Buttered crumpets, possibly the two most comforting words in the English language. As a child I loved nothing more than piling Lurpack on to the freshly toasted discs of dough and then watching the golden pool of butter slowly melting through the holes and oozing across the plate and down my fingers.
While no log fire on a winter's afternoon would be complete without a crumpet toasting on it, and they are almost mandatory after a night out, to fend off the fiercest of hangovers, I have never felt the urge to make my own. That was until I made - again for the first time - my own fruit curd and realised that it deserved something better than a slightly sweaty and stale supermarket crumpet to be spread upon.
Faffing about with frothy batters, double boilers and buttered rings may feel like more than a labour of love than good fun, but I can honestly say the small amount of work involved in the making was well rewarded by the first mouthful of fluffy crumpet and gloriously sharp/sweet curd, accompanied by the obligatory cup of tea and Test Match Special on the radio.
The idea of making curd came with our haul of blackcurrants from Peterlee PYO farm. While some were immersed in Estonian vodka, for a reappearance in a kir or two at Christmastime, the rest were languishing unloved at the back of the fridge.
I wanted to make something that captured the strident sharpness of the fruit, without resulting to smothering it in sugar, and a rich and bright curd seemed the perfect way. After rejecting the recipe on the Waitrose website - ten egg yolks seemed slightly excessive - I cobbled together a recipe to suit the amount of currants I had.
While making the curd its self was very simple - although slightly laborious, with the constant stirring that's needed to prevent fruity scrambled eggs - I found the flavour of the fruit, once the mixture had thickened, a little bit too sweet and bland. In a moment of inspiration I added the juice of a lime to the mixture, which added just enough edge to bring the bright berry flavour back to the fore.
Blackcurrant and Lime Curd
300g caster sugar
80g unsalted butter
3eggs + 1 egg yolk, beaten together
Juice of one lime or lemon (or to taste)
Cook blackcurrants with water until soft then press fruit through sieve into a clean heatproof bowl.
Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the sugar and butter.
Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before mixing in the eggs and extra yolk.
Return to heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Probably somewhere between 15-20 minutes. Don't stop stirring or allow the mixture to get to hot, or you'll end up with fruity scrambled eggs.
Once mixture is the right consistency add lime or lemon juice and mix thoroughly.
Sieve mixture again to get rid of any lumps then cool and use immediately or pot in sterilised jars.
If potted, refrigerate once cool and use within 3-4 weeks.
Before I even cracked open the bag of bread flour, I was already fully expecting making crumpets to become my new bête noire. While I consider myself a fine cook, baking, with its precise measurements, is a far less forgiving beast. As well as being pretty bad at bread dough, I've also got a pretty chequered history with pan or griddle cooked dough-based treats, such as Welsh cakes and waffles, making this a potential double-whammy of disaster.
It turns out I was pleasantly surprised with how easy these were to make; the key being low heat and some patience. After the dough (which only requires a quick mix, no kneading needed) spent an initial hour in the greenhouse, I added my bicarb and some water, let it bubble for a bit, and then gently cooked ladles of batter in some well buttered egg-poaching rings.
While they didn't initially appear as 'hole-y' as commercially made crumpets, one bite revealed the familiar honeycomb-like inner, running with rivulets of melting butter and blackcurrant curd. A truly top notch treat, and not just for tea time.
Adapted from the Hairy Bikers
225g strong white flour
125g plain flour
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
1/2tsp fine salt
1tsp caster sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml warm water
butter, for greasing, plus extra to serve
Warm the milk in a saucepan very gently until tepid.
Sift the flours into a large bowl and stir in the yeast, salt and sugar.
Make a well in the centre of the mixture and stir in the warm milk. Beat well with a wooden spoon for 3-4 minutes, or until the batter is thick and elastic.
Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside in a warm place for an hour, or until the batter has doubled in size.
When the batter has risen, mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warm water, and beat the mixture into the batter for a couple of minutes. Set aside to rest in a warm place for a further 30 minutes. The mixture should have risen and be covered with tiny bubbles.
Heat a flat griddle pan or large heavy-based non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.
Generously butter the insides of your 9cm egg/crumpet rings and place them onto the griddle or into the frying pan.
Drop a small ladleful of batter into each ring. Don't fill the rings too full or the crumpets won't cook through. Cook for 9-12 minutes, or until lots of tiny bubbles have risen to the surface and burst and the tops look set.
Carefully lift off the rings, flip the crumpets over with a spatula and cook on the other side until golden-brown.
Repeat for the remaining crumpets.
Eat immediately with lashing of butter or leave to cool and toast before serving.