Crumpets are a delicious breakfast addition and are also an easy snack meal. In comparison to bread, crumpets have a more substantial texture and are delicious when the air holes fill up with melting butter, margarine or other topping.
Crumpets may have been an Anglo-Saxon invention. In early times, they were hard pancakes cooked on a griddle, rather than the soft and spongy crumpets of the Victorian era, which were made with yeast. The crumpet-makers of the English Midlands and London developed the characteristic holes, by adding extra baking powder to the yeast dough. The term itself may refer to a crumpled or curled-up cake, or have Celtic origins relating to the Breton krampoez meaning a “thin, flat cake” and the Welsh crempog or crempot, a type of pancake.
The English crumpet
Crumpets are generally circular roughly 7 cm in diameter and roughly 2 cm thick. Their shape comes from being restrained in the pan/griddle by a shallow ring. They have a characteristic flat top with many small pores and a chewy and spongy texture. They may be cooked until ready to eat warm from the pan, but are frequently left slightly undercooked so that they may be cooled and stored before being eaten freshly toasted. In Australia and New Zealand, branded square crumpets can be purchased from supermarkets, designed to fit easily in a standard toaster.
A regional variation of the crumpet is the pikelet, whose name derives from the Welsh bara piglydd or “pitchy i.e. dark or sticky bread”, later shortened simply to piglydd; the early 17th century lexicographer, Randle Cotgrave, spoke of “our Welsh barrapycleds”. The word spread initially to the West Midlands, where it became anglicised as “pikelet”, and subsequently to Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and other areas of the north.
The main distinguishing feature of the Welsh or West Midlands pikelet is that it was traditionally cooked without a ring, with an end result rather flatter or thinner than a crumpet.
The term “Pikelet” is also used in Australia, Barbados and New Zealand for a similarly flat cake, of the type that in Scotland and North America would be called a pancake and in England a Scotch pancake, girdle or griddle cake, or drop scone.
A Scottish crumpet is essentially a pancake cooked in a slightly different way, made from the same ingredients as a scotch pancake, and is about 180 mm diameter and 8 mm thick. They are available plain, or as a fruit crumpet with raisins baked in, and are not reheated before serving; they are usually served with butter and jam. The ingredients include a raising agent, usually baking powder, and different proportions of eggs, flour and milk which create a thin batter. Unlike a pancake, they are cooked to brown on one side only, resulting in a smooth darker side where it has been heated by the griddle, then lightly cooked on the other side which has holes where bubbles have risen to the surface during cooking. It bears little resemblance to the English crumpet.
This is the normal kind of crumpet in Scottish bakers’ shops, tea rooms, and cafés, though the English type of crumpet is often obtainable in supermarkets in addition to the Scottish kind.
- 350 ml semi-skimmed milk, warmed but not boiling
- 450 g all purpose or plain flour
- 5 g dried yeast
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 350 ml tepid water (approx)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- vegetable oil, for cooking
- Whisk together the milk, flour, yeast and sugar. Once combined add half the water and beat into the batter, continue to add more water until the batter is thick and smooth. Stop adding water once it reaches the consistency of thick cream. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm draft free place until foaming - about 1, up to 2 hours.
- Whisk the salt and baking powder into the batter then heat a heavy based frying pan on the stove to hot but not smoking.
- Dampen kitchen paper with a little oil and grease the base of the pan and a crumpet (or pastry) rings measuring 8 X 3.75cm approx. If you don't have any pastry or crumpet rings then use a small, washed food can to the same measurements.
- Place one ring in the heated pan, add enough batter to fill just below the top of the ring. Cook for five minutes when there should be many tiny holes on the surface and the crumpet is setting. Flip the crumpet over and cook for another two – three minutes.
- Repeat with the remaining batter until used up. Rest the crumpets on a wire rack until cool and reheat in a toaster or under the grill before serving. Serve with lots of butter and/or jam.