I really pulled out all the pun-stops to come up with a sickeningly internetified name for our very first themed post. Not content to be merely witty, I worked my fingers to the bone to present a masterful yet delicious breakfast that I guarantee will bag you at least an extra kiss this 14th of February. Only James Bond has tasted finer crumpet than this.
If you have been the one or two people with nothing better to do than follow this blog, you will either be immensely overjoyed or morbidly despondent when I declare that this inaugural Special Edition shall indeed incorporate our probiotic friend of the moment – filmjölk. Of course, if having an active and meaningful life has prevented you from taking up the task of creating your own batch of this wonderdrink then you can always pop down to the shop to pick up some kefir and use that as a substitute. In the spirit of Saint Valentine I felt inspired by the 1 kg for $5 sale at our nearest IGA and set about transforming some fair to middling winter bought strawberries into an enticing crumpet companion by the addition of a star anise infusion. But this is more than just bread, butter, and jam – this is true love.
Now that Sara is far into her pregnancy and the sight of most things that arrive on her plate sends her immediately to the bathroom, I have been preparing extremely simple breakfasts of the rustic, not rich style. Most variations of egg on bread still agree with her, so popping a fried egg or omelette between two halves of an English muffin has become a familiar morning routine. As much as an English muffin screams homey breakfast, I often find them too dry for my liking. The crumpet is a worthy alternative, which is really not much more than an English muffin made from a wet batter instead of a dough. Crumpets are billowy, light, and spongy, and can mop up literally litres of butter (artistic license) per square centimetre. I tried many published recipes for crumpets before I arrived at a modified version that met my impossibly high standards for a texturally, aesthetically, and gastronomically perfect crumpet, which so happens to include filmjölk.
I mean, what can’t you do with filmjölk? It makes everything so squishy and airy that our fridge could be mistaken for a bouncy castle. Which Nina would love, by the way. Well, one thing that filmjölk has is large amounts of β-lactoglobulin that act exceptionally well to make breads softer. This is one factor giving your crumpets a moist and elastic texture that you could imagine having pillow fights on. A second thing to consider is the development of the eye-popping interior riddled with the nooks and crannies that true crumpet aficionados shed buckets of saliva for. Where do those bubbles come from? They come from gases of course, and to make sure we have these gases present in our Cupid’s Own Crumpets we provide everything needed in order for this to happen. When our acidic filmjölk combines with the baking soda one of these gases, carbon dioxide, is created. Extra carbon dioxide is produced when the baking powder is heated as the crumpets cook. Even more carbon dioxide is produced as the yeast in the batter gorge themselves on the sugars present, either the white sugar we add or the sugar produced from the flour. Finally, the very wet batter we are using causes water to go from liquid to gaseous state – giving us a perfect storm of gases that produce the lightest crumpets imaginable.
Cupid’s Own Crumpets (actually just crumpets)
300 g all-purpose flour
25 g corn flour
250 mL water
150 mL filmjölk (or kefir)
28 g melted butter
15 g granulated sugar
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp baking soda
Do you need corn flour? Umm – no. I like the extra farmstyle taste of a smattering of corn flour, but if you don’t have any then substitute for another flour that you happen to have in the cupboard. For the filmjölk you can always follow the instructions from our recipe or grab some kefir instead. If you really can’t be bothered and doubt whether any of this probiotic, mesophilic blah-blah garbage is what I have been telling you it is then take one part plain yoghurt and one part water. Mix and voila – faux filmjölk.
I use a 28 cm stainless steel frying pan, but that is only because I don’t have the upper body strength to work a cast iron pan of similar dimensions. Whichever cooking surface you choose, you will need crumpet or English muffin rings that are about 9 cm across and will hold the batter as it expands. It is 3 rings per go in my pan and I prepare them with a generous amount of non-stick spray before use. I have tried rubbing on butter, olive oil, peanut oil – the whole lot, but my Mazola spray is the best bet here. You want well coated rings that you can easily slip off half way through with a set of tongs. When it comes to oiling the surface more is more.
