The Hole Truth About Crumpets

Back in my youth, before I hit my terminal oatmeal phase, crumpets were my daily breakfast staple. Run through the toaster just long enough to warm through, but not crisp, nothing could beat that speed and versatility. These were the dark ages before good vegan butter existed, so I would usually opt for a light smear of creamy peanut butter instead. If I was feeling particularly decadent, it would get a sprinkle of cinnamon and sliced banana on top, too. In the spare few minutes I had before running off to catch the train to school, that was the height of luxury.

I don’t know why I stopped eating crumpets. There were no supply chain issues to blame, no big falling out I can recall. I just seemed to suddenly forget about them for two decades.

And then, just as suddenly, that familiar craving came rushing back in a tsunami wave of nostalgia.

The texture is reminiscent of many similar bread products, yet stands alone as its own unique entity. Soft, spongy, and chewy, most people compare them to English muffins or pancakes, but I’d say they’re more like really thick injera made from wheat flour.

They’re very simple, yet surprisingly difficult to perfect. This was not my first attempt at making crumpets; shamefully, I’ve churned out more smooth flapjacks than I’d like to admit. It turns out that the secret is… Cheating.

It’s not anything as terrible as copying your classmate during the final exam. It just feels a bit like trickery when the key to creating that signature network of lacy holes is- Now don’t judge me here- To poke them open with a toothpick.

It’s not all forced, artificially manipulated texture, since they do bubble up naturally. A tiny touch of extra vital wheat gluten ensures that chewy texture, but it also makes the protein network just slightly too strong to burst open without a bit of help. You don’t need to go crazy and jab at the little skillet cakes relentlessly, but give them a little poke while you’re standing over the stove already, and they’ll be better than store-bought.

The holes are really what make crumpets so special. Providing a lacy network of pockets for clotted cream or melting butter to pool, it’s almost like a super soft waffle. They were made to be topped, lavishly or simply, to reach their full potential.

Crumpets are made of humble ingredients, with a downright silly preparation, but that’s all part of the fun. If you’ve ever wanted to relive your childish days of popping bubbles for fun, here’s a more productive way to indulge.

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King Me

Let’s get one thing straight: There’s nothing on this green earth that could compel me to hide coins, plastic babies, dried beans, or any other foreign objects in an otherwise edible food product. I have far too much dental trauma to inflict that kind of chaos on others.

Right off the bat, you can probably guess that my take on King Cake, the essential Mardi Gras staple, would be far from traditional.

Enchanted by the bold contrasting colors and over-the-top presentation, I’ve long admired this New Orleans staple. Though it’s not something I encountered before going vegan, it reminded me of many things I have more experience with. Cinnamon buns, brioche, and pound cake all twisted into one flamboyant tribute to the last day of Folly, there had to be some way to bridge this culinary gap. Suddenly it hit me: This was really like Creole challah.

Sweet, tender, buttery strands of pillow-soft bread wind themselves around one another in a brilliant explosion of color. Subtle notes of cinnamon infuse each bite with a gentle warmth, while each slice is just a little bit different. Some have a stronger floral flavor from ube extract, others bring more of turmeric’s sunny glow to the fore, while others balance the natural bitterness of matcha for a satisfying contrast. Together, they create a vibrant harmony in purple, gold, and green.

One fateful Mardi Gras parade in 1892 was dubbed “The Symbolism of Colors,” which forever set and attributed deep importance to this bold palate. Purple represents justice, gold stands for power, and green is for faith. For all the pageantry and costuming, it’s hard to imagine such a celebration decked out in any other hues.

Until I can enjoy the genuine article, let the good times roll with with this kaleidoscopic loaf that blurs the line between side dish and dessert. You could just as happily serve it alongside a festive dinner, slathered with soft vegan butter, or for a final course, toasted and topped with ice cream. If you can hold off until breakfast, it also makes for the most incredible French toast you’ve ever stuck a fork into.

Hey, they don’t call it “Fat Tuesday” for nothing. Might as well make it count!

