CRUMPETS

We’re all doing our best during these stressful times to stay home, stay active and stay informed.  Hubby and I put it off as long as we could, but finally had to make our way into the grocery store.  Well, it was obvious that we were quite a bit late.  Needless to say, all the cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. were gone, but baking ingredients?  Baking is what I like to do to relax, and apparently, a lot of people share in this, because the flours, sugars, and all of the essential baking ingredients were also not to be found.  I was completely unprepared to see even these supermarket shelves barren.  It’s a good thing I had some of the basic items at home.

With that in mind, what challenge do I need to take on with my limited pantry?  Having just received the latest edition of COOKS ILLUSTRATED (a periodical I’ve relied upon for other recipes), there it was … Crumpets!  I’ve never made Crumpets before and felt the need to tackle something new.  The article was a full two-pages on how to make ‘authentic crumpets’, which should have been my first clue.

What are Crumpets?  I think they are most easily described as Britain’s version of an English muffin.  Perfect for breakfast or teatime, they are a home-spun, belly filling, crisp on the outside, kind’a doughy on the inside, griddle cake.  The best way to eat them is toasted and slathered with butter or jam, or butter AND jam.

The COOK’S ILLUSTRATED recipe called for “cake flour”, which struck me as rather odd, because this is hearty comfort food, not a delicate sponge.  Hubby said I needed ring molds.  Really?  COOK’S ILLUSTRATED didn’t say I needed them.  Why can’t I just drop the dough onto the griddle in rounds?  After trying to do exactly that, I can tell you, hubby was right … you’re  not going to get nice, fat, round muffins.  You are going to get something flat and misshapen like a pancake.  The recipe said to ‘scrape off the top of the batter, before flipping, to expose the beautiful air holes’.  Why that alone didn’t  make me toss the recipe aside, I’ll never know.  I plunged ahead anyway.

Epic Fail Crumpet Flapjacks

Three hours later, all 12 misshapen, gluey, tasteless griddle cakes went into the trash.  If you want to make Crumpets, I do not recommend the COOK’s ILLUSTRATED recipe.  I did, however, go through all my cookbooks, as well as online recipes and, after four more attempts, ended up making delicious Crumpets with thanks to Paul Hollywood. 

DIY crumpet ring molds

Not having crumpet rings and looking frantically for something to use, I ended up squashing some cookie cutters into roundish molds.  They aren’t pretty, but they worked. And with my final attempt to make these crumpets, I decided they should be a bit more nutritious.  Why not Whole Wheat?

Super easy to prepare … although the grilling part was a bit tricky.  You can easily use a bowl and wooden spoon, but I choose to use my stand mixer.  And, you can prepare the batter the night before and grill them in the morning.  What could be easier than that?  Eat them as they come off the grill, or make ahead and freeze.  Either way, when you’re ready to eat them, be sure to toast the crumpets til crisp and slather them with rich, creamy butter.  Here’s the recipe.  I hope you give it a go!!

WHOLE WHEAT CRUMPETS
Makes approximately:  10 to 12  4″ crumpets.  Cook time:  8 to 12 minutes.

1 cup bread flour (or all purpose flour)*
1 cup whole wheat flour*
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
*(or you can use two cups all purpose flour)

First, warm the milk in the microwave (not too hot) and stir in the yeast and the sugar.  Let it rest for 10 minutes until its frothy.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours and the salt.  Add the warm milk mixture and stir together until a thick dough forms.  If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.  Let it mix for about 3 or 4 minutes.

No need to take it out, knead it and grease the bowl.  Just cover the bowl with a towel and put it aside to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

When it has doubled and will hold an indentation from your finger, it’s ready.  Mix together the cup of water with the baking soda.  Now comes the tricky part, mix this liquid into the dough.  It’ll be difficult at first.  I used a fork to break the dough up, and then beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it was somewhat smooth (but not perfect … still a bit lumpy).

