Crumpets aren’t really English muffins, but then, English muffins aren’t really English muffins, either.
Crumpet by noii’s, on Flickr
Over on The Kitchn, Emma Christensen has a great post about how crumpets and English muffins are different (though read the footnotes for some important asterisks to the conclusions). In short, crumpets are typically made with milk, cooked on one side (though frequently toasted on the other), and have a crisp outside but an interior with a texture closer to a pancake. English Muffins are cooked on both sides and are more bread-like.
As for why they’re different, that requires looking at a little bit of history.
The theory behind the name of the crumpet was that it descended from the 14th century crompid cake, which itself was derived from the Germanic verb crumpen, meaning to curl up. (There’s a similar Gaelic term, so there could be a common indo-European root.) The significance is that the crompid cakes probably curled because they were unleavened, flat griddle cakes.
By the Victorian era, crumpets were yeast-leavened griddle cakes enjoyed by the upper classes–and if you know anything about the Victorian era, you know that the emerging middle class adopted as much of the upper crust’s habits as it could.
If crumpets were popularized from the top down, English-style muffins (I’ll explain soon) went from the bottom up. The original English muffins were leftover scraps of dough that house servants cooked on a griddle to eat as part of their own meals in the late 17th century onward. By the 18th century, they popular with the gentry, and by the Victorian era, bakeries were turning out muffins daily. These were made with flour, yeast, and ultimately baking soda, then baking powder, and sold door-to-door by muffin men. (As in, “Do You Know The Muffin Man?” Muffin Men.)
And neither the crumpet or the muffin is the English muffin we’re familiar with in American grocery stores. Those are the creation of an Englishman who moved to New York City in the late 19th century, Samuel Bath Thomas. He created product raised by yeast and steam that he called a “toaster crumpet,” probably because, when split, the nooks and crannies on the inside resembled the irregular top of crumpets.
So crumpets aren’t the muffins English people eat, and they aren’t English muffins, and English muffins aren’t the muffins English people eat. As for the muffins we get in America, the British have a name for those, too: “cake.”
Crumpets (true English muffins)
1/2 cup milk
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 3 Tablespoons water
1 tsp. sugar
1-2/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
- Scald milk–add melted butter.
- Add 1/4 cup water–cool to lukewarm.
- Add yeast and sugar–proof for 15 minutes or until foamy.
- Stir in flour and salt.
- Let rest–rise covered for 1 hour–(doubled in bulk).
- Butter 3-inch muffin tins or 7 oz. tuna cans without bottoms.
- Arrange on a buttered heavy skillet.
- Over moderate heat, spoon 1/4 cup of batter into ring. Spread to sides.
- Cook 2 minutes (underside is golden).
- Remove from ring–turn and cook about 3 minutes.