Friday, March 30, 2012

Field trip! - Rose Bakery, Ginza

series of posts from visiting interesting little (and large) cafes, food-related establishments and other places of inspiration.

Today, the first proper warm day we've had in Tokyo this year, I trotted off to Ginza to visit 'Rose Bakery' the 3rd Tokyo store of the Rose Carrarini operation that started in Paris in 2002. I'd first heard about Rose and her bakery in this article in the Guardian, when researching about people who had opened independent cafes in other cities. It was the British angle that particularly interested me - that and the fact the British-style deli had done so well in Paris of all places. Did this mean that people who hadn't been raised on roly-polys and sticky toffee pudding might also grow to love them?

Proper cake - victoria sponge

I was excited to learn that since the article had been written, Rose had opened up shop at a few locations in Tokyo with Ginza's new Dover Street Market complex being the most recent, opened just this month. Rose's sister-in-law, Comme des Garcon founder, Rei Kawakubo asked her to take the top floor of the original Dover Street Market store in London in 2005.

It's in the building to the right, with the walkway

Coming up the escalator through six sparsely populated floors of expensive clothing and fibreglass "art" (I can't help it, please forgive me), you are greeted by this row of marmite jars queueing up along the low shop wall. When I visited, the clientele were mainly women, though few of them struck me as being customers from the trendy brand floors.

It's a large open space, concrete floor, white walls and bright lighting. It felt a bit like a muji cafe space with the uniform pine (?) wooden furniture, and little tables lined up closely together.

A couple of things were really unique about the space. First was the door-shaped window round the far side of the entrance. It reminded me of the door from the (photos of the) Paris space that Rose described as "the wonderful door to entice you in." In Ginza, this isn't the entrance to the cafe, if it is a functioning door at all, but it's a nice touch, and you can see the "theatre" of the kitchen and take your pictures much to the quiet amusement of the girls working there.

Oh to have a kitchen that big!

Another thing that catches your eye is the market-style display of veg and produce along the back wall. Along with Rose's recipe book (gets!) there are some teas, fruit, quinoa and organic produce. Unlike somewhere like Bill's in Covent Garden (or perhaps the original Rose Bakery in Paris?) it feels a little just for show if I'm honest, but some of it is priced-up for sale should you be tempted.

Hanami season being almost upon us, I was excited to see take-away hampers lined up at the front of the shop, but quickly calmed down upon being told that these were イメージ "image" - for display only, and not full of real food. The friendly member of staff told me that Rose liked the idea of people being able to take hampers up to the roof of the building, so maybe actual hampers will be in the shop's future. The staff were quite friendly, and were excited about the food they were serving, asking me if I'd heard of "kedgeree" before, well, and "museli" :)

Sadly display only, but you get the idea

Most distinctive in the space was the sweeping dessert counter, an arc of glass and brushed aluminium backed by a large window. I say "dessert counter" there are savoury items in there, but most of the space is cake. Real cake-shaped cakes too! What a treat. That's certainly something I have in mind for my space, that and similar lovely glass domes for keeping cakes fresh.

Reading the introduction in the recipe book, it seems that the original Rose Bakery (and the Villandry deli Rose and her husband started in London in 1988) were firstly savoury food establishments, and the cakes and things came in later. Rose Bakery in Ginza is predominantly sweet, though they do have items in the menu in addition to what's on display (even fish and chips!).

The impression I get reading about the Paris shop is that it is really about community, about good food without being fussy, no fancy packaging and branding - while the simple visual effect is definitely in evidence in the Ginza store, I guess it's hard not to be fashionable when you're based in the Comme des Garcons' Dover Street Market store...

Here's my slice of real cake-shaped cake. Feeling all classic, I went for the victoria sponge, which had cut strawberries in with the cream layer like Japanese 'shortcake' does, and it was lovely.

Note the heels - told you it was trendy ;)

The tea came in a Japanese cast-iron pot, with instructions on how long I was supposed to steep it. That's definitely something I've come across more in Japan than I've experienced elsewhere - the explanation of the correct way to enjoy something when it's brought to your table, almost as a badge of pride.

