Eureka! Homemade English Muffins

In this week's What's Cooking chat, a reader from Honolulu asked for a recipe for homemade English muffins

To the muffin-y rescue came a reader from Oakland, Calif., who shared a tried-and-true recipe from Winos and Foodies, a New Zealand-based blog. Oakland was kind enough to convert the measurements for us non-metric cooks. Details are below.


English muffins getting griddled. (Kim O'Donnel)

Also an English muffin virgin, I took this recipe as a cue. It was my turn as well to get griddlin' and see what the fuss was all about. I've always been impressed by restaurants turning out their own English muffins, but for some reason never thought I should recreate the experience myself. I kept thinking I'd never get that nooks and crannies thing down like our old pal Thomas.

I studied the recipe several times and kept thinking, what's the catch? This seems so easy. I even consulted "The Bread Bible," by Beth Hensperger, who offers a similarly straightforward version, albeit with more milk and butter.

So, last night, while switching between the 11 o'clock news and "Sex and the City" reruns, I made my dough, a yeasty, fairly no-nonsense mixture that turned baby-bottom soft after 8 minutes of kneading.

Just after seven this morning, I rolled out of bed, made a cup of coffee and said good morning to my happily-risen dough. As I rolled it into balls and prepared it for a second rise (flattened into discs by a baking sheet roof), I still thought, is this really going to work out?

I'm without a griddle, so I pulled out two cast-iron skillets in its place. Unlike American-style muffins that are baked in tins, English muffins (which date to the mid-18th century) are cooked stovetop, in a griddle-like apparatus, to bring out that flat golden top and lighty, spongy interior with those famous nooks and crannies we all love. I found some reference to the interior, described as "honeycomb," which is just perfect.





True blue, English muffins, with all the nooks and crannies. (Kim O'Donnel)

My first batch griddling away, I remained skeptical. How will these doughy things get cooked inside? I just couldn't fathom interior success. Lo and behold, 20 minutes later, both sides were golden brown and frankly, were getting even a little too brown. I had to take these babies off the fire and see what was going on inside.

The word "eureka" comes to mind. Really! I was so amazed at the beautiful network of air pockets that truly do resemble honeycomb. I bit into one, and I couldn't get over the sourdough notes, the gentle pillow with yes! a crispy, slightly chewy exterior. I had really done it.

While the second batch cooked, I toasted up a muffin, to see how it would compare to the English muffins I grew up on. It didn't. It blew that orange bag of so-called muffins away. I may never buy English muffins again.

Thanks to Honolulu and Oakland, I am now a true believer of the homemade English muffin school. This is alchemy at its best. Go on, try this one on for size this weekend. You won't believe it.

English Muffins
Adapted from the blog, "Winos and Foodies"

Ingredients
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (between 105 and 115 degrees)
1/2 cup warm milk (same temperature range as the water)
2 1/3 cups bread flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Method

In a small bowl, place yeast, sugar and half the water. With a fork, whisk until yeast is dissolved and cover with a towel for at least five minutes. Mixture should start to foam. Add remaining water and milk and cover for another five minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flours and salt. Add in yeast mixture. With a rubber spatula or your hands (or with a dough hook in the bowl of a standing mixer), gently mix ingredients, until just combined. Pour onto lightly floured work surface and knead (press, fold and turn) for up to 8 minutes. Dough will be very soft, which is a good thing.

Place dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic and a tea towel. Allow to double in size, at least 90 minutes, or alternatively, overnight. I kept my bowl out of the fridge, but on a warmer night, I might have done a cooler, slow rise.

Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and gently deflate. Roll into a rope at least one inch thick. You'll want no more than 8 or 9 pieces from the dough. Roll each piece into a ball and roll in cornmeal or rice flour. Place on a baking sheet and top with a second baking sheet for a second rise, about 20 minutes.

When ready to cook, heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Lightly grease - butter burns too quickly, so I quickly changed to an oil spray. Beware of burning cornmeal; you may have to swipe pan clean with a towel.

Allow to cook on first side for about 10 minutes; you'll notice puffing and the first side getting golden. With tongs, turn onto second side and cook for about the same amount of time. Place cooked muffins in a tea towel to keep warm.

Open with a fork or serrated knife, and eat as is or toasted.