Mix the dry ingredients except for the yeast in a bowl. Warm the filmjölk and water to just above room temperature (around 30ºC) and add everything except for about 15 mL (1 tbsp) of the water to the dry mix. Stir, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes. If you remember the principle of autolysis then you realise we are giving the amylase in the flour a bit of push, allowing time for it to start breaking the starch into sugar that will fuel the growth of the yeast. At the end of the 10 minutes mix the yeast with the 15 mL of water you have set aside and a pinch of sugar and put in a small glass. Leave on the counter for another 10 minutes or so until a good amount of foam has been produced as the microorganism feasts on the sugar we kickstarted it with. Now pour the melted butter and yeast into the batter and stir for several minutes. This stirring helps to form the gluten networks that will provide the structural support to the crumpets. When you are finished, set the batter aside covered and let sit at room temperature until the volume has increased by half – which should take an hour more or less. It is vital to give time for the batter to expand because this expansion is due to the production of the gases we need to get the bubbly interior indicative of the true Patek Philippes of the crumpet world. If you miss this you miss everything.
Time to prepare the griddle. Heat below medium – lower than you would a pancake. The crumpets will be nice and thick and you don’t want to burn the surface. Let your pan take its time getting to temperature since this will be another important variable in producing fluffy, bubbly crumpets. When you think you are there place your rings on the pan or griddle and very gently spoon batter into them so that the ring is half or just over full. It is imperative to avoid agitating the batter too much and releasing the gases trapped within, otherwise you will be left with an inferior finished product. Alright. Immediately place a cover on your pan and wait at least three minutes before removing to check on how things are progressing. If the tops are dry and bubbly all is good and you can safely remove the rings with a set of tongs (or just burn your fingers if you have a He-Man complex) and gently flip them. Cover and cook for another 2 minutes before taking a peek at the bottom. You are looking for a crumpet that is just starting to turn dark brown. Remove from the heat and place on a cooling rack. Move your eyes lovingly back and forth over them. You are looking at the planet’s finest crumpets.
Star Anise-Crossed Lover’s Jam (actually just strawberry jam with a star anise infusion)
450 g ripe strawberries
175 g granulated sugar
20 g pectin (less if the strawberries are very ripe)
1 g star anise
juice from 1/2 a lemon
25 mL 94% alcohol (or vodka)
Making strawberry jam is as easy as pie. Imagine a strawberry pie – it is half as simple. The star anise lends the aphrodisiac twist to what would otherwise be a less romantic jam and comes from an alcohol infusion of the crude spice. If you are in Quebec you can buy Global 94% alcohol at the SAQ – a wonderful liquor that allows us to draw all of the flavourful compounds out of the star anise and yields a powerful kind of superouzo or uberpastis that is almost chest hair melting. If a trip to Quebec is beyond the scope of this recipe then grab some vodka and perform the following.
Place the star anise in a mortar and pestle and grind until well broken. Add the alcohol and carefully (so as not to spill) mash the spice for a minute or two in order to extract the essential oils before passing through a coffee filter into a small glass. Set aside.
Remove the tops of the strawberries and slice. Place them in a saucepan along with the granulated sugar, lemon juice, and pectin, heating gradually until the mixture begins to boil. You will heat for at least 15 minutes as the fruit softens and the water is boiled off to give a thick red mixture. To test if the jam is ready place a small dish in the freezer and periodically add some of your jam to it. When the cold jam acquires the consistency you desire then it is time to remove the saucepan from the heat. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes before adding the star anise infusion bit by bit in order to avoid adding too much. You do not necessarily need to add all of it, but once you have a taste you are happy with then immediately transfer to a clean jar and cap. The compound anethole in the star anise that gives it that distinct character dissipates quickly at high temperature, which is why we add it at the end and just before sealing the container.
That is it. Everything can be made the day before in time for your Valentine’s Day breakfast. Just pop the crumpets in the toaster, put a kettle on and for extra points be sure to serve in bed.