I Love a Bit of Crumpet!

crumpet

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.

T&D (2)

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.

shop (2)

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.

tea (2)

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!.

sparkling shiraz (3)

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!

Crumpets

250g                                       plain flour
pinch                                     salt
15g                                         dried yeast
350ml                                    milk – blood temperature
1                                              egg
1 teaspoon                            caster sugar

Melted butter for grilling

Method

  • 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)

batter2

  • 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

in rings 2

  • 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

on griddle2

  • Transfer to a cooling rack and reheat in a toaster when ready to eat and butter generously!

ready to toast2

One a penny, Two a penny…..

ready to eat

Yesterday our local supermarket was bereft of bread with the usual pre Easter panic shopping but there was a surfeit of those horrible chemical laden, artificial smelling, long life Hot Cross Buns, the ones that started appearing on the shelves the very day the Valentines day chocolate displays were out of the way…. You have to love our “Hallmark Events” culture.

Seeing these sad commercial things sweating it out in their plastic bags, I got to thinking about their origins. I seemed to remember that though they have been associated in our Anglo culture with the event that occurred on a Friday almost 2000 years ago (since at least the late middle ages), but their origin and design actually goes back much further.

Thankfully my trusty old go to pastry text “The New International Confectioner” a book that I have relied on and referred back to for almost 40 years, has a full half  page devoted to the history and mythology of Hot Cross Buns. Steeped in pagan rites, it cites ancient Babylonian fire symbols of a circle with a cross inside and notes that cakes and breads were routinely decorated thus, that the Ancient Greeks did a similar thing with the cross symbolizing the four phases of the moon and in fact many basic breads are still scored in much the same way as would have been the case two thousand years ago.

For example below are images of petrified bread from Pompeii, loaves created following ancient roman texts, modern day Khobz from Morocco, Irish Soda bread and German Easter Bread just to illustrate the form, style and cultural /ethnic traditions that pre-date the commercialization of todays Easter celebration but which all look remarkably familar.

breads

Of course the other misnomer with hot cross buns is the spicing, today, allspice and mixed spice make up the predominant blend, as well as commercial bun spice which is so strong it cant be natural. Interestingly though these spice mixtures are almost certainly Arabic or Levantine in origin, bought back by western Europe by the crusaders, or infused into Europe via the  Caliphate that occupied Spain and the Mediterranean for several centuries.

These sweet spices make up many of the most savoury seasonings in the Arab world and have become greatly used in French cuisine particularly through their incorporation into Quatre Epices. Of course the English adopted the French tradition and used these particular spices in their (originally savoury) mince pies, a fetid beef, suet and dried fruit concoction that was made palatable and sweet smelling by the use of these exotic spices. Clearly they developed a tasting or a liking for these relatively expensive ingredients as they went on to be used almost exclusively in luxury goods like cakes and pastries.

But getting back to where I started, my family all love a good hot cross bun, but I can’t abide the type one buys in the supermarket. So this being Good Friday, and with a little time to spare, I decided to step up and make some for the family. Personally, I like mine a little lighter in spice and not as sickly sweet,  and certainly without the awful mixed peel that tastes like citrus cleaning product, rather in its place Sukkade, a Dutch candied citron that is oh so delicate.

As for the  recipe, it’s pretty straight forward, we made ours in about 3 hours start to finish and the family loves them, I hope you do too.

Hot Cross Buns

500g                       plain flour
300ml                    water – luke warm
15g                          dry yeast
30g                         sugar
Pinch                     nutmeg – ground/grated
¼ teaspoon          clove – ground
½ teaspoon          cinnamon
30g                         butter
1 teaspoon            salt

20g                         Succade (Dutch candied citron peel)
30g                         currants
30g                         sultanas

1                              egg – beaten for glazing buns

Cross Paste
25g                        flour
30g                        water
1 ½ teaspoons    vegetable  oil

Bun Glaze
2 tablespoons    sugar
1 tablespoon      water
pinch of             cinnamon – ground
pinch of             clove – ground

