Okay, so I’m a little obsessed with baking bread products normally bought in the store. Last week it was bagels, this weekend it was English muffins. Actually, I was craving a breakfast sandwich, on an English muffin, and rather than drive the 5 minutes to the store, I decided to spend the whole weekend baking English muffins. Completely logical, don’t you think?
So the English muffins start much like the bagels. Mix up dough, let dough rise, shape dough, let dough rise more. I get the idea most bread works this way. The recipe did mention that the dough should be kneaded until it passed the window pane test. Not being a bread baker, I had no idea what that was. But the nice people at The Kitchn have some great information. I clicked on the “You Might Also Like” links on bread baking and over vs under kneading and found all of it really helpful.
Once my dough passed the windowpane test, after about 8 minutes of mixing with the dough hook in my stand mixer, I let it rise for the recommended 90 minutes. Then I divided the dough into six even (sorta) portions and formed them into round rolls. Then place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkled with corn meal. Then spray the tops of the rolls and dust with more corn meal. Let rest for another 90 minutes.
Now the fun part, frying these up. I used a cast iron skillet and did 3 at a time. The recipe warns to to turn them too soon, but my skillet must have been a little hot so they got a little browner than I would like. No big deal, still delicious.
Once they cooled, I cut one open, toasted it, and buttered it up, anxious to see how they turned out. They are good. They taste really good, but I was disappointed with the texture. English muffins should be craggy, with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the butter. These were a little too smooth.
So I set on a mission to discover what makes the nooks and crannies. Had I done something wrong? As it turns out, craggy muffins seem to elude many home bakers. I saw lots of theories on how to improve the texture, from adding baking soda to the dough, to one that suggested it was all in how you open it, use a fork instead of a knife. I can tell you that using a fork to pry apart the muffin does create an uneven surface, but it isn’t changing the texture of the bread itself.
The theory I decided to test out was to overproof the dough. That is let it rise so much that it collapses back on itself. A big bread baking no-no, apparently, because it creates a sour tasting bread with lots of holes. Sounds pretty close to what I want in an English muffin. So following that logic, I mixed up my second batch of dough just like the first, only instead of letting it rise for 90 minutes, I left it out on the counter overnight. Here is what I woke up to the next morning.
Clearly the dough had over-risen and was falling back down. Good. I proceeded with the rest of the recipe just as before, shaping the dough into round rolls and letting them rest, then frying them in a skillet before finishing them in the oven. The results were better.
Now, I did separate this muffin by poking all around it with a fork then pulling apart the halves rather than cutting it. I wanted any help I could get, but even so, the crumb is less even and there are some crannies. It isn’t quite as craggy as I would like, but like I said. It’s better. I might try baking soda next time, but for now, I have more English muffins that I need. And regardless of texture, they are all super tasty. And they made a mighty fine breakfast sandwich.
- 2¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
- ½ tablespoon (.25 ounce) granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon (.19 ounce) salt
- 1¼ teaspoons (.14 ounce) instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon (.5 ounce) shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ to 1 cup (6 to 8 ounces) milk or buttermilk, at room temperature
- Cornmeal for dusting
- Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Stir in (or mix in on low speed with the paddle attachment) the shortening and ¾ cup milk until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still loose flour in the bowl, dribble in some of the remaining ¼ cup milk. The dough should be soft and pliable, not stiff.
- Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead the dough for about 10 minutes (or mix for about 8 minutes), sprinkling in more flour if needed to make a tacky, but not sticky, dough. It should pass the windowpane test and register 77° to 81° degrees F. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Ferment at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. For muffins with extra nooks and crannies, let proof overnight or until dough has started to fall.
- Wipe the counter with a damp cloth and transfer the dough to the counter. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces of 3 ounces each. Shape the pieces into boules (or round rolls). Line a sheet pan with baking parchment, mist the parchment lightly with spray oil, and dust with cornmeal. Transfer the balls of dough to the sheet pan, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Mist them lightly with spray oil, sprinkle them loosely with cornmeal, and cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap or a towel.
- Proof at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces nearly double in size and swell both up and out.
- Heat a skillet or flat griddle to medium (350°F if you have a thermometer setting). Also, preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
- Brush the pan or griddle with vegetable oil or mist with spray oil. Uncover the muffin rounds and gently transfer them to the pan, sliding a metal spatula under them and lifting them to the pan. Fill the pan so that the pieces are at least 1 inch apart, not touching. Cover the pieces still on the sheet pan with the plastic wrap or a towel to prevent them from developing a skin. The dough that is being cooked will flatten in the pan and spread slightly, then the pieces will puff somewhat. Cook them for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the bottom of the dough cannot cook any longer without burning. The bottoms should be a rich golden brown; they will brown quickly but will not burn for awhile, so resist the temptation to turn them prematurely or they will fall when you flip them over. Carefully flip the pieces over with the metal spatula and cook on the other side for 5 to 8 minutes in the same manner. Both sides will now be flat. When the dough seems as if it cannot endure any further cooking without burning, transfer the pieces to a sheet pan and place the pan in the oven (don't wait for the still uncooked pieces, or the ones just out of the pan will cool down and will not respond to the oven stage). Bake for 5 to 8 minutes on the middle shelf in the oven to ensure that the center is baked. Meanwhile, return to the uncooked pieces and cook them, then bake them, as you did the first round.
- Transfer the baked muffins to a cooling rack and cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving.
- Makes 6 muffins.