After the water/baking soda liquid has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl again and put it aside for another hour.  When it’s ready, there should be bubbles on the surface.

Preheat a skillet, griddle or cast iron pan on medium heat and oil it a bit.  Not too generously.  But, generously grease the inside of the ring molds.  If you don’t, the batter will stick and you’ll never get them out.  Put the rings onto the skillet to get hot as well.

Using a ladle or tablespoon, spoon equal portions of the batter into the molds.  The batter will be sticky and gloppy.  Don’t be concerned.  That’s how it’s suppose to be.  Keep an eye on the heat to be sure they don’t burn on the bottom, turning it down as necessary.  They will rise and as with pancakes, they will be almost fully cooked before they need to be flipped over (about 6 minutes on the first side).  When the top has lost its gloss and the sides look firm, remove the rings.  The rings will be hot, so use tongs.  With a spatula, flip the crumpets over and let them cook on the other side for just another minute.

The crumpets should be lightly browned and ready to eat.  Move them to a rack and let them cool for a bit, as they will continue to cook on the inside for a minute or two.  Re-grease the ring molds and put them back on the griddle to heat up and then ladle in more batter.  Keep going until all the batter is gone.  Depending upon the size of the rings, this recipe will make 8 to 12 crumpets.

Whole Wheat Crumpets

Crumpets are delicious hot off the griddle with a generous slathering of butter.  If you are going to toast them, don’t slice them open.  They aren’t English muffins.  We really liked the whole wheat flour, giving these crumpets a darker color, rich nutty flavor.  Half of them were gone, the moment they came off the griddle.  I wrapped the others, put them into the freezer, and they’ll be perfect for the weekend.


If you make them, please be sure to let me know how they came out.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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CAKE

One of the oldest forms of what originated as a sweetened bread is cake.  In its simplest form, it is flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and butter, but it can be so much more than just that.  Cake can evoke so many different emotions and memories in each of us.  From the modest, but much-loved birthday cake of our childhood, to the multi-tiered symbol of love, the wedding cake, to the rich, decadent torte we enjoyed during our last extravagant dinner.  Or perhaps it was that $5.00 cake at the grocery store which looked so good you couldn’t pass it up.  Today a celebratory Cake is a ‘must have’ for most cultures at every occasion … from the baby shower to the anniversary dinner to the retirement party.

Duff Goldman photographed next to one of his designer cakes, a floral wedding cake at Charm City Cakes West.

I am fascinated by the incredible cakes produced on some of the Food Network shows. Watching episodes of Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes can leave you feeling hopelessly inadequate as a baker.  But you must know that lavishly decorated cakes didn’t begin when the Food Network started showcasing these professional bakers and their cake masterpieces.  It began during the Victorian era.

When hubby and I have a weekend free, we love to spend a Sunday afternoon strolling around rural town centers, browsing through curiosity and antique shops.  Recently I came across a fascinating  book entitled The Victorian Book of Cakes, Recipes, Techniques and Decorations from the Golden Age of Cake Making”.  Not the original, this reproduction, written in 1958, is taken from the turn-of-the-century tome which was the standard for professional bakers during the Victorian era. The recipes range from petit fours to pound cakes, slab cakes and shortbread, to gingerbread and marzipan.

The illustrations in this book are remarkable in that they are not photographs but drawn capturing the precise details from each original baked item.  The images of wedding cakes are astonishingly beautiful, each having won prizes at the London International Exhibition 100 years ago.

The book has hundreds of recipes, which are quite interesting.  Most use the same simple ingredients, but with very minimal direction.  The cakes are generally traditional fruit cakes, with nuts, spices, and rum or brandy, such as the wedding cake Prince William and Kate Middleton served for their wedding.

