A decent English muffin has been somewhat elusive around here. There are so many methods to try: raised, baking soda, cooked on the stove top or baked in the oven. I started with this recipe from Alton Brown that Joel found online. Then, I tried out the recipe from River Cottage Bread book, which I thought was sort of good, but not quite delicious enough. Then I found the recipe in this post from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, gifted to me by a thoughtful aunt. It was closer to that quintessential muffin, and had a perfect chewy texture. I love almost everything about these. The only thing I don’t love, is that they do take a little bit of fuss and precision. Also one thing kept bothering me, the fact that they are not cooked on a griddle with rings, as many other recipes I’ve tried. Not that this mattered, because the flavor was almost dead on. Alas, somethings just can’t ever be perfect. I baked this recipe a few times and then decided to add an egg, because it seemed that they were missing an eggy flavor that prevailed in other batches. The egg helped.
These rise up so pillowy and light. Sometimes they look and feel like a giant marshmallow to me.
After you let them do their first raise, you shape them. Cut into 12 pieces. I have vowed to weigh my pieces out next time, but for now I’ll spare you that anal retentive urge and just say: 12 pieces, cut.
Shaping can be a little tricky with these; you are basically rolling them into a ball, using a counter with a little flour/not too much flour/some indescribable magic amount of flour so that they stick to the counter but still roll around. The counter acts as a point of traction that allows the dough to roll smoothly into a ball. If you can’t get this technique down, it’s okay, just roll them into balls using your hands and pour yourself a drink. No sense in getting worked up about it, they will still be delicious.
I have to go on to tell you that I’ve tried so many english muffin recipes it get’s hard to track them all and trying and failing over and over can make you a bit crazy. Once when I was working at Les Caves, in Corvallis, the baker brought in their version of raised English muffins to cook on our griddle for brunch service. They smelled up the kitchen, puffed slightly on the griddle, and looked generally perfect. This was when I was near the beginning of my English muffin quest. I drooled and asked her if she would share the recipe with me as I stared from my place at the dish pit. She looked kind of surprised, and said, “Oh, well, it’s just a basic English muffin recipe.” I sort of receded and replied with a quiet “oh sure” but in my head I was screaming and shaking her shoulders with a crazed, “Basic!? BASIC? YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW LONG I’VE…” But in the kitchen such dramatics are not received well. So, this memory sticks in my head as my measure of a good English muffin. Have I found it in these muffins? No, I think that vision is still eluding me. But these are very good, and have been a favorite around here to all who eat them.
I just saw an episode of Good Eats on Netflix the other night. Guess what A.B. made? English muffins. A completely different recipe then the one I started with. Looks like I have another recipe to test. In the meantime, these are worth baking up and enjoying during brunch, with peanut butter, marmalade, or as a breakfast sandwich.
- 1 medium Yukon gold or other waxy potato (5-6 ounces)
- First portion of water: 1 1/3 cups at 68 degrees (cool tap water)
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 large farm egg
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- Second portion of water: 1/3 cup at 68 degrees
- Olive or vegetable oil for oiling your hands and the bowl
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the counter
- 2 tablespoons cornmeal
- Cook your potato: Cut the potato in 1” chunks, leaving the skin on. Put the potato in a small sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the potoato until it is tender, about 8-10 minutes after the water has been simmering.
- Drain, and transfer to a bowl. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the potato with the skins on. Measure the mashed potato. You only need a well-packed 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of mashed potato. Save the rest to eat later, or discard. Place the well packed 1/2 cup mashed potato in the fridge. When the potato is completely cool, you are ready to start the rest of the recipe.
- Start your dough: Pour the first portion of water that is at or near 68 degrees F into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature of your water if you are not sure. Add both flours, the cooled potato, egg, honey, salt and yeast. Mix on low for about 10 minutes. You should have a soft dough that is sticky, stretchy and wraps around the paddle. Scrape the dough down. Turn off the mixer and allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.
