Thursday, February 24, 2011

Homemade English Muffins

I’ve never been a morning person. While my sister managed to go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up at the crack of dawn, every morning presented itself to me with a struggle. I needed at least three wake-up calls before reluctantly rubbing the sand from my eyes and scurrying to make it out the door on time. Thank goodness for my mom. Not only was she diligent in the wake-up process, she always left a little breakfast on the chest in the hall for me to grab as we left. My trusty stand-by, which still happens to be a favorite, was a toasted English muffin with butter and peanut butter.

English muffins make me happy, perhaps for that sentimental reason, but I never considered making them from scratch until seeing Clotilde’s post a few years ago. To my surprise I learned that they were cooked in a hot skillet like pancakes, which shouldn't have been all that surprising considering their two flat sides.

But I didn’t have any crumpet rings so the idea got shelved. It wasn’t until I bought my beloved copy of Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day that my enthusiasm was reignited. I promptly went to Sur La Table and got myself a set of these (and only 5 bucks to boot). 

The origins of the English muffin are a bit nebulous but they may have taken root in 10th century Wales where small, round yeast leavened cakes were baked on hot stones. The type of English muffin we know and love today became very popular during the Victorian era. The light, crusty muffins made out of dough scraps (and according to some accounts, leftover potatoes) were originally eaten in the servants’ quarters but once the ladies of the house got a taste, they quickly became fancied by everyone. And after tasting this homemade batch, I can see why.

Now I have to warn you, these aren’t the type of muffins that can be whipped up 30 minutes before breakfast (although the crumpet ring box provides such a recipe). You’ll need to plan this one out.

The dough itself is simple and straightforward but, like most of Mr. Reinhart’s recipes, requires an overnight fermentation in the refrigerator. The next morning, a baking soda slurry gets folded in (essential for that bubbly texture) before the little blobs of dough get cooked inside cornmeal-crusted rings. The result? English muffins like no other. 

The interiors are a thing of beauty - moist, yeasty and tender (all words that I generally despise using) - and the dusting of cornmeal gives the outsides that characteristic crisp texture. But I think we can all agree that the best parts of an English muffin are the many nooks and crannies. To take full advantage, be sure to fork split them instead of slicing. And if you’re going to pop them into the freezer, remember to split them ahead of time (a good rule of thumb for bagels, too).

Thomas’ English muffins? Puh-leez. And you’re welcome.

Homemade English Muffins 
Don't let the lack of crumpet rings stop you from making these; you can also use the rims of quart-size canning jars. Recipe from Artisan Breads Every Day.

2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or olive oil
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk (about 95˚F)
2 2/3 cups unbleached bread flour
3/4 teaspoon salt or 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast (or 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, proofed)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons warm water
Cornmeal for dusting

In a small bowl add the honey to the oil and milk; stir to dissolve. In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, salt and yeast together, then pour in the milk mixture. Whisk for a minute, scrape down the bowl and whisk for a few more seconds (you should see gluten strands forming). Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 4 days. The batter will bubble and rise as it cools down.

On baking day, remove the batter from the refrigerator 2 hours before baking. The dough will be stiff and sticky and will bubble as it comes to room temperature.

Right before baking, dissolve the baking soda in the warm water and gently fold it into the dough, just like folding egg whites into cake batter, until it is fully absorbed. Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes or until it starts bubbling again. Heat a flat griddle pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat (or 300˚F if using an electric skillet).

Mist the griddle and insides of the crumpet rings with spray oil, then dust the insides of the rings with cornmeal. Cover the surface of the pan with as many rings as it will hold, then dust the pan inside the rings with more cornmeal. Lower the heat to medium-low (actually, a bit closer to low than medium - you'll have to use trial-and-error to find the perfect temperature. I experimented with one English muffin first).

To bake, mist a 1/3-cup measuring cup with spray oil, fill it with dough and pour the dough into the ring. Fill all the rings and then sprinkle cornmeal over each muffin. The dough will not spread immediately but will slowly rise and bubble. Cook the muffins for at least 12 minutes or until the bottoms are golden and crisp and the tops lose their wet look. Flip the muffins over, rings and all, and cook for 12 minutes more. If it takes less than 12 minutes per side, your griddle setting is probably too high and you'll end up with undercooked muffins.   

When both sides are golden brown and the dough is springy to the touch, remove the muffins from the pan. Cool them in their rings for 2 minutes, then pop them out. Turn the muffins on their edge to cool; this will help prevent sinking and shrinking. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. After they cool, split them with a fork to accentuate the interior nooks.


Shobana said...

I am getting super jealous...first it was pretzels, then bagels and now these too...I wish I could trade food with you (though mine may not be as good as no not fishing for compliments at all, but honestly...urs look so darn appetizing).

Nuts about food said...

I love learning about the history of things we eat. And hey, if the words moist and tender perfectly describe that lovely baked muffin you made, I see no wrong in using them.

talley said...

awesome muffins! they look delicious.

we were just recently wanting to make some crumpets. may we request a crumpet recipe??

Teresa said...

Now that I don't get to hear about the posts before they happen, I had to make them straight off the blog (no extra help). They turned out amazing! Great recipe! Can't wait for more to come.

Siiri said...

Literally - we're the same keep proving this is true. These delights of English Muffin wizardry are no exception. Now please send me one in the mail. then I'll know all the labor is worth it. I may have to look in the artisan bread cookbook I got last year (Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day, by Jeff whatshisname) to see if there's a recipe there that's less labor intensive, though I doubt it. adding to list of musts.thx!