For leavening agents, although they do not call it “baking powder”, a blend of ‘cream of tartar’ and baking soda (two pounds of cream of tartar to one pound of baking soda) is used – which essentially is ‘baking powder’ (invented by Alfred Bird in 1840).  Yeast or beaten egg whites were also used to lighten batters, all of which leads me to think that most of these cakes were probably more ‘bread like’ and quite dense.

In a Victorian bakery or pastry shop there would be a variety of cakes and biscuits for sale from scones and shortbread to meringues, marzipan and trifles.  This book gives the bakery owner, not only recipes for its ‘best sellers’, but advice on how to display these confections and what to charge … with cakes starting at a shilling.  One description for a “SHILLING GATEAU” is described as “very saleable and enhance the general shop display.  They should be made from a good Genoese base, either a light egg mixture or a closer-eating butter mixing.  The latter seems to be the favorite of the cake-eating public.”  How fun!  I guess we ‘cake-eating public’ like a ‘closer-eating’ mixture … whatever that may mean.

In addition to the advice and recipes are the original advertisements for all the baking essentials required, from flours and sugars to cake stands and ovens.  One advertisement which I found interesting was for a “vegetable butter” made from “cocoanuts, as an excellent substitute for butter, margarine and lard”.  Why has it taken us another 100 years to fully incorporate coconut oil into our baking?

Times may have changed and although some of the ingredients have stayed the same, progress seems to be  mostly in the preparation, and in the myriad of flavors we have today.

I’m sure you’ve probably realized by now that ‘I like to bake’.  Breads, cakes, cookies, it really doesn’t matter.  I find baking to be relaxing.  It also provides a much-needed creative outlet.  Taking an assortment of unrelated ingredients and turning them into, hopefully, a confection that not only tastes good, but is pretty to look at, is quite satisfying.  Not all my ‘bakes’ have been successful, of course.  In fact, some have been complete disasters, requiring a quick trip to the nearest bakery when it was an occasion for which I was to supply the “cake”.  But, for the most part, they’ve been pretty decent.

I’m not sure any of us would enjoy making the seemingly simple, but on closer inspection, overly-complicated recipes in this “The Victorian Book of Cakes” today,  but I do feel challenged to try my hand at making one or two – some shortbread perhaps?  Not that I would ever do what Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  But, then again …

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‘GROWNUP’ CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

I recently visited a bakery.  A brand-new, just-opened, homey, woman-owned and operated bakery right in the center of town.  Everything should have worked.  Was there a part of me that was just a wee bit envious?  Absolutely.  I won’t deny that.  So what did I do?  I ordered one of everything.  Yup!  One frosted brownie, one macaron of each flavor, one cupcake of each flavor, one chocolate chip cookie, one sandwich cookie … on and on.  Looking for inspiration, unique flavor combinations, whatever, I justified this outrageous purchase as “research”.

My partner-in-crime and I (no, I wasn’t going to eat all of this myself) took our treasure trove of goodies outside to the nearest bench and dove in head first.  What???  Everything was terrible.  For the first time in my life, I have to say I’ve never had bad bakery goodies …. ever!!  Until today!  (No, I’m not going to tell you the name of the bakery.)  I was sooooooo disappointed.  What should have been a belt-loosening, belly groaning sugar high, was just a grimace and a groan.

What just happened?  And, now what do I do?  Do I go back and tell the bakery staff their stuff is sickly sweet, flavorless and has the mouth feel of cold vegetable shortening?   Or do I just toss everything into the bin and say nothing.  Part of me says the owner/baker should know.  If it were my bakery, I’d want to know.  But I didn’t.  What I did do was to come home and bake a batch of “good” chocolate chip cookies.  I hope you like them.  And, if you don’t, PLEASE let me know!!!

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GROWNUP CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Why do I call them”grownup?  Because they are very rich, but aren’t overly sweet.  I use bittersweet, high cacao content chips, not semi-sweet or milk.  You can certainly use whichever you prefer.

Bake 350° for 10 to 13 minutes.  Don’t overbake!  Makes as many cookies as you want, depending upon the size.