Pound cakes - easy to slice
No pasty tax in Tokyo (but it is about £2.60) 
Rough and ready scones, served with condiments, unlike at Dean and Deluca

I was heartened to see some rough and ready, honest cake going on, but this branch is clearly a large commercial enterprise (I counted maybe 18 staff?) rather than a small kitchen run for the love of it, and quite different from what I would want to achieve.

All in all it was a lovely afternoon, with the chance to sample some authentic Brit-cake!

Address: Ginza Komatsu building, West Wing 7F, 6-9-5, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-5537-5038
Closest station: Ginza station, metro exit A2 (map)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sourdough journey part 2: culture activation and planning

It’s now day 4 of my sourdough journey. At the weekend I started the activation process for the culture I ordered from Sourdoughs International, and the starter has gone from a runny paste that separated after a few hours (like the two small images), to a mass of bubbles with a strange but not unpleasant creamy, tangy smell, and now the culture is less active with a thinnish layer of bubbles a day after its last feeding (larger bottom photo). I also split up the culture to 2 jars and am now feeding both, in order to have a back-up. The instructions are to continue feeding with flour and non-chlorinated water every 12-24 hours until the volume of the culture increases in the jar by about 3 inches within 2-4 hours of the last feed. Hmm.. I’m going to need whiteboard markers methinks.

It’s definitely not just a paste of water and flour, that’s for sure. I’m uncertain as to whether I’ve got enough active yeast to rise a loaf, but will trust and press on. I’ve read that there can be a bit of a dip of activity in the middle like this, that the initial spurt of activity was likely not to have been the yeast I’m trying to cultivate but local microorganisms from the flour. I read that this ‘dip’ is when the desired yeast start to activate and multiply, because now the ph of the mixture is acidic enough for them to thrive, thanks to the bacteria. I don’t yet understand how the frequent discarding of some of the culture before feeding helps in this regard, as it surely dillutes the acidity... More to learn. (Edit: I later learn that acidity is good, but not too much. And so diluting the acidity when refreshing the starter brings back to suitable ph levels for yeast thriving.)

While I anticipate the full activation of my sourdough starter I’m planning the weekend’s baking. According to the book I’m using, a number of proofs are required, at various temperatures to get the best balance between leavening power of the yeast (cool 21 is good) and tang from the lactobacilli bacteria (a warm 32 degrees is good). The proofing box will come in handy again, and I have a feeling that in bread making experience is just as important as theory, and so there will need to be much trial and error before I understand what I’m doing. (Oh no! We’ll have to eat lots of sourdough bread, whatever will we do? ;) )

To help me get my head round all the stages of sourdough bread production, and to make sure it’s ready in time for tea on Sunday, I made a handy chart.

It’s not very fancy, but it helps me choose a time to start that isn’t too troublesome some each step in the process, and will hopefully have me all organised for success! I have a little performance anxiety now – what if it’s terrible! I will still post, and together we’ll figure out what the problems are and turn it around for next time. Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The start of my sourdough journey.. the quest for real bread

When did I first hear about sourdough and baking with natural leaven? I remember hearing John Downes talking enthusiastically to Sheila Dillon on the Food Programme about natural yeast, or maybe it was the Italian baker on another programme talking about a starter that has been kept going for years, reverently wrapped in a special cloth like a baby, fed at regular intervals. I remember seeing a programme on TV where a couple ditched in their day jobs to start a small brewery and cafe in the country, using traditional production practices - the yeast and ale from the brewing going into making the bread. It sounded so... right.

An interest in 'real food' has been building somewhere in the back of my mind for a while. Simple, good food made with familiar ingredients, wholesome - not 'health foods' but good for you, in balance.

(Indulge me for a second in a little rant about "passion" I get a little irked by all these TV foodie personalities and 'real food evangelists' talking about how they are "passionate" about this or that. Passion is surely in the doing, not the spiel. If they have to tell me they are passionate, it makes me doubt that they are. I'm left with the impression they just want to be thought of as being passionate. A wonderful real food enthusiast whose passion is conveyed in his actions, his knowledge and evident love of real cheese was Major Patrick Rance. Go on, have a listen to this radio programme and tell me you're not moved. Rant over!)

