A few days ago we hosted a little afternoon tea, nothing exciting in that I hear you say, maybe some simple tea cakes or scones and jam, even a sandwich or two but you would be wrong, what we served brought back memories of something very special because more years ago than I would care to admit, (ok, 30 to be precise) we launched into our first food business, a partnership between my brother Jeremy, my wife Jo-Ann and I.
We set about creating a very unique little tea rooms in one of Adelaide’s leafier suburbs called Thomas & Drury. Looking back it was all very Downton Abbey though at the time we aspired it to be more Fortnum & Mason. The backbone of our offering was a terribly British range of cakes and pastries, the recipes for which had been handed down from our business’s namesake, our great aunt (Phyllis Thomas) and our grandmother (Kathleen Drury). Both of these redoubtable ladies had worked “below stairs” in private houses of Edwardian Britain and looking back, clearly they greatly influenced how we saw food.
Their recipes were for the type of baked goods that you only normally see done well in a “home” setting. They included a very time consuming Battenberg , a rich Dundee cake, miniature éclairs, featherlight Madeira cake, yeasted pikelets, Cornish splits, shortbread tails, Sally Lunns (a kind of English brioche) and very much to the point of today’s blog, homemade crumpets.
In keeping with the whole theme, we brought into Adelaide a range of single origin teas and coffees from a small independent importer in Sydney, which we blended and packed to order (no Twinnings or Robert Timms for us, which was the norm back then), and of course these were all served from, and into, fine Wedgewood and Royal Doulton bone china (we almost needed a separate mortgage just for the breakages). If that wasn’t enough we also manufactured a range of some 15 or so condiments, sauces and relishes.
But the centre piece of the business was our afternoon tea, served on very elegant tiered, china cake stands and loaded with all kinds of tea time goodies. It was a decent spread, sweet and savory, hot and cold, all freshly made and all very, very proper. Suffice to say it was a bold venture, some would have called it ambitious but today tea boutiques and ethical barista coffee are common place, the great British/Aussie bakeoff and other cooking shows regularly feature many of the classic sweet things that were our stock in trade and fine bone china is again quite fashionable now, clearly in terms of being “on trend” we were well ahead of the what was to come.
But back to the crumpets, and with a few exceptions during my time at Appellation, I have hardly had cause to make a crumpet in the past 28 years, but for this event it seemed to be the perfect time to revisit the past and so we decided to serve real English style currant muffins, hot off the griddle (not those obese cup cakes Americans call muffins ), a rich, moist bitter chocolate cake with rum fondant icing, flaky, little savoury pies of local ham, cheese and potatoes, a silky smooth potted mushroom pate and of course home made crumpets, all washed down with Barossa Sparkling Shiraz rather than Darjeeling …. My how times have changed and welcome to the Barossa!.
For those that have never tried making crumpets from scratch, they really are very simple (if you can make pancakes you can make crumpets!) and believe me it is worth it. They really are so different from the supermarket variety that have been sitting quietly sweating in their plastic wrappings for lord knows how long.
Firstly, they are much, much lighter, of course they are still full of those little holes designed to soak up all that butter, but they lack the stodginess of the shop bought item. Secondly, and really importantly when you toast them they actually get crisp on the outside, yet staying soft and moist in the center. And thirdly, they are all natural, lacking the long life additives, chemicals (and weird sourness) that plague the shop bought item.
Try them next weekend when you have a little more spare time, the batter will take a couple of hours to be ready to cook, but the great thing is they can (and should) be made ahead, sure you can eat them straight off the grill but the second cooking or toasting actually improves the eating quality. And most importantly, please don’t stint on the butter and never, ever, under any circumstances use margarine, that’s just plain wrong!
250g plain flour
15g dried yeast
350ml milk – blood temperature
1 teaspoon caster sugar
Melted butter for grilling
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl (except butter) and mix well to a smooth batter.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to “prove” for 1-2 hours
- When proved, batter should be thick and foamy (see image)
- Preheat a non stick pan or griddle over a low heat, grease some egg rings or metal cookie cutters well with non stick spray or melted butter.
- Brush or wipe pan lightly with melted butter and place spoonfuls of batter into rings to about the depth of 7mm
- Cook until crumpet clearly forms holes on top and base is a nice golden colour.
- Remove ring and turn crumpet over and cook until lightly golden
- Transfer to a cooling rack and reheat in a toaster when ready to eat and butter generously!