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Buns in the Oven

As a long haul content creator, you never know exactly what’s going to hit, or when. In fact, it’s usually the pieces that seem the least likely to catch on that strike a chord, haunting you for years. Nothing dies on the internet, after all.

Such is the case for my big batch cinnamon buns, first whipped up in a frenzy of holiday baking back in 2007. Imagine, starry-eyed youth that I was at 18 years old, discovering the joys of yeasted doughs while the mere concept of vegan eggs, meat, and even dairy was still in its infancy. So much has changed since then, and yet that simple recipe not only survived, but continues to thrive.

It’s about time that original recipe gets more than a re-make, but a complete revamp. Now with better ingredients, better photos, better instructions, and more ideas for personalization, my Big Batch Cinnamon Buns can reach their full (and fully risen) potential.

What you’re getting here are the most buttery, pillow-soft, tender rolls twisted around a warm cinnamon sugar filling and then slathered in creamy maple icing, made for a crowd. They’re perfect for holiday gifts, make-ahead breakfasts and brunches, and late night desserts with all your loved ones. It would be hard to share if it was just one pan, but you’ll have enough to sweeten up everyone’s day, with seven full pans of these luscious treats in all. It takes very little work, which will be repaid ten fold in sugary satisfaction.

I’m sure you have questions about how such humble ingredients can be transformed into such lavish gifts. Luckily, I’ve made them quite a few times over the years now, and I have answers for you.

How can you modify these spiraled sweets to fit your tastes?

Easy, my dear! Consider spicing things up with a blend of pumpkin pie or chai spice to replace the simple cinnamon swirl, for starters. From there, amp up the icing with lemon or orange zest, replacing the maple extract with vanilla, almond, or even chocolate exact. Oh, did I mention chocolate? For real chocoholics, go ahead and use 2 cups (12 ounces) mini chocolate chips to sprinkle evenly over the filling for a gooey, gloriously melted center. If you’re feeling colorful, go crazy with rainbow sprinkles over the top.

How can these be prepared in advance?

For an overnight rest, fully assemble the buns in their pans, cover with plastic wrap, and let them chill in the fridge for up to 12 hours. Let come back up to room temperature before baking off, to have warm, fresh buns early in the morning. For long term storage, stash baked but un-iced buns in the freezer, again wrapped in plastic, for 4 – 6 months. Just prepare the icing fresh when you need it, because it will harden over time.

Is it possible to downsize for smaller appetites?

Of course! This recipe is easily halved, but you may end up with one half-filled pan. You can also use fewer pans and bake a half batch in one 11 × 7-inch rectangular baking dish + 1 8 x 8-inch square baking dish, or a full batch in three 11 × 7-inch rectangular baking dishes.

Do I really have to share?

Well, I don’t make the rules here and I won’t tell… But everyone will probably be happier if you do. Trust me.

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Hello Sunshine

Craning their necks high into the sky with bold yellow blossoms, sunflowers seem as bright as the sun itself. Native to North America, one could argue that they’re one of the first authentic foods of the US, cultivated and farmed before corn or squash. Whimsical as they may look, sunflowers are much more than mere decorative elements for your bouquet.

Adding that same cheer and utility to the dinner table, their seeds transcend the bounds of conventional sweet and savory definitions, seamlessly enhancing flavors across the board. Since they’re so versatile and affordable, there’s always at least a handful hanging out in the pantry here. Beyond just snacking on them out of hand, they’re one of my favorite additions to bread. Adding a toothsome crunch and subtly nutty taste into every bite, sunflower seeds make every slice a textural delight.

So, when it comes time to clean out that pantry, there are all sorts of odd measures of various flours to use up, united by these tiny kernels in one incredible loaf. Dark molasses sweetens the deal without pushing it into sugary realms, making it ideal for sandwiches or toast. Soft and supple, cassava flour gives it a satisfying heft, alongside hearty whole wheat.

