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Building A Better Pantry: English Muffins

The past several years of my life have been largely spent learning to do arcane things.

I majored in French language and literature. I spent three and a half years under the tutelage of a cheese maker. I learned how to spin wool into yarn and then knit that yarn into clothing. I learned how to sew. I learned how to garden and then how to install rudimentary irrigation systems. I learned to keep chickens.

At this point, I know how to do a lot of seemingly useless things. I say "seemingly" because I do not believe them to be useless. As someone who fantasizes about ultimate self-sufficiency, my bucket list is full, not of faraway destinations to see, but of things to learn.

This list has nothing to do with an apocalypse scenario or complete economic breakdown and resulting social anarchy. In fact, doomsday theory is far from my mind. I am simply obsessed with the adage that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime.

The same applies to cooking. Cooking is a practicality that most of us have to deal with. On some level, even if it's only microwaving a boxed rice pilaf or assembling a taco dinner kit, we all have to cook.

There are, however, vastly different levels of knowledge and self-sufficiency in the kitchen. There are microwave mavens and stir-fry sages; casserole queens and Dutch oven divas; cast iron curmudgeons and nonstick sticklers. Then, there are bakers.

Hardcore bakers are a lot of things. Idealistic, anal retentive, perfectionistic, and, some would argue, crazy. But when you want a flaky, buttery croissant or a crisp-crusted baguette, who else are you going to go to?

For now, I'm not going to get into croissants or baguettes. Though not necessarily difficult to make, they are time consuming. I will, however, shed some light on breakfast's beloved bread, the English muffin.

These rotund little darlings are the picture of simplicity, both to bake and to eat. They require little fussing and mussing, and they happen to be perfect for summer, as no oven is required. Their somewhat unusual stovetop cooking method also renders the English muffin the perfect bread to make with children.

The only tricky aspect of making a perfect English muffin is getting those little nooks and crannies that butter and jam can collect in. As you can see in the photo above, I did not manage to achieve this. Guess what? They taste great anyway. I've read that you can get this result by cooking the muffins as they are rising. This way, the little pockets of carbon dioxide created by fermentation are fixed in place and even expanded by the evaporation of liquid in the cooking process.

This recipe is from JOY, although I have tweaked it to make it more flavorful and to have a chewier texture.

English Muffins
Makes about 20 three-inch muffins

Stir together in a bowl:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

Whisk together in a small bowl:
2 cups warm (90F) buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture. Mix until the dough comes together in a smooth, cohesive mass. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until puffy 1 hour. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet:
1 cup coarse cornmeal
Using a large spoon, scoop the dough onto the baking sheet 1/3 cup at a time into twenty mounds, leaving space between them. Sprinkle the tops with more cornmeal.
Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat until warm. Place as many of the English muffins in the skillet as will fit comfortably, without touching. Cook on one side for 5 minutes—the heat should be so low that there is no browning during this step. After 5 minutes, turn the heat up very slightly, enough to encourage browning. Cook, flipping when the first side is brown, until light brown on both sides. The slow cooking process allows them to rise and expand. Cool on a rack.
To separate the muffins before toasting, hold 2 forks back to back and pry them open. Butter generously and toast. The uneven browning gives them great charm. Serve with, if desired:


john's picture

Thanks for the kind words Alma. We're definitely trying to make this blog the best it can be. Pretty much all of our posts for the last few months have been vegetarian-friendly due to all of the wonderful vegetables that keep appearing in our kitchen, begging us to use them before they go bad. If you try the english muffins, let us know how they turned out. Thanks again for visiting and taking the time to comment!
Melissa's picture

I have been using the J of C book for over 30 years and the english muffin recipe above is comfort food for us-yours look beautiful!!!!
Chleba's picture

Your recipe looks so great. Im definitely up to try it. Good work
Margaret Bailey's picture

The recipe looks good, I'll try it. There is a comment made about the little nooks and crannies for butter and jam. English muffins do not have nooks and crannies, are you getting them confused with crumpets?
meg's picture

When you split an English muffin in half, there are lots of little air pockets made by the release of carbon dioxide from the yeast activity as well as from the evaporation of water as the dough cooks. While I'm not as familiar with crumpets as I am with English muffins, I know that crumpets also have little holes that soak up butter in a wonderful way. One US company that makes English muffins even touts the abundance of "nooks and crannies" in their product.
Elevation Orchard's picture

I was wondering about the nooks and crannies. When I made this recipe the crumb was very fine (I used all whole wheat flour I grind myself) and nothing like Thomas' English Muffins. Does that mean the Thomas' are really crumpets? I thought mine would have lots of holes. Now I have to look for a crumpet recipe.
john's picture

We revised this recipe for the next edition and we like the results better! Updating the blog to reflect this... imagine more nooks and crannies in the picture.
Mira's picture

If you try splitting the English muffins with a fork, it helps with the nooks and crannies effect. :) Excellent recipe!
linda beebe's picture

Hi, Great looking english muffins.Has anyone tried the tecnique of cooking during the second rise as was indicated would make for more nooks and crannies? I think I'll try half prior to the second rise and half after. I'll try to remember to post results.
meg's picture

That sounds like a great experiment, Linda. Do check in and let us know how it goes!
Adriana Gutiérrez's picture

I love these, just made a batch today. The nooks and crannies I achieve by inserting a 3-tine cooking fork all around the perimeter into the very middle. When you split them open, ta-da! Nooks and crannies!

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Combine in a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
           1/4 cup warm (105° to 115°F) water