Scrumptious Stories: Mystery of the Nightwatchers- AM Howell & Crumpets

Mystery of The Nightwatchers AM Howell

AM Howell returned for a third publication earlier this year with Mystery Of the Nightwatchers which sees a young teen Nancy return to her place of birth amidst the drama of the 1910 passing of Halley’s Comet and uncovers many secrets in the town and her family with little hints back at the previous books. It was a wonderful choice for my latest group collaboration.

A group of children’s bloggers have got together to celebrate our love of books, this time it’s Scrumptious Stories, with our own takes on the links between childrens books, especially middle grade, and food. It’s a tradition from the lashings of ginger beer picnics or deception with Turkish delight to the modern moments of hot chocolate that pepper contemporary childrens books!

Sometimes it’s a cuisine, sometimes it’s traditional or regional immersion and sometimes it’s a particular food you are left craving. For me it’s going to be a practical so roll those sleeves up!

Mystery of the Nightwatchers AM Howell
Illustrated by Saara Söderland

Mystery of the Nightwatchers, alongside its incredible interpersonal driven mystery is filled with wonderful Edwardian yet equally startlingly modern breakfasts, it was inevitably crumpets that caught my tastebuds. I loved how Ann Marie showed us that certain foods endure across generations, that we contemporary people are not as far removed from people 110 years ago as we would like to think in emotions, hopes and dreams, and food, particularly hot crumpets!!

I honestly didn’t expect to be inspired to make crumpets. I thought I might be exploring a Teatime in the Library matching bake to book idea and you would be getting some comet themed cupcakes with Ferrero Rochers but then I saw the word crumpet.

I grew up thinking crumpets were one of those foods that you have to buy you just can’t replicate without a lot of skill – like filo pastry- but I was so very wrong. They are SO easy.

Father always says decisions made on empty stomachs are never good ones

Nancy to Violet upon deciding to make crumpets

Crumpets appear at one of the pivotal points in the story. Nancy has been uncovering all sorts of shocking secrets; from the fact she actually has another grandfather to the hate campaign being waged against him by the sociopathic mayor for some unknown to Nancy slight that has festered into spite, and what on earth are her mother and grandfather up to in the dead of night, at the prison! .

Finally after a few minor wobbles, the tension has exploded and an early morning rude awakening leaves the family in a terrible situation and Nancy in charge of her much younger sister- Nancy, Violet and new friend Burch must do everything they can to clear the Greenstone name. But decisions are not well made on an empty stomach thus the need for breakfast crumpets!

Making Nancy’s crumpets

Mystery of the Nightwatchers by AM Howell

If you are going to make crumpets you need crumpet rings and at least four but more is better. I bought a set of six stainless steel ones from Amazon but you can use egg rings (just know they are slightly shorter so use less batter & adjust times) but not silicone ones because you need the metal to conduct heat and cook the sides.

If in a pinch or feeling thrifty you can recycle tuna or similar sized tins well washed and with the bottom removed just be careful of sharp edges when using especially if making with children.

Tanya Burr’s Tanya Bakes

For my own crumpets I turned to my bookshelves first and found a lovely recipe in my second-hand bookshop bargain Tanya Bakes (Penguin 2016) by Tanya Burr which like many of the recipes in there seemed accessible and absolutely achievable for confident beginners as you don’t have to faff about with presoaking your yeast like with my other books suggested and so I went with it but after having a bit of Google it isn’t available online!!!!! So I will list the ingredients, then explain in my own words what I did! (Hmmn, better make a cup of tea/coffee!)

You need:

  • Crumpet rings or similar.
  • A big bowl or jug
  • clean dry tea towel.
  • Hand Whisk or electric/stand mixer with whisk attachments.
  • Big frying pan
    • Useful: tongs, fish slices/spatulas,

Ingredients

makes 10-12 depending on your rings.
  • 250g strong white bread flour.
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 7g (or one 7g sachet) of fast action yeast (I used Allinsons)
  • 300ml milk topped up with 80ml water
  • A little cooking oil or butter
  • Something to grease the rings with- butter, margarine or other plant based spread.

I used my stand mixer with its whisk attachment for ease and speed but this is definitely achievable by hand if you don’t have any weakness or mobility issues.