The more I read about sourdough, the more I wanted to have a go. It's seductive, forums such as the Fresh Loaf are full of enthusiasts furiously debating the science, the benefits, the struggles and triumphs. There is the real bread campaign in the UK, with resources to educate and support the interested novice, and lists of small businesses and community supported bakery groups all in love with real bread.

I'll end up having to re-write this next bit as I learn more, but my current understanding is that most commercially available bread (80% in the UK) is made with instant yeast and various additives which make it cost and time effective, but not that good for you and actually not that great tasting.
By contrast, the most basic kind of sourdough bread requires just flour, water, salt and the natural yeast and bacteria that thrive in the flour and water mixture, and has people raving about the taste. I've also read various articles extolling sourdough's health benefits from the slow fermentation process pre-digesting much of the gluten, and sourdough bread leading to lower blood sugar spikes in diabetics than regular bread, but though I'd like it to be true, I'm not sure how much of it is hyperbole and pseudo-science.. For now I'm sticking to Ed Wood's philosophy "the enjoyment of baking is reward enough!" I can't wait to bake and get good at making my own wholesome, awesome tasting bread. Everything crossed, wish me luck!

So here we go, this is how my sourdough journey begins (that's a thing, by the way - oh-oh I might turn into one of those people ;) ). My initial research showed me I could capture wild yeast from the air and in the flour I use (edit: I've since learned that it's more about the yeast already in the flour rather than airborne yeast having much to do with it. Thanks Andrew Whitely!), or begin with a dormant mail-order starter. I wanted to have a go at authentic San Francisco sourdough bread, and I wanted an authoritative guiding hand and so turned to Ed Wood of Sourdoughs International, a respected author, scientist and artisanal baker. Having ordered the dried culture (the yeast and bacteria, mixed with flour) and a copy of his book, Classic Sourdoughs I eagerly awaited my package in the mail, sent out from their currently snowstorm beset mountain in Idaho.

Learning from the book that I needed to control the temperature carefully in the activation phase, and also in later proofing stages to vary the leavening/sourness properties of the dough, off I trekked to Tokyu Hands again to get myself the equipment to build a proofing box. A polystyrene cooler box is suggested in the book, but I thought a big tupperware box (and Tokyu Hands do biggies) would let me see the thermometer more easily. Here's the set up:
Giant tupperware, 25w bulb,  dimmer switch (2,800 yen, Tokyu Hands).
Inside: 1-litre glass jar (100 yen shop), thermometer. We're in business!

Despite talk of ozone treatment and activated charcoal in this somewhat confusing article, Tokyo tap water still smells chlorinated, and I didn't want to take the risk of mixing my newly arrived microorganisms with water with stuff in it designed to kill microorganisms.. so I got some bottled water, some regular flour and got mixing. Here's the jar about an hour after mixing:
A little separation, or is that acid from the bacteria?

Here's the jar the next morning after a night at an elevated (32 degrees) in the proofing tub:
Amount of liquid floating on top has increased

And here we are Sunday evening, just before the first feeding time. It's already bigger!
My, my, haven't you grown?

Now I feed, divide into 2 jars (one for backup), and continue the process for another 2-4 days.
Fresh bread next weekend? Eeek!

The rollicking Jam Roly-Poly post - suet or no suet, it's all about the hot jam!

It's hard to blog on a laptop with a cat taking up most of the space on your knee. Ahem, persevering, I've been experimenting again - jam roly poly!

This is a classic British 'nursery pudding' a dessert served up during old school dinners (do they still serve it I wonder?), all rich spongy crust, hot jam and custard. A proper stick-to-your-ribs, hearty pudding that I'd forgotten about for years, and then *had* to have once I'd remembered it.

