My dad and I have always enjoyed English muffins. I remember Dad making English muffins from scratch a couple of times when I was young. I remember one time particularly well because we invited my paternal grandparents (and also our next door neighbors) down for supper so they could enjoy them with us. We ate Dad's English muffins hot off the griddle, slathered with butter and homemade black raspberry jelly.
Years ago, I made English muffins using the same recipe that my dad used, and while they were delicious, they were dense and a bit on the rubbery side. I remember that an engaged couple came to the house while I was making them. I was going to be the organist at their wedding, and they had come to choose the music. The muffins were ready to be baked as they were leaving, and I mentioned to them that I was disappointed in the texture. The bride-to-be, in what appeared to me like an exaggerated attempt to impress her future husband, was telling me that I needed to have beaten the batter very hard for quite a while so as to get air into it. She was sure that I would then have the nooks and crannies in the English muffins that I desired.
Well, fast forward nearly twenty years. I've done a great deal more baking with yeast doughs, and I can tell you that the advice the young lady gave me would have worked for cake batter, but not English muffins. With yeast doughs, to get nooks and crannies is an entirely different matter. First, you don't want to work the dough for a long time because that activates the gluten in the flour, which will create a finer crumb texture. Secondly, you want a very soft dough so that large bubbles can easily form; and finally, you want the dough to rise as quickly as possible because that will create bigger bubbles of gas too.
Thus, when I came across a recipe which was such a soft dough that the muffins had to be dropped rather than rolled and cut out, I knew I was getting closer to my desired result. I've tweaked the recipe that I found and gotten the results I desired. Now, when I buy English muffins in the grocery store, it will be for the sake of convenience, not because I can't make an equally desirable product. What's more, for reasons that will be obvious in a moment, this is recipe that takes full advantage of a wood cookstove. Here is what you do:
Into a large mixing bowl, pour one cup of warm water. To it, add 2 tsp. of yeast, 1 tsp. of sugar, and a 1/2 tsp. of salt.
|You can see that Granny's ugly avocado green Sunbeam Mixmaster|
that I inherited 28 years ago and was going to "use until it quit"
still hasn't quit. In the picture above, it is outfitted with Sunbeam's
answer to the Kitchenaid dough hook.
While the yeast is proofing, put a tablespoon of butter in the measuring cup you used for the water and put it into the warming oven of the cookstove to melt.
By the time the butter is melted, the yeast and water mixture should be foamy. Add the melted butter to it.
To the liquid mixture, add 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour. Mix just until dough is stringy.
Scrape the dough from the edges so that it is shaped into a ball in the middle of the bowl.
Cover with a plate and put in a very warm place to rise. This is key to getting the big nooks and crannies. Usually, I think the warming oven of the Margin Gem is a little too warm for yeast doughs to rise there, but it is perfect for this because you want this dough to rise quickly to achieve those big bubbles.
Let use until double in size. It will be EXTREMELY soft dough.
Sprinkle cornmeal lightly on a jelly roll pan. Using a greased ice cream scoop (I sprayed mine with Pam), drop the muffins onto the cornmeal in the size you desire.
Sprinkle the tops of each muffin with a little more cornmeal and return them to the warming oven door to rise quickly again. This is why a wood cookstove is the perfect tool to make English muffins.
Just a little before you think the muffins will be ready to bake, preheat a griddle and melt a tablespoon of butter on it.
Depending on how hot your fire is burning at this point, you may need to do this directly over the fire or slightly away from it. Initially, my fire was quite hot, so my griddle started to the right of the fire. However, just before baking, I put a couple of large split pieces on the fire that didn't take right away and cooled the stovetop a little. That is why you will see my griddle move in the pictures below.
When you are ready to bake the English muffins, quickly slide a pancake turner under them to pick them up, using the cornmeal as the means to slide them onto the turner without deflating them. Place them on the hot buttered griddle and bake until the bottoms are nicely browned and set enough that they can be turned.
Turn them when you can and continue baking on the other side until as brown as the first side. You want to be sure to bake these for quite a while to get as much moisture out of them as possible, and they can become quite brown without being burnt. Just watch them carefully.
When done, remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.
When the muffins are completely cool, you can split them and they are ready for toasting. To toast them on the wood cookstove, I lightly butter the inside of the muffin and place them buttered side down on a small griddle directly over the fire.
|An English muffin half, toasting buttered side down.|
|The same English muffin turned so that the outside|
is toasting and the toasted, buttered side is now up.
I slathered a dab of my homemade strawberry preserves on the buttered side, and it was wonderfully tasty! These keep well in a plastic bag on the countertop until you are ready to toast them.