When ah were a lass
growin’ oop bein’ dragged oop in Sheffield, we called these tea-time treats Pikelets.
Since those distant monochrome days of filth and want, I have discovered that most of the known world has Crumpets for tea. Pikelets, according to various sources, are a slightly different beast (but not when ah were a lass!).
Crumpets may have been an Anglo-Saxon invention. In early times, they were hard pancakes cooked on a griddle, rather than the soft and spongy crumpets of the Victorian era, which were made with yeast. The crumpet-makers of the English Midlands and London developed the characteristic holes, by adding extra baking powder to the yeast dough. The term itself may refer to a crumpled or curled-up cake, or have Celtic origins relating to the Breton krampoez meaning a “thin, flat cake” and the Welsh crempog or crempot, a type of pancake.
I love the notion that crumpet might have been a term for something crumpled and curled up. I have been feeling a tad crumpet myself of late.
Wikipedia goes on to claim the Pikelet as a regional variation, invading Yorkshire from its origins in Wales.
A regional variation of the crumpet is the pikelet, whose name derives from the Welsh bara piglydd or “pitchy [i.e. dark or sticky] bread”, later shortened simply to piglydd; the early 17th century lexicographer, Randle Cotgrave, spoke of “our Welsh barrapycleds”. The word spread initially to the West Midlands, where it became anglicised as “pikelet”, and subsequently to Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and other areas of the north.
This notion of the flatter Pikelet is repeated in my River Cottage Handbook on Bread, where instructions are given for adding flour to thicken the batter before attempting the feat of the Pikelet. However, you will simply have to believe me that, on our tea-table at least, Pikelets were served and they were the thing that today I see labelled as a Crumpet and that they were the kind made in a supporting ring. OK?
Of course, if you really want to be confused…
The term “pikelet” is also used in Australia, Barbados and New Zealand for a similarly flat cake, of the type that in Scotland and North America would be called a pancake and in England a Scotch pancake, girdle or griddle cake, or drop scone.
And it does not stop there! Got your head around that bit?
Just to round things off… the Scots like to distinguish themselves
A Scottish crumpet is essentially a pancake cooked in a slightly different way, made from the same ingredients as a scotch pancake, and is about 180 mm (7 inches) diameter and 8 mm (0.3 inches) thick. They are available plain, or as a fruit crumpet with raisins baked in, and are not reheated before serving; they are usually served with butter and jam. The ingredients include a raising agent, usually baking powder, and different proportions of eggs, flour and milk which create a thin batter. Unlike a pancake, they are cooked to brown on one side only, resulting in a smooth darker side where it has been heated by the griddle, then lightly cooked on the other side which has holes where bubbles have risen to the surface during cooking. It bears little resemblance to the English crumpet.
This is the normal kind of crumpet in Scottish bakers’ shops, tea rooms, and cafés, though the English type of crumpet is often obtainable in supermarkets in addition to the Scottish kind.
To reiterate and to clarify, what I am making today is the thing that I know as a Pikelet, but most folks would acknowledge as a Crumpet. It is made from a yeasted batter, made with half milk, and with a raising agent added prior to griddling. Posh Bloke, Mr L tells me that he too was raised on ring-formed Pikelets, and he grew up in the East Riding, whereas my dragging up was in the West Riding – suggesting that the terminology was common throughout Yorkshire, so maybe Wikipedia needs re-writing on the subject of the Yorkshire Pikelet.
Today is a big day for me. I can’t even begin to remember for how long I have been wanting to make my own crumpets/pikelets. I have three aluminium rings but as the recipe makes a dozen, I may deploy a pair of silicone egg rings too. My expectation is that they will not work as successfully; it will be an interesting test. If I become too frustrated by the pace of small batch cooking, I’ll try thickening the batter and make some of the flatter cakes for comparison.
The batter is mixed and has been left to bubble. The recipe’s suggestion of leaving it until tea-time and then serving the Pikelets straight from the griddle is anathema. I shall be griddling the Pikelets whilst I am making lunch and they shall be toasted come tea-time. What’s a Pikelet without a crispy brown, almost charred-edged, top contrasting against the lusciously melting butter on top? Your choice of Honey or Golden Syrup, of course.