Food: US vs UK — Crumpets and Pancakes

by Brenda W. Clough

usuk My latest theory is that crumpets and pancakes are long-lost cousins. Consider how similar they are. A pourable batter, made of milk, eggs and flour, lightened with a riser and enriched with sugar and butter or oil. A hot pan. Pancakes are simply poured onto the hot cooking surface — flip them once, to get them tan on both sides.

CrumpetCrumpets have the refinement of the crumpet ring, which is simply a device to keep the batter from flattening out  Using a ring gets you a pancake essentially shaped like a hockey puck. If you turn them it is late in the game and the rings go with, and so crumpets have a tan bottom and a pale bubble-holed top. From here to waffles is not very far, because the waffle iron gets you both sides brown at once. Do you see those holes, in that crumpet? When you are cooking pancakes, that’s how they look when it is time to flip them over. That’s why I think they’re relatives.

pancakes-neat Pancakes are eaten with syrup and butter for breakfast. A traditional accompaniment is bacon or sausages, sometimes scrapple. Occasionally you see additions of blueberries or pecans, but Americans add blueberries, pecans or cranberries to nearly everything. Crumpets are buttered — jam, oh you persons of British descent, or not? When do you eat them?

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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Food: US vs UK — Crumpets and Pancakes — 13 Comments

  1. The big difference between crumpets and pancakes is that crumpets use yeast as the raising agent while American pancakes use baking powder. You can make crumpets freestyle without rings, if you want to. Real pancakes of course do not use a raising agent at all and are nothing like crumpets.

  2. Crumpets are versatile – once you’ve got the butter on you can go in many directions. Jam, honey, golden syrup (yum!), marmite…

    They are traditionally a tea thing – when you make them from scratch the top side is still slightly underdone, and you toast them to finish them. E Nesbitt, fires and toasting forks style, or under the grill (broiler to you) or in a toaster. But they are more often seen at breakfast now.

  3. Dutch pancakes don’t contain a leavening agent, just milk, flour and egg, and maybe a pinch of salt (not necessary for the sweet flavours). They’re large (at least dinner-plate sized), fairly thin, eaten for dinner (a children’s favorite), and often have something tasty baked right in: bacon pancakes are eaten with molasses syrup, cheese pancakes with paprika (sweet bell pepper) powder, apple (with or without raisins) with powdered icing sugar are the three perennnials that every pancake restaurant serves, besides the plain ones and lots of other flavours, some of which cater more to adult taste, like rum-soaked raisins (served with sugar) or brandied cherries (can be served flaming).
    The plain ones are often eaten with ordinary or powdered sugar or molasses syrup or jam, but applesauce with cinnamon is not unusual (one of my favorites), and in fact you can eat them with anything you like.
    Pancake restaurants are usually simple and cheap dining-out places, and a favorite place to take a children’s party out to lunch or dinner.

    Crumpets are virtually unknown here, and American pancakes only sporadically. We do have an old-fashioned homegrown close relative of the small-and-thick American pancake, which is called three-in-the-pan (because that’s how they’re baked, three at a time in one big pancake-pan) and always contains raisins. It’s served with sugar, and sometimes with vanilla custard, as a dessert to the evening meal, if the diners could use some more filling addition to the meal.

  4. Crumpets are one thing my ex-patriot Brit family did not do. I’ve seen pictures of children toasting their crumpets over a roaring fire with those long-handled forks we now use for toasting marshmallows while out camping. I’m guessing the crumpets were for tea.

    I’ll stick to scones.

  5. Don’t ignore the European in fluence on American food! Think crepes, Breton or French. Also, Welsh soda bread, cooked on a griddle.

  6. My Swedish father made “Swedish” pancakes for us when he was in charge of ANY meal (except breakfast; he made oatmeal for breakfast.) His pancakes were pretty much like Hanneke’s Dutch pancakes: Just eggs, flour, and milk, with a pinch of salt. He made a very thin batter, which he poured in the center of THE frying pan. He’d carefully hammered that pan’s center to have a slight rise; the pancake batter spread nicely in all directions. My mother loved his variation on that pan. It was wonderful for frying bacon and almost anything where you wanted the fat to run off. (Oh, yes, we saved bacon grease when I was growing up.) The pan eventually developed a slight hole, which he hammered shut, but years later it happened again, and by then Dad was gone. Soon thereafter, so was the pan.

  7. … And then an American “Dutch Baby” isn’t, from what I can tell, like a Dutch pancake but is more like a Yorkshire pudding.

    I find food endlessly fascinating.

  8. Yes, the thin riser-less batter of eggs, flour and milk is crepes. If you add a ltitle salt and then pour the batter into a piping-hot pan greased with the drippings from a roast you get Yorkshire pudding — all the rising is achieved by hot air. The other way to get air into the mix is to fold it over and over, puff-pastry style. There is a Chinese variant of the pancake that does this — I will find a recipe.
    There are yeast pancakes, and yeast waffles, in the US. But most of the pancakes are made with baking powder or baking soda. The dry pancake mix you can buy in the store is essentially flour plus the riser, and sometimes powdered milk so that all you need to add is water. I have read in novels of British people eating pancakes for supper. But in the US we eat them only at breakfast.
    It is clear to me that it’s not only the recipe. It’s how you eat it and when. This is particularly notable with Chinese food. You can get things now in Chinese restaurants any day of the year. But back in the old country they were only served for the New Year or at certain times of the year. So we’re losing the cultural context.

    • When you read of British people eating pancakes for supper, think crepes. “Pancake” in English means something pretty indistinguishable from a crepe.

      • I remember wondering, when I read IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE by Rumer Godden (such a great book) when I was a teen. The nuns sit down to a dinner of roast lamb and pancakes, which sounded distinctly odd.

        • A dinner of roast lamb and pancakes sounds distinctly odd to me actually, and as you know, I’m a Brit. We always ate pancakes as a dessert, mostly on Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day.

          • Alas, Rumer Godden is gone and we cannot ask her whether the Brede nuns’ pancakes were crepes or not. They do not sound like the kind of thing I want to eat with roast lamb. With roast lamb, potatoes or rice, for sure.

  9. A Hungarian Jewish friend taught me to make crepes with seltzer water, flour and egg. I think that the texture was a bit more delicate then crepes made with milk.
    Cooked with a generously buttered pan, and rolled with lemon juice squeezed over it and owdered sugar.
    He had put himself through medical school in old Vienna working in a cafe as a short order cook. (That was how he got out of Germany in the 30’s -when Britain was being stingy with visas for professionals he applied for one as a cook and got it immediately. Then the war came and if you were a qualified doctor they didn’t care what label you came in under. Dr A. was a lovely lovely gentleman.