Freeze in an airtight zip-style bag for later use.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 22, 2007; 10:33 AM ET Bread , Breakfast , Discoveries
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Comments

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Kim, these look wonderful, thanks. Can you please elaborate on "top with a second baking sheet for a second rise"? Does that mean turn the second one upside down so it covers and protects, but doesn't touch, the muffins? Or is it supposed to sit right on them? Or have I misunderstood? Many thanks for all your good work on this blog.

Posted by: Judy | March 22, 2007 11:24 AM

I'm wondering, how much hands-on time is involved in making these English muffins?

Posted by: Sue | March 22, 2007 11:25 AM

Off-topic, but I had to add that I tried your Arab flatbread and it turned out great. (It's part of today's lunch, with grilled lamb chops and eggplant/tomato dip) I'll certainly be making it again!

Posted by: Rita | March 22, 2007 11:44 AM

So, um, what's the difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour? When I make quick breads, I always just use all-purpose. Will it really make a difference if I use 3 cups all-purpose?

Posted by: jw | March 22, 2007 11:47 AM

Marion Cunningham's Breakfast Book has a fantastic recipe for homemade English muffins. They, too, are far superior to the store-bought kind and quite easy to make.

Posted by: Michigan Matt | March 22, 2007 11:56 AM

I am going to have to try these! Yummy!

Posted by: Jbird | March 22, 2007 12:19 PM

Can you do all the kneading with a standing mixer? Would it take less than 8 minutes to knead then?

Posted by: Question on kneading | March 22, 2007 12:21 PM

JW, bread flour has a protein content of 12-14 percent, which allows for more gluten to be released, which in turn means a more elastic dough and lighter texture. You can make bread from exclusively all-purpose, which is probably about 9 or 10 percent protein and a combination of hard and soft wheats. Since this was my maiden voyage, I decided to go w/ suggested combination of flours, and I must say, it worked great.
Sue, you need about 30-40 minutes to make the dough, then at least a few hours to let it rise. The actual cooking time takes about 40 minutes total, for 1 batch of 8 or 9 muffins.
Judy, After you place shaped dough balls on baking sheet, place a second sheet on top, to allow them to flatten a bit during the second rise.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 22, 2007 12:24 PM

I was excited to see your post on english muffins. They are so good when toasted and spread with butter and jam. Would you be able to find out how to make crumpets next? I remember them from living in Europe as a kid and have never found a very good substitute here in the states. They seem very similar to English muffins, but more spongy. Thanks!

Posted by: Can crumpets be next? | March 22, 2007 12:42 PM

So what would the effect be if I substituted some -- or, preferably, all -- of the flour with whole wheat flour?

Posted by: Aimily | March 22, 2007 12:54 PM

I've made crumpets using wide-mouth canning-jar rings to hold the dough's shape as it cooks. Just be sure to spray or lightly grese the inside of the ring before using, so the dough doesn't stick.

Posted by: Crumpets | March 22, 2007 2:16 PM

I don't have a cast-iron skillet (or a griddle) - will a heavy (all-clad) one do?

Posted by: breadbaker | March 22, 2007 3:57 PM

Um. Hesitantly and with trepidation, I point this out, only lest the error be made again (and I can't believe nobody caught this before your entry was posted): Kim, the term you use in the third graf of your story should be "nooks and crannies," not "nookies and crannies." The word "nooky" (or "nookies") means something altogether different than I presume you intended. Sorry...! (PS -- Love the blog otherwise!)

Posted by: Former copy editor | March 22, 2007 4:09 PM

Greetings from Malaysia, where it's hard to find store-bought English muffins. We tried the Bread Bible recipe about two months ago and those yummie muffins have been adding to our wastelines ever since!

Posted by: Dave S | March 22, 2007 7:04 PM

Former copy editor: Hilarious. thanks for the catch! All fixed now.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 22, 2007 7:28 PM

I am so very disappointed. I was hoping for some nookie from my sweetie for making these, and now I might just cry.

And I second the whole wheat and crumpet questions.

Thanks a million, Kim!

Posted by: Erika | March 22, 2007 8:54 PM

Kim and Oakland,

Thanks so much for the recipe. I made them this afternoon (last couple are on the griddle right now). Like all bread recipes, I have to make a trial batch and then adjust flour/liquid for all the humidty (and lack of AC). Anyway, the first ones taste good and have great nooks and crannies, but are kind of ugly! The dough, even after raising was still really sticky, and the 20 min raise made them look like they were on 'roids. So I'm going to try again and up the flour a bit, cut back the liquid a bit and cut back the second raise by about half. I will let you know how they come out.

Breadbaker,
I don't have cast iron either and am using a double burner griddle from Circulan and they're coming out okay. Even considering my stove is horrible (rental house with a really old stove).

Posted by: Culinary Student Honolulu, HI | March 23, 2007 12:10 AM

I made them last night, and they were delicious toasted with butter and jam. They were also good hot from the skillet, although mine were a little doughy if they didn't get toasted.

One warning: I cooked them in a cast-iron skillet at medium heat on a gas range, and they cooked much faster than described. Watch them closely and adjust heat if they seem to be browning too quickly, because mine only took about 6 minutes per side.

Posted by: jw | March 23, 2007 10:04 AM

Kim, any response to the poster who asked what would happen/what adjustments would need to be made for whole wheat? I'd love to know as well!

Posted by: Rachel | March 23, 2007 1:10 PM

Since I've not done experimentation, I can't vouch for flour subs, but I would without hesitation substitute white whole-wheat flour I talked about in blog earlier this week. Lighter in color (and texture) than the red wheat most of us are accustomed to, it possesses the desired fiber and other nutrients in a classic whole-wheat flour. Short of that, I'm not yet sure how I'd convert this recipe from its original specs. See if this sub works for you.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 23, 2007 1:25 PM

I walked past the english muffins in the store last night and didn't buy them. I make breads, American muffins, and scones all the time, so it seemed such a shame and a waste of money to buy them.

I prefer whole-wheat honey muffins, so I'm going to try some adapting and see what I can come up with. Thanks for giving me the starting tools Kim!

Posted by: Anali | March 23, 2007 2:03 PM

Hi, Kim, I'm Oakland from the chat who posted the recipe, I'm so glad it turned out well for you! I've been experimenting with a whole wheat version, I'm planning on trying it this weekend.

Posted by: Jasmine | March 23, 2007 5:05 PM

One last note: I tried working with whole wheat with this recipe a few weeks ago, and used 2/3 whole wheat and 1/3 bread flour, and it didn't work at all, they were just little hockey pucks that didn't taste very good. Next I'm going to try 1/3 whole wheat.

Posted by: Jasmine | March 23, 2007 5:29 PM

Dear Culinary Student -
Please post your findings on how to accomodate our heat and humidity. I would love to make these, but, as with so many other baking projects, not having an air-conditioned kitchen makes for funky baking. Any success or recommendations in general?
Thanks!!

Posted by: HonoluluLulu | March 23, 2007 10:06 PM

I made these today, and now I have 7 yummy English muffins waiting to be filled with scrambled eggs and cheese for tomorrow's breakfast! I couldn't resist eating 2 fresh from the skillet. The first I ate without additional toasting, and it was a bit doughy but the flavor was delicious. I cooked them on low gas heat in cast iron until they got quite brown on both sides, but it didn't take anywhere near 20 minutes!
For my second taste, I split the muffin---and was quite thrilled at the nooks and crannies---and toasted it. Ding ding ding! Topped the halves with butter and strawberry jam. I had to keep myself from eating the rest of them.

Posted by: CapitalJen | March 24, 2007 3:30 PM

These were excellent and much less time consuming than the recipe in the "Bread Bible." Thanks, Kim!

Posted by: Cook in RVa | March 25, 2007 2:22 PM

HonoluluLulu,

I tried these again this afternoon by decreasing the water by about 2 T and upping the flours by a tablespoon each and the dough was much better, still very sticky, but they didn't spread as much. Also I cut the second raise down to 15 min from 20 min and baked them for about 10 min on each side over medium hi heat and they turned out really good.

Posted by: Culinary Student Honolulu, HI | March 27, 2007 3:10 AM

Does anyone have any first hand experience on substituting SOY MILK for the REGULAR MILK? Kim?

Thank you!

Posted by: Stacy | March 28, 2007 9:02 AM

I've just finished eating my English muffin!

What drew me to the recipe was that I could make it last night and continue this morning. It looked a bit similar to my other EM recipe so I decided to give it a go. I used 1/4 cup less water, replaced 1/3 cup bread flour for whole wheat, and added 1 Tbsp wheat gluten. After tasting, though I was pleased with the amount of nooks in the crumb, I thought it a bit lacking in flavor (my other recipe didn't use a starter but it had a more of a sourdough taste). It is an excellent base for toppings and toasted nicely.
Next time I'll try adding more whole wheat and using a sponge before mixing and kneading.

Thanks for the recipe =)

Posted by: Christina | April 1, 2007 11:57 AM

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