1 cup(2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 10 oz. pkg. 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Using a stand mixer (or hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Then add the vanilla and beaten eggs.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, oats, baking soda and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  You can use a big wooden spoon, or, if you are like me, you just switched out the paddle on your stand mixer to the bread one.

Add the chocolate chips and the walnuts to the batter.  Mixing well.  If you don’t like nuts, leave them out, and add more chocolate chips.  They’re your cookies.

On parchment-lined baking sheets, drop spoonfuls of dough (or with an ice cream scoop).  The size is up to you.  Larger ones will take another minute or two to bake, but PUHLEEZE don’t overbake these cookies.  They need to be a bit soft in the middle and gooey!

After spooning the dough onto the baking trays, dip the bottom of a drinking glass into flour and press onto each ball of dough.  You want to flatten them slightly.  If you are making these ahead, you can chill the trays at this point, if you like, up to four hours.

Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes … again, depending upon the size.  If you want small, “adult-sized” so that you can eat three or four and not feel guilty, fine.  And, if you want one big “two hander”, go for it!  Just remember …. underdone is best!


These ultra-rich, dense, gooey chocolaty nutty cookies should make you smile.  If they don’t, please contact me.

Your welcome!
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TOAST

Have you wondered why I’ve named this blog ‘Tea, Toast and Travel‘?  Well the ‘tea’ seems fairly obvious as does the ‘travel’, but ‘toast’?  I’ve had that question asked more than once. For me ‘toast’ is a warm, crunchy accompaniment to a hot cuppa tea … slathered in creamy, salty butter and, most often, a thick, sweet, fruity jam.  As a child, whenever I was sick … cold, flu or just a belly ache … my Mother would make me “toast” which now epitomizes comfort food.  I also use ‘toast’ as a category for recipes that I feel pair well with a cuppa tea … whether hearty soups or quick and easy desserts.  And this blog is meant to be about me sharing what I enjoy, so “Tea, Toast and Travel” suits me to a ….. T.

Years ago, I mentioned to hubby that I would love to open a small restaurant called “TOAST” and just serve just that – ‘toast’.   High-quality, loose leaf teas would, of course, be served too, but it would be ‘toast’ with all kinds of specialty toppings from savory to sweet.  How about bacon, avocado and poached egg on toast … or a garlicky ricotta cheese and English peas spread with a hint of lemon … or a thick slab of roasted turkey breast smothered in pan roasted drippings (yes, I used to have that same lunch sitting at the Kresge’s counter with my grandmother) … or Nutella and banana slices, a sprinkle of pecans and topped with Marshmallow Fluff under the broiler all melted and gooey?  My ‘toast’ would not be thinly sliced, pre-packaged white bread. It would be crusty, thick slices of artisanal breads from sourdough to whole grains.

When I mentioned my idea to hubby little did I know I was a few years ahead of a trend.  Today it seems ‘toast’ has already become the latest fad among foodies.  There are restaurants named ‘TOAST’ in New York City, Los Angeles, Long Island, one in Michigan, another in Charleston, and there’s even one here locally. They’re all over the country and they are all individually owned … not a chain, each one with a different image and menu.  There’s even a point-of-sale system for restaurants called “toast”.

I know trends are short-lived, but how fun to ride the wave. We’ve survived the freeze-dried coffee era, the fondue dinner party fix, the ubiquitous seven-layer dip which appeared at every social gathering.  Then there were bagels:  breakfast bagels, pizza bagels, dessert bagels, bagel chips, bagel bits.  And, of course, thanks to Oprah, the never-ending parade of cupcakes.  From smoothies to sliders, mac ‘n cheese to short ribs, we now have ‘toast’.