Traditionally this is a suet pudding ('suet', as in the fat from around the kidneys of cows/sheep, and 'pudding' as in the British for dessert, rather than the Japanese or American set custard-type thing in a pot.) Suet, in a form good for baking, isn't easy to come by in Japan. You can often find a type of fresh suet in the meat section of Japanese supermarkets that is used to grease the pot for sukiyaki, and I have tried to make jam roly poly with this before but it requires melting down, straining of membranes, and adjusting of recipes. It's not the kind of fresh suet referred to in old British recipes that you can freeze and grate. When I tried it a few months ago the resulting pud was far too rich, and so I would recommend reducing the amount of suet in a given recipe by possibly half if you are going to have a go yourself. I'm planning to have another go with this fresh suet - I imagine it would be more wholesome than the dried packet version - and will post a recipe if I get it to work well.

All rolled-up and ready to bake

Today's post is to compare a roly-poly made with all butter and one made with dry, shredded beef suet that I smuggled back in my suitcase. In the UK, most people making a suet pudding would buy a box of Atora suet either in the beef or vegetarian incarnation. Not able to count on a steady supply of Atora, I wanted to see if there was much difference between a roly poly made with or without the traditional ingredient.

With Suet (wrapped up, left), all-butter (right)

The original method of cooking the pudding is to wrap it up and steam it for a few hours. I've read that this used to be done in a shirt sleeve hence the dessert's other names - dead man's arm, shirt sleeve pudding. Many newer recipes just have you baking the poly in an oven, some wrapped in baking parchment and foil, and some recommend having a tray of hot water, slid under the baking pudding to create steam for a bit of a compromise.

The first recipe is a suet version adapted from the one on the BBC food blog:

150g all purpose flour, and a teaspoon of baking powder, sifted together
75g dry shredded suet
100ml cold water
pinch of salt
5 tbsp jam (I like raspberry)
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  2. Mix the sifted flour, suet, and salt together in a large bowl. Add enough water to make a soft dough, but not sticky.
  3. Flour your hands and tip dough onto a lightly floured board, knead briefly before rolling out to a 1cm thickness and a rough 20cm square shape.
  4. Spread a thick layer of jam over the dough, leaving 1cm border, which you dampen with a little water.
  5. Roll up loosely, as shown in the pics below. Place the roll, sealed edge down, on a large lightly buttered piece of baking parchment.
  6. Join the ends of the paper and make a pleated join along the top to allow for the pudding to expand, then twist the ends like a sweet wrapper.
  7. Put the pudding into a large loaf tin or baking tray. Fill a roasting tin with boiling water and place on the base of the oven. Then put your roly poly on the rack above for 35-40 minutes.
  8. Serve with custard.
The second recipe is adapted from a recipe from a Canadian magazine. I found many of the Australian and Canadian versions of jam roly poly were not made with suet. Many of them also instruct you to make a glaze to coat the outside of the pudding.

220g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
140g unsalted butter, frozen
160ml (or more if needed) ice water
about 4-5 tablespoons of jam
a little whole milk for brushing
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 tablespoons sugar. 
  2. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture. Lightly toss the flour and butter together.
  3. Stir enough ice water into the flour and butter mixture to form a soft, shaggy dough that comes together to form a loose ball. If dough is too dry, add more ice water by tablespoons.
  4. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured board, gently kneading it but not allowing the butter to melt. On a floured surface roll the dough quickly into an approximately 23x33cm rectangle.
  5. Spread jam over the dough, leaving a 2cm border on all sides. Dampen the border with a little water and roll up loosely as shown in the pics below.
  6. Place the roll sealed edge down on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle liberally with granulated sugar.
  7. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, and little rivulets of jam are bubbling out the ends, about 30 minutes. Let cool briefly on the baking sheet and slice into 6 portions using a serrated knife. 
  8. Serve with custard.
Here are a few pics to demonstrate the rolling up:

Both recipes produce a soft springy dough, which shouldn't stick too much if you handle it quickly and flour your hands and the board. I put mine in the oven together, with a tray of hot water underneath.

