Crumpets have increasingly been found popping up in toasters around the country, and it seems to be a trend that’s not about to die away any time soon. And why should it? Like toasties, crumpets are associated with a sense of comfort and nostalgia. As a breakfast or afternoon tea treat they’re customarily enjoyed slathered with butter, honey, golden syrup or jam.
More recently, creative chefs around the country are outdoing themselves in coming up with imaginative sweet and savoury ideas that transform them from snack-size bites to a filling meal to set you up for the day.
A crumpet is a yeast-leavened thick pancake, usually round due to it being cooked either in a pan or a metal ring on top of a griddle or skillet. As they’re made from batter they need to be contained while they cook or they will lose their shape. A crumpet needs to have a lot of air bubbles along its surface – which are then the perfect channels for melting butter to travel down once cooked and toasted.
Thought to originate in Anglo Saxon Britain, the earliest written reference to a “crompid cake” is found in a 14th-century text written by English Bible translator John Wycliffe. Early forms of crumpets are thought to be pancake-like and cooked on a griddle, with regional variations that developed into the Welsh and northern England pikelet. In Victorian times the crumpet evolved into the spongy yeast-based tea-cakes that are more familiar today.
Until recently the most common crumpets available locally were found ready-made in supermarkets, but options have now become more plentiful. What’s behind the trend?
Kraken Crumpets have a dedicated crumpet food truck found at farmers' markets around Auckland. The business began when owners Hamish Macdonald and Amy Sisson returned to New Zealand following a period living in Turkey and Asia. The couple were inspired by the street food vendors they encountered. “[It] sparked the idea to start a food cart. Crumpets seemed like a great fit as everyone has eaten supermarket crumpets, but few people have ever seen them being made or tasted a fresh crumpet,” explains Hamish.
Notoriously difficult to perfect, their advice to make a crumpet with the best combination of sponginess, chewiness and a slightly crispy base? “As with most yeast-based recipes there are a whole lot of factors that can affect the end product, but our biggest tip is to give it time. The temperature you cook them at also plays a huge factor, too hot and they will burn before they bubble, but too cold and the bubbles won't form in the first place. It’s a delicate balancing act.”
Marc Weir, owner of Wellington's Loretta cafe, says it took time to refine their recipe.“We cook on a low heat, cooking on one side only, not flipping, until small holes appear on the top and it starts to dry. The small holes throughout the crumpet are vital to give it texture.”
Along the road at Field & Green, chef and co-owner Laura Greenfield developed her recipe from Felicity Cloake’s “How to make the Perfect…” column in The Guardian. Laura then created her own variation, “whereby I make a large crumpet (which is the size of my frypans) that is then cut into six wedges, sliced then toasted to order”. Similarly, one of the popular breakfast menu choices at Auckland’s Orphans Kitchen are wedges of chef Tom Hishon’s pan-cooked thick, spongy crumpets, drizzled in burnt butter and their own roof-top honey.
Some of our favourite topping options include Auckland's Little and Friday's light-as-air crumpets with Caramelised Banana, Hazelnut, Mascarpone and Fred’s Honeycomb. For a savoury option, the Pah Homestead cafe's serving of Smoked Fish, Caper Beurre Blanc and Parsley with Poached Egg is difficult to go past on their all-day breakfast menu.
Later this year, Field & Green will collaborate with the Ritual Tea Company for a Tea & Crumpet pop-up featuring lemon curd, (English) marmite and smoked salmon mousse.
For the traditional at heart, lashings of butter is the essential – and only – addition required as the spongy texture of the crumpet absorbs it extremely well. However, as Hamish of Kraken Crumpets reflects, “The crumpet is such a versatile base, it lends itself to all sorts of experimentation”.
Ater much trial and error, food editor Claire Aldous has discovered how to make the perfect crumpet at home, find the recipe here.