Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, Chapter 2
I first read Rebecca nearly five years ago now, while travelling through Cornwall with my mum. The quiet villages, craggy cliffs and windswept hills were a welcome departure from the hustle and bustle of London, where I was still finding my feet. However, I could understand the miserable loneliness that the second Mrs De Winter feels when she arrives at Manderley - especially with the deliciously creepy Mrs Danvers (a tremendous Gothic creation) skulking around.
Early in the novel, the second Mrs De Winter (never named) remembers the tea described above - a truly English spread. Having experimented with scones already, and with a post for gingerbread planned for Christmas, I settled on a recreation of the crumpets - the Angel cake will need to wait for another time. I adore crumpets but, with my aversion to wheat, they're not something I have very regularly. They did take a little practice to get right (see my ps. below the recipe), but I think I've cracked the method in the directions below. It's all about flipping the crumpets once they've been popped out of the ring, and not before, contrary to what most recipes I read recommended. I will say that, dripping with butter, jam and honey and served with a pot of tea, they made for a pretty special Sunday morning breakfast.
350g warmed milk (body temperature, but not above)
1tsp dried yeast
350mL tepid water
1tsp baking powder
Vegetable oil (for greasing)
Heavy based frying pan
Crumpet ring/biscuit cutter (at least 3cm tall)
Small sharp knife
1. Whisk the milk, flour, yeast and sugar together until smooth. Add half the tepid then whisk again. Continue to add the rest of the water, bit by bit (you may not need it all), whisking until the mixture resembles double cream.
2. Cover the bowl with cling film, and leave in a warm, draft-free place for 1-2 hours, until it is foaming on top.
3. Heat your over to 100C if you're hoping to eat the crumpets straight after baking - it will keep them warm while you finish the batch. Sieve the salt and baking powder into the batter and whisk it in. Heat a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat. Grease an 8cm wide crumpet ring/biscuit cutter very well with vegetable oil. Pop a little oil into the middle of the frying pan too, and place the cutter/ring on top.
4. Ladle a spoonful of the batter into the ring, filling it about 2cm high. The crumpet will rise, so don't fill it up to the top. Cook for five minutes until crumpet-like holes have formed in the surface and the batter is nearly set. Remove the ring. This might be a little fiddly - it was for me - you can use a small sharp knife to go around the crumpet if it has stuck. Once the crumpet is free, flip it over and cook for no more than a minute on the hole-y side. If you're serving them imminently, place them on a baking tray in the oven to keep warm.
5. Serve while still hot, with an excess of butter and some jam or honey. Alternatively, toast them the next day and serve with, perhaps controversially, Vegemite and a slice of mature cheddar (which will melt deliciously into the holes).
ps. All but the keenest of bakers may be put off trying crumpets for a Sunday morning brunch. They can undeniably be a bit of a faff - many of mine stuck to the ring - but once you master them, they are divinely good. I spent a very grumpy Saturday night making my first batch, then a blissful Sunday morning scoffing them with my friend Mia. The end result? I will definitely be making them again.