea time. I have to confess, though, that I like them at any time of day, especially if they are served hot and smothered in butter. After smearing your crumpets with butter, things can then get creative! People like to add all sorts to their crumpets; jam, marmalade, honey, Marmite, I even have a cousin who loves thick slices of Cheddar cheese on his crumpets! It's all down to personal taste, although experimenting with toppings is all part of the fun.
Luckily, readymade crumpets are available in virtually all supermarkets in Britain these days, and are usually very reasonably priced (you'll find them easily in the bread section). However, I don't happen to live in Britain and, although there are a few packets of crumpets creeping into some of the French supermarkets, I decided several years ago that I missed them far too much to wait for them to make an appearance in my local Leclerc, and that meant only one thing; I'd have to make them myself.
I sat down and trawled the Internet and found a recipe that seemed easy enough for me to tackle. It all seemed very straight forward, and when it comes to cooking I'll have a go at pretty much anything. Crumpets are traditionally round, and you can buy special crumpet rings off the Internet, but I didn't think that far ahead (I'm an impulsive cook), so I used one of those moulds you can use to make your food look fancy on your dinner plate, although an egg ring would have worked just as well. Basically, as long as it's heatproof and round, no problem! My first attempt at making crumpets was a success, and my daughters were waiting for them to come off the pan so they could butter them and devour them, and regular requests for fresh crumpets followed. I soon found myself making them as a 'gouter', especially at this time of year when the weather gets cooler, when a pile of hot, buttered crumpets are an absolutely perfect way to finish the day as the early nights draw in.
Hopefully, your tastebuds are tingling by now and your tummy is rumbling (because my tummy is!) and you fancy having a go at making them yourself, the recipe I use is below. Perhaps this will be the first time you try crumpets, in which case I'm sure you won't be disappointed! Resist the temptation to go and buy a packet, though, and have a go yourself; if I can do it, so can you!
250g strong white flour (bread flour), sieved
7g dried active yeast
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon caster sugar (I used sucre en poudre, but you could also use sucre super fin)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
butter (for greasing the pan and to serve)
Crumpet rings, or other circular, heatproof mould
Heat the water and milk together until lukewarm.
Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the yeast, caster sugar, bicarbonate of soda and salt and mix.
With a large wooden spoon, mix in the milk and water into the flour mixture, then whisk for a few minutes until a batter is formed.
Place a damp tea towel on top of the bowl and put in a warm place for approximately one hour.* The mixture should have risen and be full of bubbles when ready.
Generously grease the inside of the crumpet rings, and place in a hot frying pan with a knob of butter.
Add crumpet batter to the rings (I added two full ice cream scoops of batter to each ring, the batter should come up near to the top of the ring).
Cook on a medium to low heat for approximately 10 minutes, until the surface has bubbled, formed holes and has dried out.
Remove the rings. The rings should be easy to remove and the crumpet should shrink away slightly from the sides, but be careful as the rings are extremely hot! I used a pair of kitchen tongues to handle the rings.
Once the rings have been removed, flip the crumpets over for a few seconds so that the tops can brown a little.
Serve immediately with butter and/or another topping of your choice. Alternatively, save them for later, and pop them in a toaster to warm up before serving.
Crumpets can also be frozen for later. Put them straight into the toaster from the freezer, on a higher setting, and when they pop up they will be ready to eat. That is, of course, assuming there are any left when you've finished making them!
* Finding somewhere warm to proof your crumpet dough at this time of the year can be a challenge in Normandy. I placed my bowl near a small oven that was switched on for another reason (my daughter was making cookies!), but another idea is to run your tumble dryer for a few minutes, so it's nice and warm, place your covered dough inside, shut the door, and wait, but do make sure there are no clothes inside!