- After the dough has rested, turn the mixer to medium speed and mix for another 1 or 2 minutes. The dough should be wound around the paddle and will be stronger and stretchier. Now, with the machine running, start adding the second portion of water (1/3 cup) about 2 tablespoons at a time. Wait until an addition of water is absorbed before adding more water. It is very important to add the water gradually, usually 3 additions does the trick. When all the water has been added, mix the dough for another 2 minutes until a soft, smooth, shiny dough is formed. Use your thermometer to test the temperature of your dough. It must be between 75-80 degrees. If your dough is not at this temperature, place it somewhere slightly warmer (or cooler, if it’s too warm) for awhile and check the temperature again later. You don’t want to start the “clock” on the rising time until your dough is at least 75 degrees. I’ve that at this point, I usually just put the dough in a large oiled bowl, turn the dough once to cover it with oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and put it in a turned off oven with the oven light on. This creates an amazing little warm box and it will work, more so then you might think! On top of the fridge works well too.
- Once your dough is between 75-80 degrees, (put in the oiled bowl and cover with plastic if you haven’t already done so) place in a warm spot and let it rest for 30 minutes. If your kitchen is cooler then 68 degrees (like mine is often in the winter) let it rest in that little warm spot again. You don’t want it too warm, however.
- After the 30 minute rest, uncover the bowl (don’t discard the plastic wrap) so you can “turn the dough.” Rub some oil on your hands before turning, the dough will be sticky. With the bowl in front of you, reach to the opposite side (the farthest side away from you) of the bowl and grab the dough from that side. Pull it up and stretch it upward, as far as you can, with out breaking it, then fold it over to the side closest to you. You will not be able to stretch very far at first, but will get farther as you keep turning the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn, and continue pulling and stretching until you go all the way around the bowl (4 turns). Then turn the whole bowl of dough over, cover it again with your plastic wrap, and return it to the slightly warm spot again for another 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, you are going to turn the dough again, using the same process described above. Then cover the dough and allow it to rest for an hour (this would be 2 hours total rising time). The dough will then get bubbly and often looks to me like a big soft marshmallow. This means it’s really good dough!
- At this point you can either continue to bake the English muffins, or cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, finishing the muffin process in the next day. If you just need to buy some time between this step and moving forward, you can also just pop the dough in the fridge for an hour or so.
- To shape and bake the English muffins: Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Combine the two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of corn meal in a small bowl and sprinkle all over the baking sheets. Set the pans aside.
- Flour a work surface, such as a counter, and dump the dough onto it. If the dough has been in the fridge, I like to let it come up in temperature, so you may want to set the dough out on the counter an hour or two before you plan to shape and bake.
- Using a floured metal bench scraper or a floured knife, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. This is hard to do, mine usually end up with two large ones and the rest somewhat equal in size. To get twelve pieces, cut the large dough ball in half. Cut each half in half again (giving you 4 pieces of dough) cut each fourth into thirds, or three pieces, giving you 12 total pieces. To shape each muffin, take a piece of dough and place it on a lesser floured space on the counter. Fold it in half on itself, and adjust it so that the more floured side of the dough is facing up and a lesser floured side is facing down. Using your hand, make a loose cup shape, and in a circular motion, roll the dough around on the counter. You want the dough to get slightly stuck, so that it will form a smooth ball, but stuck more on the counter side, not your hand. It takes practice, so if you can’t get this to work, just roll them roughly into balls using the palms of both hands. Don’t worry if they don’t look perfect, they will still taste delicious.
- Place 6 english muffins on each baking sheet, spacing them out evenly, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place them in a slightly warm place (I return them to the oven with the light on, but you need to remove them before you preheat your oven!) Let them rise until doubled, about an hour or two depending on if they have been in the fridge.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put a rack on the top third and a rack on the bottom third. Bake the muffins for 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, remove them from the oven and flip each muffin over to the other side. Using a kitchen towel wrapped around your hand, or a hot pad, give each muffin a little pat/squash. You want to flatten it just slightly to give them a crinkled edge. But do so quickly, and be careful of the hot steam. Rotate the pans (front to back, top to bottom) and return to bake in the oven for another 8 minutes, until golden and baked through with a few brown patches.
- Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before eating.
- To Serve: Slice each (or split by puncturing laterally with a fork all the way around) English muffin in half and toast. I store these in a plastic bag in the fridge, and they’ve never gone bad on me. Joel prefers these with peanut butter, for breakfast almost everyday, but I love them with marmalade. We both agree they make excellent breakfast sandwiches.