For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the food people eat in books. Reading descriptions of food in fiction, I remember thoughts along the lines of “I want to eat that,” and, as I grew older, “I want to replicate that.” The food in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books was especially captivating. At my parents’ house in the Catskills, not content to eat potatoes baked in the oven, I would put mine in the fireplace. “It’s really good,” I would insist, as I chipped away the black carbonized exterior to get at what remained of my potato. When I was about 12, I was given the Little House Cookbook. I tried to make maple candy by pouring barely-caramelized maple syrup on snow (like chewy brown Rorschach blots; not an improvement), ice cream without a churn, in a bowl of salted ice (disastrous), and “Johnny Cakes.” (I don’t remember much, except that they were virtually inedible.) Someone later explained to me that the reason why Ingalls Wilder so vividly described food, and why it all sounded so delicious, was because she spent most of her childhood hungry.
As a youthful Anglophile, I found English food especially intriguing. (No, really.) Everything was exotic. The English drank sweet, milky tea in the afternoon. (In my household, tea was served black and unsweetened, with babka, after dinner.) They had toast with butter and jam for breakfast! They ate flamed Christmas pudding with suet (I’d been reading a lot of Dickens), and Yorkshire pudding, whatever the heck that was. But the ne plus ultra of English cookery was the mysterious crumpet. I WANTED CRUMPETS. I wanted to make crumpets. Somewhere I found a recipe for crumpets and I made them. Again, and again, and again. My poor parents.
Last week,when I made fresh ricotta, I reserved my whey with the promise that it would be used in another recipe. My research disclosed that the best use for whey was in baking. Whey has a higher concentration of lactose than ordinary milk and its proteins act as a “flour conditioner.” (This website fully explains the food science behind using whey products when baking.) When deciding what to bake, for some reason – perhaps my self-congratulatory sense of frugality – my thought turned to crumpets. Crumpets are made with scalded milk, which made the substitution very straightforward. I couldn’t find the recipe I used to use as a child, so I adapted this one from the Southern Heritage Breads Cookbook. (Sorry, English people!) For some reason – perhaps the addition of eggs to the recipe – these crumpets don’t have the distinctive holes in their surface I’m used to, but they are light, buttery, and delicious. Hence, “Southern-style” in this recipe’s title.
You will Need:
A good non-stick skillet, seasoned griddle, or cast-iron pan
Four-inch muffin rings (You can use tuna tins from which the tops and bottoms have been removed)
1 pkg yeast
50 g butter plus additional butter or shortening
¼ cup warm water
1 large egg
1 and ¾ cups whey (or scalded milk)
1 and ¾ cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 tsp salt
Heat the water to about 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit (40-50 degrees Celsius) and combine with melted butter and yeast. Set aside for 15 minutes to allow yeast to bloom.
Heat the whey to the same temperature (if using scalded milk, allow to cool to this temperature) and beat in egg. Gradually beat in flour and salt. Mix together with yeast/water/butter mixture. You should have a thick batter.
Grease muffin rings and heat skillet or griddle with a little of butter. Place muffin rings on hot skillet and scoop in some of the batter, filling to a depth of approximately ¾ inch, or two centimetres. Lower heat and cook for 8-10 minutes on each side, using a spatula to flip. The crumpets will puff satisfyingly.
Makes about 12 crumpets.