Tidbits – Tea and Crumpets
Tea and Crumpets by Margaret M. Johnson (Chronicle Books)
This one’s for all you anglophiles out there who crave afternoon tea and its accompanying requisites, like tea sandwiches, scones, cookies and, of course, crumpets. The latter is what drew me to this book. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this little delicacy, it’s something of a cross between pancakes and English muffins — brown and crisp on the bottom with a top that’s covered in holes and crevasses. For years now, I have been on an unrelenting quest to find the best store-bought crumpets in Toronto. Why store-bought? Well, these are the most accessible. Unfortunately, out of the three or four brands I’ve tried, not one has won me over. In each case, the crumpet leaves a bitter aftertaste.
The other option is to visit one of the many tea houses around the city in the hopes of finding one that serves up fresh crumpets. Again, you may be sorely disappointed. There aren’t too many establishments that offer crumpets, let alone homemade ones. Although I realize that making them from scratch just isn’t an option for many of us most of the time, it was really the only possibility left to me. All of the recipes that Johnson has compiled in this little book of 180 pages are those actually made every day in the tea houses, restaurants and hotels around Europe.
She gives us the crumpet recipe used by the Chesterfield Mayfair hotel in London. Although it’s easy to follow, I did have to make adjustments to the recipe. The batter turned out a bit too thick; so, my crumpets turned out looking more like pancakes. Adding a bit of water to the batter helped. Be prepared for the first one or two to fail as adjustments to the batter consistency and heat are made. Those crumpets will be pour le chien, as the French say.
Tea and Crumpets is a neat little book full of interesting trivia about tea time. Did you know that, by the late 19th century, if you were referring to that late afternoon meal as High Tea instead of Afternoon Tea, you were revealing your social standing. Although one might think that the former title was used by society’s upper crust, it wasn’t. High Tea was “the main meal of the day for the working classes.” Here’s another interesting tidbit. Although France is considered to be a coffee-drinking nation, Paris “is actually the tearoom capital of the world.”
1/2 cup water, heated to 110°F
2 tsp sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 cups milk, warmed
Butter, at room temperature
Strawberry or raspberry jam for serving
1. In a large bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, or until foamy. Stir in the flour, salt, baking soda and milk. Cover and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until mixture has risen.
2. Butter a large nonstick skillet and place it over low heat. Generously butter crumpet rings or 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutters. Place the rings in the skillet and fill each halfway with batter. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, or until small holes appear and the top has started to dry. Remove the rings, turn the crumpets over and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until lightly browned. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve warm or toasted with butter and jam.