October 24, 2015


I've always enjoyed making breads - pancakes, biscuits, tortillas, pizza crusts, sandwich loaves, challah, pita with self-forming pockets, crisp coiled flatbreads full of green onions...and of course, recently, bagels. I probably won't ever run out of new ones to try. The world is full of amazing bread.

This is the first time I've ever made crumpets, though. They are a quintessentially English bread that is cooked on a griddle or skillet rather than in the oven, and I can't find them easily in Germany. So, of course I decided to make my own, especially as they've been on my list for quite a while, now. There is, however, a surprising number of recipes to be had. I read a lot of them online, and combed through my cookbook collection for good measure. I wanted something that was easy, didn't take too long, and yet had the true characteristics of a ideal crumpet - airy, with a nice holey structure throughout and a tender middle. I ended up hybridizing several recipes to create the one below, with a hat-tip to the Tesco website for providing the starting point for the ratios.

You will need crumpet rings, or egg-poaching rings, or some other food-safe way of corralling your batter in the pan. The standard size is about 3 inches or 7 3/4 centimetres diameter.


Makes 8 - 10

1 teaspoon canola oil
225 grams (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour (Type 505 in Germany)
150 ml whole milk
150 ml water plus extra as needed
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
50 ml warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Warm the milk and 150 ml water together until just pleasantly warm but not hot. While it heats, in a mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, and stir together well with a whisk to integrate and aerate the ingredients. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the warm milk-water mixture. Stir briskly with a whisk to get a smooth batter. It should be about the consistency of pancake batter, so if it is too thick, add another tablespoon or two of water to loosen it up.

Scrape down the sides and cover the mixing bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and put it someplace warm to rise. I use my oven, which I had turned on for a minute or two to warm up, and then shut off before using. Let the batter rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spritz it with canola oil, or use a pastry brush to brush on a thin coating. Brush your crumpet rings lightly with oil, too.

While the pan is warming up, mix the warm water and baking soda together, then stir it quickly but thoroughly through the crumpet batter. The batter is kind of stretchy at this point.

When the pan is ready, add about three tablespoons of batter to each crumpet ring (I use a small ladle to scoop the batter), turn the heat down, and set your timer for 5 minutes. It might take as long as six or seven minutes, depending on how thick your batter and hot your pan is, so you need to watch them. Bubbles will start to form quite quickly, but you want to wait until they burst and become holes that stay visible, before removing the rings (using tongs or a glove, because they are hot!), and flipping the crumpets over.

Let the crumpets cook for about one minute on the second side, and then flip them over again and remove to a rack to cool.

Bag them and store them in the fridge once cooled.

They toast up beautifully for breakfast or afternoon tea - top them with a little butter, with or without jam, or a slice of good sharp cheese. You could also use them as a base for poached or fried eggs, of course. Perhaps even some sort of unholy breakfast sandwich. It's up to you.

October 13, 2015

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie represents such a beloved combination of flavours in North America that we're apparently even happy to consume it as a latte (okay, maybe not all of us), or (better still) beer.

It is also a staple long associated with harvest season feasts such as Thanksgiving and Hallowe'en - eminently sensible, since this is when pumpkins are ready for cooking. There's a lot of great options for pumpkin desserts - everything from flan to mousse, and that's not even counting the muffins, quick breads, and scones. My sister makes a fantastic pumpkin cheesecake, with a baked on sour cream topping, but that's a lot more advanced than this simple pie, which is just a single bottom crust and a filling that could best be described as mix-and-pour.

Somehow, though, pie remains the classic pumpkin dessert. This one is a little bit tangy from the crème fraîche, sweet (but not breathtakingly so), and not too dense. If you prefer mild spices, reduce the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon and the ginger to half a teaspoon. You can substitute ground cloves for the allspice, if you like.

Pumpkin Pie
Makes 1 pie

1 single pie-crust, unbaked
425 grams pumpkin puree (unsweetened, unseasoned)
3 large eggs
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
200 grams crème fraîche
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Make your favourite single pie crusts recipe (or try the one shown here), and line a standard 23 cm pie-plate, folding and crimping the edges under if you like, or even simply pressing them gently with a fork against the top edge of the plate, if you want to go super simple.

Once the crust is in the pan, preheat your oven to 425 F / 225 C.

In a medium-large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until smooth (I use a whisk, but you could also use a food processor). Remove a tablespoon or two into a separate ramekin dish and set aside. Add the sugars to the mixing bowl, and beat until smooth. Dissolve the cornstarch in the rum, and add to the eggs and sugar, and stir through. Add the pureed pumpkin, the salt, and the spices, and stir until smooth. Finally, stir in the crème fraîche and mix until thoroughly combined. It will be a very pale orange at this stage, but it will darken up nicely as it cooks.

Put the pie pan on a baking sheet (or pizza pan) for easier handling. Use a pastry brush to paint the top edges of the crust with the reserved beaten egg. Pour any leftover egg into the pie filling, and stir it through.

Pour the thick pumpkin mixture into the unbaked pie shell, and give the pan a little jiggle to settle it evenly.

Move the pie (on its baking sheet) to a rack in the middle of the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 F / 180 C, and bake for another 45 minutes. The pie filling should look kind of rounded, glossy, darker than it was, and still a touch wet in the middle. The middle might even still jiggle a bit, which is okay - this pie must cool for a couple of hours before being cut, and it will continue to cook as it cools, and it will set up very nicely during that time.

Remove the pie from the oven and place on a cooling rack. As the pie cools, the surface will flatten out, losing the slightly domed look for a completely flat surface. Sometimes cracks will appear in the surface, but that's fine - doesn't change the flavour (and you can always fill them with whipped cream if you like).

Wait a minimum of two hours before slicing and serving. Excellent with a cup of coffee, or a glass of bourbon. If you like, feel free to add a little whipped cream (or a lot).

Cover leftovers well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three days.