HOMEMADE ENGLISH MUFFINS
Nooks and crannies. These three words became my mantra as I set out to bake one of my all-time favorite breakfast staples from scratch. Afterall, it’s an English muffin’s series of nooks and crannies that really sets it apart from the other breads in the breakfast lineup. If I was going to replicate anything close to my childhood favorite Thomas’, I was going to have to ensure the development of enough peaks and valleys to adequately support my preferred topping of butter and a little of my mom’s homemade strawberry jam.
You might be wondering why anyone would set out to make their own English muffins at home when there are perfectly fine specimens available at the supermarket. To be completely honest, I don’t have a very good answer to that question. You see, my sister just gave me a copy of the new Momofuku cookbook for my birthday, and while all the recipes looks fantastic, it was the recipe and photo for their signature English muffins that first popped out at me. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, I by no means consider myself an expert baker, but it has been in the production of this blog that I’ve developed a renewed sense of adventure in the kitchen. These days I’m eager to go outside of my comfort zone and share my experiences in the cooking of recipes that I might have shied away from in the past.
It took a couple of days, but the oftentimes finicky process was well worth the effort in the end. After clumsily navigating the pitfalls involved in working with an extremely delicate dough and the laborious task of religiously flipping the puffy, implant-like balloons of dough as they slowly baked on the cast iron griddle, I found that I was left with a new appreciation for the very makeup of these humble muffins.
So, are they worth making at home? I’d say yes, if only for the personal satisfaction of watching a pad of butter slowly melt and ooze into all those nooks and crannies of your own creation.
HOMEMADE ENGLISH MUFFINS
From the Momofuku Cookbook, by David Chang and Peter Meehan
If you have a stand mixer, putting together the dough for this recipe is a cinch. That being said, I found that it is in working with the dough that this recipe presents it’s true challenges. As author David Chang suggests, leaving the fragile, unbaked muffins on a rimmed baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight aids significantly in the handling of the extremely delicate dough balls. The secret to an airy, nooks and crannies filled interior is in the slow, methodical griddle-baking process. I used a cast-iron skillet for this recipe and would definitely advise against using any high-sided pan as this can make flipping the muffins even more challenging than it already is.
- 12 grams active dry yeast (a little less than the contents of two 1/4-ounce packets)
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- Cornmeal as needed
- Make the dough: Combine the yeast and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Stir until the yeast has been sufficiently dissolved.
- Warm the buttermilk in a small pan over low heat or microwave until it is just lukewarm and no longer cold from the refrigerator. Stir the buttermilk into the yeast/water mixture.
- Add the flour, sugar and kosher salt to the wet ingredients in the bowl, turn the mixer on to medium-low speed and process just until a shaggy, loose dough comes together, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- With the mixer still running, add the room-temperature butter into the bowl one tablespoon at a time until each is almost fully incorporated. Knead the dough on medium-low speed for 7-8 minutes, or until it is tacky but no longer sticky and holds it’s shape. The dough will never fully collect from the side of the bowl, but will begin to slowly climb up the hook attachment.
- Lightly spray a large mixing bowl with vegetable oil and scrape the dough from the mixer into it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rest and expand for about 1 hour.
- After the dough has risen, place the bowl into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour to chill, thus making the dough easier to handle.
- Shape the muffins: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly scatter on a 1/4-inch thick layer of cornmeal. Set aside.
- Scatter your work surface with a very fine dusting of flour and lightly flour your hands as well. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead it a few times to deflate it. Shape it into a fat, smoothish log.
- Pinch off a clump of dough slightly larger than a golf ball (about 40-50 grams if you have a kitchen scale) and lightly roll the piece of dough into a neat ball, applying as little pressure as possible. As you shape each ball, transfer the balls of dough, one by one, to the cornmeal-lined baking sheet, then pat it down gently to adhere some of the cornmeal.
- Grab the ball very gently by it’s sides and flip it over, gently adhering cornmeal to the other side. Leave about an inch of space between each future muffin to allow for rise as they may need. From here you can proceed with the recipe directly or refrigerate the baking sheet, wrapped in plastic wrap for up to three days.
- Griddle-bake the muffins: Preheat the oven to 250°. Warm a cast-iron skillet or griddle over very low heat for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the skillet with a light, even layer of cornmeal.
- Grab one of the proofed muffins by it’s uncornmealed sides and dust off any excess cornmeal clinging to their tops and bottoms. Working in batches, transfer the muffins to the griddle. Griddle-bake the muffins very slowly, allowing a full 4-5 minutes or until their tops are slightly puffed up. Using an offset spatula, carefully flip each muffin and allow to griddle-bake on their other side for another 4-5 minutes. You should notice the muffins beginning to form a noticeable skin. Flip them again and cook for another 5-6 minutes and then flip them again. This may seem tedious and unnecessary, but this process aids in the development of a light-as-air interior. At this point you can slightly bump up the heat and gently toast their tops and bottoms, flipping every 2-3 minutes or until they are patchy brown and uniformly golden.
- Place the muffins on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them in the oven for 10-12 minutes to finish cooking. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet until cooled to room temperature.
- To Serve: Using a fork, puncture an equator of tiny holes around the middle of each muffin and then pry apart the two halves.
Makes between 1 and 2 dozen depending on size