I weighed out then whisked everything- the strong bread flour, the yeast, salt, sugar, bicarb and lukewarm milk-water mix together until it was smooth and resembled something slightly more viscous than double cream.

I popped mine on the turned off hob but just don’t put out anywhere draughty or cold.

I then popped a clean tea towel over the bowl and left in a warm place for 50 minutes to rise. It said between 45-60 minutes so I went in the middle- I recommend leaving the full hour as the crumpets from the end of the batch were more bubbly and rose higher!

(I made a batch of peanut butter hot chocolate cupcakes in the meantime because… cake)

You’re supposed to use a flat bottomed frying pan/skillet, but my only one big enough to do these in is a sauté pan which has a slight camber but I managed it well so don’t worry if your frying pan isn’t completely flat.

Look at those BUBBLES!! It’s doubled in size and is all lovely bubbly. It’s now ready to go!!

Be thorough and generous

GREASE your rings. This is not the time for frugality, you will thank me when your crumpet pops out with a lift of the tongs and a push of your finger. I used sunflower spread rather than the recommended butter, I also oiled the bottom of the pan with rapeseed oil not butter and they turned out lovely. Preheat your oiled pan for a few minutes on a medium high heat and close any window near the cooker as a draught will affect the rise/bubbles.

I used a big spoon from the cutlery drawer. Tanya says three tablespoons per crumpet ring, that caused overspilling on mine so I would say two heaped (-not mountainous!) ‘dessert spoons’ is plenty but ymmv. If you make it in a jug you can pour/scrape into the rings- about 1.5 cm thick will puff up lovely but half way up your rings is plenty.

crumpet montage

Turn to low and cook for 10 minutes or so, bubbles will emerge and pop on the surface and it will seem very wet until about 5 minutes in, don’t turn the heat up because you will scorch their bottoms.

If you’ve ever made American pancakes/ scotch pancakes/drop scones/pancakes with a rising agent you will find this a bit familiar, but they take a bit longer to cook as they are thicker from the yeast rise. Don’t be worried if it looks very holey inside- that’s exactly what you want.

I would recommend you let the crumpets ‘dry out’ or form a ‘skin’ slightly on top before flipping, you get a more bubbly result- I used two flat spatulas/fish slices but you can flip with tongs too if you’re fast/confident.

golden on the bottom- these needed a minute or so longer so don’t worry if yours are darker.

Give it another two minutes or so to finish the top you don’t want it toasty just a little golden glow on the top . If it goes flat on top or overspills they are still tasty so don’t worry if they don’t look as neat as shop bought.

Remove from pan and start batch two. If you split your pack of rings into two piles you can have one set pre-greased and immediately start cooking the next batch whilst you pop the cooked ones out rather than wait to pop out, wash, then grease etc.

If you greased well this will be relatively easy, if not, may the odds be in your favour.

We used a sharp knife to run around the inside edges of the ring and then lifted the tin with tongs (by the equator of the crumpet ring not pinching the rim!) and poked gently and they popped out beautifully – hooray for copious greasing.

If you want to eat straight away immediately pop them in a 150°C oven for ten minutes to crisp up- or allow to cool on wire racks and pop in toaster/grill later. (Also freezable!)

Then enjoy!

The Fae thought these were brilliant, Littlefae said they were much tastier than the shop ones and Tinyfae kept coming round saying ‘is there anymore?’

I am definitely going to invest in another set of rings for batch cooking and make loads to freeze so we have crumpets for busy mornings or super quick snacks, though they are perfectly achievable within an hour and a half of measuring out your ingredients but only require your scant attention for the 10 minutes at a time pan cooking making them perfect for a lazy Sunday breakfast or teatime treat, or indeed comfort food anytime ☺️

Thank you to AM Howell for the wonderful book inspiration and to the blogger team for the inspiring challenge!!

Check out the others on Twitter for more middle grade food inspiration!!

Mystery of the Nightwatchers by AM Howell is published by Usborne

One thought on “Scrumptious Stories: Mystery of the Nightwatchers- AM Howell & Crumpets

  1. I love the idea of Scrumptious Stories! Food in kids’ books is always so evocative or interesting. Looking forward to the rest of the posts!

    The crumpets look ace – way better than shop ones! They’re not something we ever have at home but Peapod likes having “trumpets” at nursery so maybe I should brave making some…!

    Like

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