I have been challenged - yes challenged, practically with a glove-swipe to my face - to make crumpets. On Twitter no less. And when I say crumpets, I mean those porous, slightly rubbery things, rather than floury, cut-them-in-half, english muffins.
"Will you make them?" said my Twitter challenger. "I want to make them but I don't know if it's worth it," she said. "If you do it, I'll know if it's hard or not because you're, you know, quite lazy and slapdash, and if they turn out fine I'll know whether to bother or not." Okay, she didn't say that last bit, because she is too nice. BUT IT WAS WHAT SHE WAS THINKING.
And thus my role in life became clear. I don't have a job, you see. So I can spend a lot of time making recipes and getting them wrong. I am not a chef, I have no training and very little knowledge of the science of food. I don't know what yeast does. I don't understand why flour makes things thick. I really REALLY don't understand why you have to "rest" meat (but I know you must). I am as clueless in the kitchen as it's possible to be. So if I can make something, you can. If I say it works, it does; if I've made it, it is officially idiot-proof, and you can devote a few hours of your weekend to making whatever it is, in confidence.
So off I went to make crumpets, like a little avatar, merely an extension of the whims of my readers. The only thing I had to buy was a couple of egg poaching rings (usually I avoid recipes that I need to actually buy special equipment for - see "Very lazy salted caramel ice cream" - but I thought I would make an exception for these egg rings). You can also, I reckon, use a round metal pastry cutter.
So the news is: crumpets work. If you make this recipe, you will get slightly rubbery crumpets with those holes in the top that taste boring and doughy by themselves but are so delicious they'd instantly pacify a demented rottweiler when covered in butter and jam OR marmite OR honey.
The only thing you have to be careful with is that they burn quite easily at the bottom. Giles and his friend Ed, who ate three burned-bottom crumpets apiece for tea yesterday, said that the burnt bits actually added to the flavour, but not everyone will agree.
The burning problem is this: in order to cook the batter all the way through a) the pan has to be hot and b) cook for about 4-5 minutes. But if the pan is too hot, the crumpet bottom will burn. But if it's not hot enough, the top won't cook properly and you won't get those little holes.
My only recommendation is to experiment with different thicknesses of crumpet. I would say, personally, that the optimum thickness to aim for is about 1cm, which would mean about 2-3 tbsps of batter in each crumpet-ring. This is thinner than a shop-bought crumpet but comparisons of this sort are not good for morale.
Making the batter is very easy. There is slightly more faff to it than making, say, a pancake batter, due to the inclusion of yeast, but it works so in my mind, it's worth it. The crumpets vanished within 1.5 hours in my kitchen, but I imagine that if you made a batch they would keep for 24 hours in tupperware and would revive nicely under a grill or in a toaster.
This is good because if you wanted to have a tea party, you'd possibly want to keep the inevitable blue-ish smoke and on-fire smell that comes from this kind of pan-frying away from your smart guests and their party dresses.
So here we go. This recipe can be found in Delia Smith's Complete Illustrated Cookery course, p. 504 and is also available online here: http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/type-of-dish/sweet/home-made-crumpets.html
For 12 (halve the quantities if you're not feeling in the mood for that many)
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp dried yeast
8oz plain flour
1 teasp salt
butter or oil for greasing
some egg poaching rings or round pastry cutters
1 Heat the milk and the water in a pan until it is "hand hot". This just means slightly warmer than warm, not actually "ouch" hot - or you'll kill the yeast that you're about to put in it
2 Pour the milk/water into a jug and sprinkle over the sugar and dried yeast, stir, and leave in a warm place for 15 mins. The yeast will clump up and stick to the sides and generally look unappealing - don't worry, it sorts itself out and after 15 mins will be all frothy on top.
3 Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in your 15-minute yeast-and-milk stuff. Mix in first with a wooden spoon and then beat with a whisk until it's a smooth batter. One or two little lumps aren't the end of the world.
4 Then leave it in a warm place covered with a tea towel for 45 minutes, during which time you can put on the kettle and ring everyone you know, telling them to come round for crumpets.
5 To cook the crumpets, grease your egg rings or pastry cutters well with either butter or groundnut/peanut oil. This is really important, even if you've bought non-stick egg rings. Then lightly oil a non-stick pan or oil more heavily a not non-stick pan and get it QUITE hot - the aim is just before smoking point.
6 Place the ring or rings in the pan and then blob in your now-frothy batter. I didn't find a way of doing this without making a massive mess, but you might. I'd aim for about 2 or 3 tablespoons but definitely experiment with different amounts. Keep an eye on them. First bubbles will rise to the top and then as it cooks, the bubbles will pop and you'll be left with the little holes in the top.
7 When the tops of the crumpets look fairly dry, lift away the ring with tongs or whatever you've got and flip it over for a few seconds to cook the top. If you re-use the same ring, make sure to re-grease it. If you've greased the ring and the batter STILL sticks the side, you can loosen it by running round the outside with a knife.
And there will be your crumpets, ensuring you ever-safe from demented rottweilers.