Method – Makes 12:

  • Sift flour, then prepare a starter “sponge” by mixing a quarter of the flour with the sugar and yeast, stir in the water to form a smooth light batter, cover and leave to ferment until foaming and frothy.

bun dough

  • To this “sponge” add the remaining flour, spices, salt and butter and knead well until silky smooth, soft and elastic.

add fruit

 

  • Cover and allow to double, roll out and sprinkle currants, sultanas and Zuckader over, work in lightly, divide into 12 equal portions and shape into small rolls.

bun portion

  • Grease baking dish and place rolls in dish leaving about 1cm all around edges and between rolls to allow for expansion
  • Mix ingredients for “cross paste” and fill into a small piping bag with a fine nozzle and reserve.
  • Cover and allow to double again, buns are ready when they do not spring back when pressed.

egg wash

  • Brush with beaten egg, pipe cross over to decorate and bake in an oven preheated to 200C for 12-15 minutes.

crosses

  • While baking prepare the bun glaze by bringing spices, sugar and water to the boil

baked

  • Remove buns when golden brown on top and bottom, brush with bun glaze while still hot and leave to cool thoroughly (if you can!)

 

 

 

Pav Bhaji – A Blog in Two Parts – Pt 1

pav #8 For anyone that has spent more than a few days in Bombay there is one street food that seems synonymous with this city and that is Pav Bhaji. Rick Stein described it as like Indian bubble and squeak and he’s pretty close to the mark, think fried vegetables and potatoes but with heaps of ghee (instead of lard or bacon fat like my Nan’s bubble and squeak) and a decent amount of masala spicing and green chili.

If this sounds good, it is, even though its mildly addictive and pretty much a spicy heart attack in waiting. Served in what Mumbaikars call a “Pav” or “Pao” (pronounced POW) which is basically a sweet bread roll, and for a little extra fat they generally butter them and toast them on a griddle…. Insane!

While next week’s post will deal with the spicy vegetable curry or bhaji , today’s installment is about the unique bread that is Pav or Pao. Introduced by Portuguese settlers this type of bread survived both British rule and partition and is today pretty much regarded as the daily bread of Mumbai. In fact locals swear that Pav’s are not the same anywhere outside their city, even in neighboring Goa which has even stronger Portuguese ties.

“Pav’s” are quite unlike normal bread rolls, they are slightly sweet like hamburger buns but also slightly salty. As for shape and size, they are smaller and taller than baps or burger buns, more like a hot cross bun. One big difference is a deep golden glossy top that makes them look like brioche and they even have a buttery smell. (See the image at top)

Coming home with a longing for a Pao Bhaji fix , despite the filling not posing any problems, try as I might, I couldn’t find anything close for my Pav. Some local bread rolls were approximately the same shape and size but lacked the flavor, glossy top and buttery aroma, while others were just over sweet and artificial. In the end I ended up making them myself using the following really simple recipe and as an added bonus, not only are they great for their traditional use but they also make outstanding soft dinner or breakfast rolls, I hope you enjoy them.

Bombay Style Pao (aka Pav)

500g                       plain flour
300ml                    water – luke warm
15g                          dry yeast
30g                         sugar
30g                         butter
1 teaspoon             salt
1                              egg – beaten for glazing rolls

 

ferment Sift flour, then prepare a starter “sponge” by mixing a quarter of the flour with the sugar and yeast, stir in the water to form a smooth light batter, cover and leave to ferment until foaming and frothy. before mixing To this “sponge” add the remaining flour, salt and butter and knead well until silky smooth, soft and elastic. basic dough Cover and allow to double, punch down and divide into 12 equal portions and shape into small rolls. portioned doughGrease baking dish and place rolls in dish leaving about 1cm all around edges and between rolls to allow for expansion shaped Pav's Cover and allow to double again, brush with beaten egg and bake in an oven preheated to 220C for 10-12 minutes. Bombay Style Pav's Remove when golden on top and bottom and place on a cooling rack. Eat toasted or with butter.