Such a remarkably simple yet comforting bread seemed like the perfect recipe to share for the 16th annual World Bread Day. There’s so much to celebrate when it comes to this staple food. I feel like I should create something extravagant that will turn heads or become a viral hit, but the fact of the matter is that all bread is good bread, and I think we’ve already had enough sensational headlines to last a lifetime. I just want an easy-going dough that’s as comforting to knead and create as it is to eat and enjoy.

Banner World Bread Day, October 16, 2021

Even on a rainy day, this loaf will still rise and shine. That’s the power of sunflowers, blooming brilliantly for thousands of years.

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Melon Drama

If it’s named for a melon and looks like a melon, then obviously, it should taste like… Not a melon.

Such is the curious case of melon pan. Captivating the imaginations and cravings of Japanese bakers since the early 1900’s, right around the time that Western influences made bread the trendy starch of those in the know, it gave traditional rice flour a run for its money. Simple, sweet buns wrapped in a buttery cookie exterior, the name has more to do with its deeply grooved, crackled exterior than flavor. Said to evoke the appearance of the delicate skin of a muskmelon, covering the fruit like natural lace, it’s one of many theories, though it strikes me as the most plausible explanation.

Some are round, others are more like ovoid footballs. Most are plain, but some are filled with cream or jam. A few intrepid bakers try to make sense of the misnomer by adding artificial melon flavoring to the dough itself. For years, that was my impulse as well, but I could never fully connect the dots. Melon extract is not exactly the most common ingredient in the pantry, and even as a special order, few genuinely tasteful options exist.

What I’m proposing instead might seem like a stretch, but it’s the most sensible extension of the concept I’ve devised yet. The melon family, cucurbitaceae, is a classification that includes a diverse array of plants both sweet and savory, starting of course with melons like cantaloupe and honey dew, but also squashes such as pumpkins. That connection was the catalyst I needed to finally make a melon pan I could better justify.

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Bread So Nice, I Made It Thrice

Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.

-Pablo Picasso

Adversity gives us perspective; despair informs our joy. Without suffering, we would never know what it means to be truly happy. Human nature is to avoid pain, which is a general approach I would advocate for, too, but sometimes the greatest victories rise from the ashes, like the phoenix reborn.

Much has been said about the devastation wreaked by the impossible winter storm here in Texas. It’s not what I imagined for my first winter in the deep south, that’s for sure. The experience has left a mark, visibly inside flooded and now moldy apartments across the state, and mentally, still haunting nightmares and wakeful moments alike. To be honest, I’m not quite over it yet, and I was one of the lucky ones. I lost power for three days, while temperatures plummeted into the single digits, and water for six. Melting snow in the fireplace to have water to drink and dredging out the pool to flush the toilet weren’t exactly the survival skills I was taught as a girl scout. I would have likely frozen to death if not for the endlessly kind friends within my orbit. From a swashbuckling rescue across the ice-slicked tundra, gliding through the black of night under dark traffic lights, to the seemingly small offer of a warm shower, I owe these people so much.

Which is why I made them all bread.

For the first loaf, it was a matter of what I could piecemeal from a kitchen that wasn’t mine, that could be reasonably fabricated without fancy equipment. Homemade bread, soft and tender, aromatic and still warm from the oven, is a simple pleasure that everyone can appreciate. It transcends the question of sweet or savory, avoids the pitfalls of expensive ingredients, yet tastes like love itself in every bite. Thick-cut, chewy rolled oats give body to this simple sandwich bread, adding just enough interest to make it a treat without further embellishment. That said, it’s at the peak of perfection when toasted and smeared with a fat knob of vegan butter.

The loaf was further refined with a second run, rising to even loftier heights with more patience and experience. Again, the company and context added a certain seasoning that mass-produced baked goods could never have. Bread is a living thing, you know; it’s like a pet that you must nurture and train with equal parts kindness and respect.

Only when I finally returned to my own kitchen did I finally master the art. For something that started as a throwaway formula, not even written down, it became a highly sought-after prize, with inquiries about the recipe coming in left and right. So, in case you were one of the lovely people following my harrowing journey on Instagram or Facebook, thank you. This last loaf is for you.

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