I (selflessly) tested a piece of each and was surprised to find that there wasn't a huge difference in taste, despite the different fat and one having being wrapped up. It' s all about the hot jam! When I make these again I'm going to use more jam, and aim to keep more of it inside the roll when cooking. The trick to retain as much of the jam as possible seems to come with the rolling - if you simply roll it like a swiss roll you'll push most of the jam towards the seam, instead pick up the rolled end of the dough and place it down gently slightly in front of where it was each turn, keeping a very loose 'roll' with lots of space and jam inside.  

Oh yes... but more jam next time, I think

When I tried some the next day there was more of a difference in texture - the suet version had held up much better remaining firm, whereas the butter version had a softer texture and tasted discernibly more buttery, it reminded me of a soft ice cream wafer. So I think that if you're likely to use up everything in one sitting, there isn't too much between the versions.

So have you had jam roly poly before, or are you mystified as to how something with beef products in it can be a dessert? It might look a bit erm, strange to the uninitiated, but trust me, it's lovely. All kinds of warm sweet comfort.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Where can you get good baking equipment in Tokyo?

Aww you knew it ;)  (Sign from Tokyu Hands)
Here's my top-5 regulars list:
And, if you're looking for something particularly elusive, you can always make a special trip to Kappabashi Dougu Gai 'Kitchen Town' near Asakusa.

Tokyu Hands
Tokyu Hands' baking section
The kitchen/baking section of the Shibuya Tokyu Hands is called "3C" which is sort of the 3rd floor - you'll see when you get there, and they have all kinds of crumpet rings, egg rings, cake tins, even powdered egg whites, edible glitter and pre-made frozen sponge cake. You can get an instant read thermometer here too, somewhat away from the baking area near the peelers and storage jars. Ah! Also, in my failed attempts to find cake tins in Tokyo, I discovered that Tokyu Hands is also the best place for over-sized tupperware.
My digital thermometer (in its holder)
A trendier shop than Tokyu Hands, great for novely gifts, Loft also has a good baking section with many varieties of cake pans and measuring equipment, some of which are imported. I usually visit the Shibuya Loft, but noticed that one opened up replacing Laox next to Muji in Yurakucho.
The cake tin and tray section of Loft, Shibuya

More useful to you as a supplier of your strong bread flour, molasses, vegetable shortening and imported cake mixes, Nissin also has a small household goods section on the ground floor next door to the main shop. The baking section is right at the back and they have a few, mainly ring-cake type, cake tins (with holes in the middle). They do have some cupcake cases that don't require muffin tins to rest in, and they also have some disposable foil and paper trays for baking in. Many of the baking sheets at Nissin are American oven-sized, so make sure that you've measured the inside of your oven before buying! Nissin also sell some nice gift boxes, including some cupcake boxes (single and x4 cake variations), which are currently stored near the greetings cards.
Nissin's baking section. Check out that pastry board!
In the Musashi Koyama "Palm" shopping centre (what a name), there is a fantastic shop called Marusei with aisles of cooking equipment, from the sharp knife aisle, the many-varieties of frying pan aisle to the glass bowl and jugs area. Prices are reasonable and it's definitely worth a look if you're in the area. Don't forget to drop by the bakery Nemo, not far from Musashi Koyama station, for some excellent bread.
Image from Musashi Koyama website
100-yen shops
The trusty hundred yen shop is worth checking for their disposable paper cake cases, small bowls, peelers and zesters. You can get a decent pestle and mortar (100 yen each for the mortar and the pestle, not complaining..), and depending on the shop in question they may also have smaller cake tins, various utensils, and rammekins, possibly heart-shaped. The biggest 100 yen shop I know of is the Daiso shop near Harajuku station (map). You can get *everything* there.
A 100 Yen shop in Azabu Juban

Failing the above, and in some cases preferable to them, it's also worth working out whether it makes sense to have items shipped to you from overseas. I recently saved about half the price I would have paid in Tokyo for a La Creuset casserole that was on sale in my current favourite UK based baking supply shop, Lakeland. That included overseas delivery to my door! Lakeland have excellent quality bake ware, professional piping bags, cake stands, mixers, classy ceramic shortbread molds... Just be sure to measure the inside of your oven when ordering any baking trays!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hot buttered crumpets, home made - you can do it!

(Edit - Sep. 2014: You can buy crumpets at most of our "open bakery days" - see our Facebook page or website to find out more - or come for a lesson and learn how to make them yourself. The recipe we use is slightly different to the one I started off with here in 2012 :) )

Crumpets are the one thing I could never find in international supermarkets in Tokyo. I've been known to line my suitcase with them on trips back to Japan from the UK, in order to fill my freezer upon arrival - as a fairly moist product they don't keep long at room temperature. Since crumpets are currently doing so well in the ‘favourite treats’ poll on this site, I thought I'd share some recent experiments so that you can create them yourself at home too.

For those of you who aren't familiar, here's what crumpets are, and how most people "make" them ;) (Video posted to YouTube by MarcusBritish.)

There is an abundance of recipes out there, some of which involve milk, sugar, even egg(!) and melted butter in the batter. The basic ingredients though, are strong bread flour, yeast, water, salt, and baking soda. You’ll also need a heavy frying pan and some crumpet rings.

You can buy crumpet rings at Tokyu Hands, alongside a range of different sized egg and pancake rings. Indeed, I read that silicone egg rings work well for crumpets, and that you can improvise with a washed tuna can with the top and bottom removed (with a tin-opener, I’m guessing). Failing all that, go free-style and make crumpet-like irregularly shaped ‘pikelets’ instead, by pouring small amounts of batter a bit at a time into the pan.

This is the most basic recipe I could find, as posted by Andy on Once I've got it just right with the basic ingredients, then I plan to experiment with sugar, milk and so on. In brackets I also included smaller measurements geared towards using just one of the 11g sachets of instant Japanese yeast.

Below the recipe you’ll also find a discussion of common problems I've either read about or experienced first hand, so you don’t have to ;)

Ingredients: (smaller batch size in brackets)
  • 500g (183g) of strong white flour
  • 10g (3.6g) of salt
  • 30g (11g sachet) dry yeast
  • 550g (202g) of tepid water
  • 1.5g (0.6g) bicarbonate of soda
  • 140g (51g) of cold water - this is best read as a guide as flours vary, my flour needed an extra splash of water to be loose enough to produce holes when cooking.
Yields 20 (about 7)
If you are using a hot-plate, the temperature should be just below 200°C. If a frying pan, use a low-medium heat.

  • Sieve together the flour and salt.
  • Dissolve the yeast in tempered water [30°C].
  • Combine these 2 in a mixer and beat on first speed for 2 (1) minutes to form a batter, then beat on second speed for 6 (2-3) minutes, or use a bowl and an electric hand mixer, or a spoon and some muscle power. If you're mixing by hand, be sure to give it a good long beating so as to form elastic gluten in the batter.
  • Cover the batter and keep warm for 1 hour bulk fermentation.
  • Dissolve the bicarb in the cold water and mix this solution well through the batter.
  • Use immediately, piping/spooning the mix into lightly-greased hoops, ready-placed onto the heated surface.
  • Pan/hot-plate should be clean and un-greased.

Serve them hot from the pan, or reheat them in a toaster/grill and serve spread with butter, with a mug of tea. Ahh!
Want more holes and a bit more colour, but getting there

Crumpet Troubleshooting Section: (further photos below)

Crumpets stick to the rings
The rings need to be free of any batter from previous attempts, they need to be greased, and then heated up standing empty in the pan before you pour in the batter. I found the best results with smoothing some soft butter on the inside of the ring with my finger (careful if you are using improvised tin cans!). If your rings are hot enough, the batter should shrink away from the rings as you cook.

My batter didn’t rise during proofing
You may have killed or weakened the yeast through excessive heat or salt, or your yeast may have been exposed to the elements and expired during storage. If you’re using Japanese instant yeast and are following Delia’s recipe, which advises heating milk to the “hand hot” stage, you may well scorch your yeast and render it useless - after investing in a thermometer, I discovered that my idea of "hand hot" was just over 50°C which is much too hot for the type of yeast I was using. Different types of yeast have different levels of endurance, but in general the optimal temperature range for baking yeast to work is 30 – 37°C. The 30°C used for the lukewarm water at the beginning of the recipe I listed here really doesn’t feel that warm at all to the touch, and so if you can get a digital thermometer (while you’re at Tokyu Hands buying the crumpet rings, maybe) it will come in very handy here, rather than guessing. Regarding salt, I have read that excessive use of salt can slow yeast down, and many crumpet recipes call for adding salt after the hour-long resting period for this reason. The ratios given in the recipe above worked for me however, so you should be fine adding the salt with the flour at the start as long as you stick to the recipe.
Finally, how warm is your kitchen? If you’re making these crumpets in the dead of winter and have placed your batter to rest near a drafty window, then the batter might get too cold for the yeast to work fast enough. You could put the bowl of batter in a cold oven with the light on, or under the light of your stove-top ventilation system if the kitchen is a bit chilly.

The crumpets are raw and doughy on the inside
Many recipes recommend a very low heat setting, and a fairly long 7-8 minute cooking time before de-ringing and flipping them over. 20-minutes in, I decided I was being too cautious with my heat setting, so I would recommend medium or medium-low. If your test crumpet forms holes within the first minute of cooking, then your temperature is probably good. You will still want to aim for the 7-8 minutes cooking time so that they can be cooked all the way through and the tops are completely dry before you flip them (soft and wet on top will cause your crumpet holes to be squished closed when flipped). Another indication of whether you have the temperature right is whether the base has browned slightly – you don’t want them too anemic on the underside. If the crumpets are too thick, then it might be hard to get the centre to cook through, also if you have only a few holes, then the heat isn't getting channeled through the body of the crumpet.

My crumpets have no holes!
Though utterly disheartening, this is your final hurdle. Firstly, is the problem no holes at all, or that they rise and then close in on themselves? If it’s the latter, then it could be that your batter wasn’t thoroughly mixed at the start when you added the yeast and water to the flour. This is the stage where your action with the wooden spoon or mixer, like when kneading bread, helps to link glutenin and gliadin molecules into long coily strands of gluten so that instead of tearing, the batter becomes elastic enough to stretch around the gas bubbles that form, and is strong enough to hold their shape when set. This is my present understanding, and it seems to work. When you are beating the batter, you will start to see a change in consistency to a noticeable elasticity, and if you pull the spoon or beater away from the mixture, you can see the batter has become slightly stringy. If the crumpets don't produce enough holes at any point, it could be because the batter is too thick – I added a little more cold water with baking soda to my first-attempt batter and the holes in the top appeared quite soon after the pouring. I’d recommend starting with just one crumpet first so that you can get the batter thickness that allows the holes to form, and then continue with the rest of the batch.

I’ll tell you a secret: it’s ok to fail at your first few attempts at making crumpets. I read somewhere (on the internet, so it must be true) that the “English muffin” was an American re-branding of a failed crumpet, certainly I'd not heard of them when I lived in the UK.., and almost all comment sections of online crumpet recipes are laden with tales of crumpet woe - particularly regarding lack of holes. I’m hoping however, that I’ve done enough testing and research that you’ll be sufficiently well-armed to get it right first time.

Looking forward to hearing how it goes for you - do let me know!

My favorite crumpet battle stories

Excellent crumpet recipes: (as used above)

---- Update! ----

I made another attempt, with a slightly hotter pan, and thinner batter, and behold! More holes! holes inside holes!
We're really getting there - holes inside holes! And no poking!

I noticed that bubbles form quite quickly, popping and sealing over at first. Once the batter is drying out the popped bubbles retain their shape - as you can see happening round the edges first in my video.

This continues happening, spreading to the middle of the crumpet, and once the whole thing is set on top you're ready to flip. Since the inside might still be a bit unset at the top, you don't want to leave the flipped crumpet on the holey side for too long, as the weight of the thing might squish your precious holes. Now this is pretty good I'll experiment with the best taste, trying milk and sugar etc. Good luck with yours! If you get stuck, don't forget, you can come to Mornington Crescent Tokyo for a lesson