The word ‘toast,’ in fact, comes from the Latin word tostum, meaning to scorch or burn.  It is believed that 5,000 years ago Egyptians used ‘toasting’ bread was a way of preserving it.  (Not quite sure how researchers have been able to determine that time line.) Romans also preserved bread by toasting it, and this continued to be spread throughout Europe.  The British really took to ‘toasting’ (what goes better with a cuppa?).  And, of course, anything that was popular in Europe found its way to the Americas.  Cutting slabs of bread and roasting them on an open fire sounds intoxicating and romantic to me.

Although its only been around for about 100 years, the most common household item is the electric toaster.  Doesn’t everyone have one?  The invention of the electric toaster in 1893 by a Scotsman was thought to be the greatest invention of all time, although sliced bread wasn’t invented until 1928.  I’m not sure how popular it was, having to lay your bread against the coils and and watch it, quickly taking the bread off before it burned.  It wasn’t until the 1920s when the electric toaster as we know it today was perfected, evolving into a two-slice, pop-up device with a timer.  And with the invention of pre-sliced bread, the world was changed forever.

As a child isn’t toast the first thing you learned to make?  Ask someone who may not know how to cook if they know how and you’ll probably hear “I can make toast”.  So now how do you feel about slicing bread, toasting it under some type of heat source, spreading your favorite topping on it and then sitting back and savoring its sweet, crunchy goodness?  Serve that up with a piping hot mug of tea, and I’m yours!


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References:  Thoughtco, H2G2, Today I Found Out
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The Classic Tea Sandwich

It’s August and my garden is overflowing with cucumbers.  Yes, I’ve made pickles.  I love half sour pickles …. absolutely delicious!  And we’ve been slicing and dicing them for salads for weeks. But today, in this hot, sticky weather, I have friends coming over for tea ….. the perfect time to make my favorite classic English tea sandwich ….. CUCUMBER!

Garden fresh cucumbers

Garden fresh cucumbers

If you’ve never had a classic cucumber sandwich, you’re in for a treat.  They are so easy to make …. light, delicate and refreshing …. ideal for a summertime treat. Just keep these few tips in mind and you’ll have the perfect tea sandwich:

1.  If you don’t have fresh cucumbers from your garden or farmer’s market, use English cucumbers, which are readily available in most supermarkets today.  English cucumbers have a much thinner and easier to digest skin than American-style cucumbers. Also the cucumbers we generally see in supermarkets have been dipped in wax to keep them from spoiling.  Yuck!

Thinly sliced English cucumbers.

Thinly sliced English cucumbers.

2.  Slice the cucumber thinly and either spread the slices on paper toweling, or put them in a colander and then lightly sprinkle with sea salt.  Leave them for about an hour.  This will remove the excess water and ensure a more crisp sandwich.

3.  Always butter the bread!  Don’t think about unnecessary calories …. think about not having soggy sandwiches!  The key to good tea sandwiches is to always lightly butter the bread.

CLASSIC CUCUMBER SANDWICHES
Makes 10 finger sandwiches

1 large cucumber
1 8 oz. pkg. good-quality cream cheese
softened butter
chopped parsley
Arnold’s Thinly Sliced White Bread

Lay out the bread (thin-sliced dense white bread is best) on the counter and spread both slices lightly with butter.  On one slice arrange the thinly-sliced cucumbers.  Depending upon how thinly you sliced them, you might use 4 to 6 slices.   On the other slice of bread , generously spread the cream cheese.  Put the two together and press firmly.  Now is when you either trim off the crusts or cut with a cookie cutter.  If using a cookie cutter, be sure it’s sharp, otherwise you’ll have slippage.

If you are having a tea party, to impress your guests, you can use two different types of bread – one white, one whole wheat.  You can also lightly spread the outside rim of your sandwiches with butter and dip the edges in the chopped parsley.  So pretty!

To make ahead, place the sandwiches in a plastic container covered with a very damp tea towel.  Cucumber Sandwiches .... easy and delicious!

Cucumber Sandwiches …. easy and delicious!