Snowflakes whirled outside on a recent afternoon, covering everything in sight with a fluffy white blanket. I was reminded of my Scottish childhood, where tea and crumpets were a daily ritual in winter. There was no need for my mother to bake from scratch. At the bakery down the street, hot crumpets were displayed right alongside apple tarts, floury rolls and cream buns.
So, on that very afternoon, I got the urge to share these delicious memories with my housebound neighbors. Minutes after a few quick phone calls, they were gathered at my door, curious to taste the foreign-sounding "crumpets."
Until recently, it was impossible to find crumpets in American markets. We had to make do with plain-old English muffins, which remain a far cry from the warm, spongy rounds that I was familiar with, where butter melts and trickles into the tiny hollows dotting the crisp surface. Taste one these, especially if it's crowned with a dollop of cherry preserves or honey, and it's doubtful that you'd ever go back to the ubiquitous pre-packaged English muffin.
Crumpets have a long and involved history. They first appeared in the late 17th century, and were probably prepared with buckwheat -- the flour of peasants. They would have been hard, rather than the soft crumpets of the Victorian era, which were made with yeast, giving them their characteristic holes.
I'd never made crumpets before, and don't know anyone, even among my family in Scotland, who had. "Just go down to the bakery and buy them" was the answer. Not possible in my suburban American neighborhood.
I couldn't find a recipe in my vast cookbook collection, so the next step was to search the Web. The recipe below has been adapted from several variations and works well (and it's an entertaining family project on a rainy or snowy weekend.)
You'll need crumpet rings (also called egg rings) to pour in the batter and then bake in a skillet. These are made of stainless steel, and are about 4 inches in diameter and about 1-inch deep. They're sold in kitchenware shops. If you can't find them, use 3-inch plain cookie cutters or, in a pinch, 6.25-ounce tuna cans, tops and bottoms removed and scrupulously cleaned.
Crumpets may be tightly wrapped and frozen. Bring them to room temperature and toast. Cookies and cakes may be made ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
If you want to round out your tea-cake tray and are running out of time, consider these:
· With a melon-ball cutter or tablespoon, scoop out rounds from the filling of a chilled prepared cheesecake. Roll into balls, and then roll in toasted coconut, chopped nuts or grated chocolate. Place each in miniature paper cups (optional).
· Bake frozen filo cups for a few minutes until golden-brown. Fill with prepared chocolate pudding, lemon curd, or diced pineapple and berries. Top with a swirl of whipped cream.
· Press a chocolate kiss onto the top of miniature poppyseed muffins. Bake three to four minutes in preheated 350° oven or until the chocolate is softened.
· Sandwich ginger snaps with a softened chocolate peppermint pattie or a thin layer of canned frosting. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.
Of course, besides the pure delight of biting into hot, butter-slathered crumpets, it wouldn't be tea time without other little cookies, tiny cakes and cups of fragrant, steaming tea.
Warm the teapot, add a couple of tablespoons of loose tea (1 tablespoon per cup), cover with boiling water and, after steeping for three minutes, pour through a strainer. If serving an exceptional green tea, such as Gunpowder or Lung Ching, you'll be able to have two infusions.
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. quick acting yeast granules
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup lukewarm water
4 crumpet rings, well greased
Place the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a large bowl. Stir to mix.
Make a well in the center, and pour in the milk and water. Beat with a whisk. Batter will be thick.
Cover with a clean tea towel. Place in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes. Mixture should be risen and spongy. Stir well to knock out any air bubbles. Pour into a large pitcher.
Heat a nonstick skillet over very low heat. Arrange the crumpet rings in the skillet. Continue heating for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in enough batter to come about one third up the sides of the rings.
Cook 12 to 14 minutes, or until tiny holes appear on the surface and the batter is dry. Remove the rings and turn the crumpets over. Cook 1 to 2 minutes. Place the crumpets on a wire rack.
Continue with the remaining mixture. Serve hot.
Note: Using a 7-inch nonstick skillet, you can make one very large crumpet. Cooking times will be longer.
Makes 7 to 8 crumpets.
Approximate nutrients per crumpet: calories, 64; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 12 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 2 mg; sodium, 1 mg.
Lavender Shortbread Cookies
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
2 Tbsps. dried lavender
Spray a 13x9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter, sugar and lemon extract until pale (about 2 minutes).
Gradually add the flour, about 1/3 cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Work in the dried lavender. Press into the prepared baking dish.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until the edges are beginning to be pale brown.
While hot, cut into squares or into diamond shapes. Cool completely before serving or storing.
Makes 48 cookies.
Approximate nutrients per cookie: calories, 61; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 6 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 10 mg; sodium, 1 mg.
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup ginger preserves
1 Tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsps. granulated sugar
In a small bowl, mix the flour and the cornstarch. Set aside. Combine the ginger preserves with the chopped ginger. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating well between each addition. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350.
Spray two cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Roll the refrigerated mixture into balls the size of a small walnut. Place on prepared cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.
Using the floured end of a wooden spoon, press an indentation in center of each cookie.
Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of ginger mixture into the indentation. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.
Bake for 12 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 21/2 dozen.
Approximate nutrients per cookie: calories, 94; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 13 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 12 mg; sodium, 5 mg.
Pecan Tassies are a Southern specialty. This recipe calls for a nut blend spiked with a bit of fresh ground pepper.
1/2 cup, plus 1 Tbsp., butter, softened and divided
3 oz. low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup finely ground almonds
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
24 walnut halves
Preheat oven to 325°.
Spray two mini-muffin trays with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Set aside.
In a bowl, beat together 1/2 cup butter and cream cheese until blended. Gradually add the flour, beating until combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 24 pieces and shape into balls. Place a piece into each muffin pan, pressing evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, sugar, almond extract, pepper and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in the almonds and walnuts.
Spoon into each muffin cup, dividing evenly. Top each with a walnut half.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until crusts are golden-brown. Cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Approximate nutrients per tassie: calories, 108; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 8 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 22 g; sodium, 17 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .