Pip Pip Cheerio!

May I begin this post by stating that I have never understood the allure of an English Muffin?  I’m fairly certain that it’s due to the fact that I once ate a McMuffin.  I think that’s it.  Or the fact that the people I know consider them appropriate for a low-carb diet.  To me, an English Muffin is dense, small and almost stale.  

Despite my negative perception of the baked good, I added it to my list and proceeded to look into it’s history.  Turns out, it’s fairly simple.  And also no longer popular in England.  However, it was in the 19th century when Jane Austen was writing Persuasion.  So popular that it actually garnered a mentioning!  Muffins were the staple of “common folk” during the 17th and 18th centuries, but grew in popularity as tea time became more of a meal than a treat.  During this time, the muffin man arose to conquer the British market.  Yes, I said the muffin man.  The very one of nursery rhyme fame.  The nursery rhyme that my husband used to sing to our very colicky son not so many months ago.  Perhaps that was the reason why I had to learn to make these muffins.  And today I discovered a few things: 

  1. English muffins are actually a yeasted bread, not leavened with baking soda as I had thought.
  2. They are quick cooking and very easy to make.
  3. They are not, in fact, stale.

The recipe is fairly simple: 10 ounces flour, 0.25 ounce sugar, 0.19 ounce salt, 0.14 ounce yeast,  0.5 ounce room temperature butter, 6-8 ounces water (and some cornmeal for dusting).  Mix together all the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitting with a dough hook.  Add the butter and 6 ounces of water and mix until the dough forms a ball.  I wound up using all 8 ounces since my dough was rather dry.  Once the ball of dough has formed, mix it on medium speed for 8 minutes.  (*You will need to supervise the dough as it tends to stick to the bowl in places and not get a proper kneading.  Keep some flour on hand to dust the dough with periodically*).  When the kneading is complete, remove the dough from the bowl, lightly oil it and form the dough into a neat ball.  Return the dough to the bowl and cover it with a towel.  Allow the dough 60-90 minutes to rise in order for it to double in size.  (My house wasn’t too warm today, so it took the full 90 minutes.)  

On a clean, lightly floured counter, divide the dough into 6 pieces each weighing 3 ounces.  Form the pieces into a boule and set on a silpat-lined  baking sheet about 2 or 3 inches apart.  Cover again with a towel and allow for an additional 60-90 minutes of rising.  Each muffin should rise upwards and in width during this time.  

Heat a skillet to medium and your oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease the entire skillet.  Dust each side of the muffins with cornmeal (I omitted this step and found that I really do like them better this way).  Place each muffin into the skillet, leaving about an inch space between them.  The muffins will begin to flatten out and spread a bit.  Cook for about 5 minutes on each side, checking to make sure they aren’t burning.  When the muffins have been cooked on both side, place them on you baking sheet and put them in the oven for 8 minutes.  Return to any muffins that didn’t make it in the pan turning your first turn and finish them in the same manner.  Allow the muffins to cool for at least 30 minutes before you attempt slicing them.  

I served these with Hollandaise sauce (which I will write about later), poached eggs and sauteed peppers and onions.  They were wonderful.  A nice change from bread and something handy to have in my baking arsenal.  I’m still not completely won over, but I am warming to them.  Perhaps as a sandwich they might finally impress me.  The hubs, he’s already been won over, though.

Resources: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

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