My husband loves English muffins. He buys a dozen at least every two weeks. He ran out last week and I immediately realized we might have a problem. I checked a couple local bakeries, they don’t sell them, and the only way to buy them from the store is wrapped in plastic. Since we’re trying to dramatically reduce our plastic purchasing and usage I decided to try my hand at making my own, and it was the best decision ever.
Not only is the flavor better, but I tend to forget exactly how much I enjoy baking bread. The simplicity of the ingredients, the smell of the yeast, and the rhythm of the kneading all make me feel like I’m tapping into my roots. The fermentation of bread and cooking it was one of the pivotal moments in human development. Human beings could suddenly get more calories, it was portable, and relatively easy to make in large quantities. Michael Pollan even postulates (in a National Geographic piece on bread) that human beings could live off of bread in ancient times (not today, our bread is too “white” and lacks too much of the germ and bran).
Bread, sweet glorious bread. And this recipe is so simple. It takes a little planning ahead because it requires a starter and you have to cook each muffin individually. All in all you want about a whole weekend, though you can make them faster, they won’t taste as good. The original recipe calls for baking them on medium heat with a little butter, but the heat was too high and I couldn’t get the inside fully cooked, so I added a lid and cleaned the butter out of the pan between batches and was very pleased with the results.
3/4 cup bread (or all-purpose) flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
English Muffin Dough:
1 cup of whole or 2% milk
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
3 cups bread (or all-purpose) flour, plus additional for flouring surface
Cornmeal (for dusting the pan and tops)
Butter for pan
To make the dough starter mix the flour, water, and yeast in a small bowl and mix until the starter is smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Cover and let the starter ferment between 1 and 12 hours, but remember that the longer you let it sit the better texture and flavor your muffins will have. If I’m doing this over a weekend I’ll start this early Saturday morning and let it sit all day.
When your desired time is up it’s time to make the dough. In a stand mixer or large mixing bowl combine the milk and yeast. Then add the starter and whisk it in until it is dissolved into the now frothy mixture. Add the sugar, butter, and salt to the mixture and whisk together. Then add 3 cups of flour and stir with a wooden spatula until you form a shaggy dough.
It is now time to knead the dough, either with a dough hook on a stand mixer or by hand. If you use a dough hood you’ll want to work the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and no longer sticky. If you work the dough by hand you’ll knead for approximately the same amount of time, on a lightly floured surface. You’ll know you’re done when the dough forms a smooth ball (pictured above), springs back to the touch, and is tacky, but doesn’t stick to your hand or the bowl.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl (make sure to roll it around a bit to coat the outside in oil) and let it rise in the fridge overnight (you can let it rest up to three days). This is why I like to begin the starter early Saturday morning, make the dough Saturday night, and let it rest overnight. The muffins will be ready to cook Sunday morning. Alternatively you can let the dough rest 1.5 – 2 hours at room temperature (until doubled in size), but these will have less taste.
When the dough is ready place it on a lightly floured surface and divide it into 12 equal parts (this is best done by pastry scraper, but anything will work). Sprinkle a baking sheet generously with cornmeal, gently roll the 12 equal parts into balls, and place them on the baking sheet with about an inch in between them. Sprinkle the tops with cornmeal and let them rest for about 2 hours (if you just let the dough rise at room temperature you only need to let them rest about 1 hour).
When they’re ready to cook warm a large pan or skillet over medium heat on the stove. Add a little butter to the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking and, working in batches, begin to cook the muffins. Generally speaking you’ll want 5-6 minutes per side, but this varies based on what kind of stove and pan you’re using. I used a copper-bottomed stainless steel pan and an electric stove. I also recommend placing a lid on top of the pan, as this was the best way I could get the muffins to cook completely on the inside. If you have problems with burning and can’t get them to cook completely, you can place them in the oven at 350 degrees for however long is needed.
It is definitely a trial process, but that’s the nice thing about batch cooking, you can test it out as you go. No matter the trials and tribulations, I guarantee you’ll never go back to store bought. Even the burnt muffins taste scores better than anything I’ve eaten from the store and my husband agrees (you can trust him, he’s the expert).
Side Note: if you want to make these vegan substitute the milk with water or almond milk and the butter with olive oil.