Monday, December 27, 2010

English Muffins

There is a blizzard raging outside and my house is shaking. The weatherman just called it a "Wintercane", with up to 80 mph winds along the coast of Massachusetts. I just opened up the door and took a few pics...the first one on the left is my driveway. Anybody have an extra shovel? I think if they named this storm, they'd call it Cruella de Vil, The Wicked Witch of the East or Captain Hook. Where is Tinkerbell to come and take me away before it is time to shovel? Alas, since I am Earthbound I'll crank up the heat and fire up the stove. I'll make some slow food and experiment a little. My son, Zac has been making a lot of bread lately. He has been making rye bread, French bread, and pizza dough. He mixes and flours and kneads and rises. When he bakes it, the house is filled with a warm, yeasty and comforting aroma that lingers for hours. You can almost feel the butter melting on the freshly sliced bread and you can certainly feel the love and patience involved. I've wanted to make English muffins for a while, but hadn't had the time to research recipes and techniques. I put together a recipe from a few sources. The general consensus was that the dough had to be loose and sticky to form the nooks and crannies. I don't have a dream machine Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook yet, but I do have my trusty Cuisinart food processor. I use it to make my sugar cookie dough, and it makes it so easy. I thought I'd give it a try with the English muffin dough. As with any bread mixing in the food processor, the yeast mixture has to start cooler and the machine can't labor and heat up or it will kill the yeast. I felt a little like I was in uncharted territories as I began, but since I have a basic understanding of bread making, I felt comfortable experimenting. I'm glad I did. Almost like magic, they turned out beautifully.

Homemade English Muffins

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm, but not hot water (about 105℉)
2 1/3 cups bread flour
2/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2-3/4 cup warm, but not hot water (about 105℉.)
finely ground cornmeal

In a food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade (don't use the dough attachment), pulse together the yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes to proof. It should be frothy with bubbles on top. Add flour and salt and pulse a few times to just mix. Add 1/2 cup of the water and the milk through the feeder tube, while pulsing. The dough should be loose and sticky, so add more water if needed. Pulse until just blended. Don't let the food processor motor labor or heat up. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes while covered. This allows the wet ingredients to combine with the flour. Pulse about 20 times to knead the dough. Again, don't let the machine labor and heat up. Using a rubber spatula, turn the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl. The dough should be soft, slightly loose and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and a slightly damp kitchen towel. Set in a warm place and let double in size. (If you don't have a warm place to let it rise, place a cup filled with water in a microwave and heat it about 3-4 minutes. Carefully take out the hot cup of water and put the covered bowl of dough in. Close the microwave door. This gives you a small, warm and moist place for the dough to rise. Just don't forget it is in there and turn it on!!)This will take 1 1/2-2 hours, depending on how warm your room is. Lightly flour a pastry board or work surface; sprinkle with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto this surface and sprinkle lightly with flour and cornmeal. Using a bench scraper, work flour underneath the dough. Pat the dough to a thickness of about 1-1 1/2 inches, making sure it is lightly covered with flour. You want the flour to stay on the surface and not get worked into the dough. Remember, loose and sticky dough helps form the nooks and crannies. Using the bench scraper, cut into 8-10 evenly sized pieces. Eight will make larger muffins and 10 pieces makes medium sized. Sprinkle cornmeal on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Take each piece of dough and fold the edges under to make a ball. They will be 3-4 inches round. Sprinkle with cornmeal.Let rest uncovered while you lightly grease a cast iron griddle or skillet and preheat it over medium high heat.Place the English muffins on the griddle or skillet and let cook until medium brown. Using a spatula, turn over and brown on the other side. If the muffins are on the larger side they will probably need more cooking in the oven. Just check the inside to make sure they are not still doughy. If they need more cooking, bake in a preheated oven at 375℉ for about 5-10 minutes.

Fork split and toast. Serve warm with butter and jam and a nice cup of tea.Ahhh, now it is time to go out and see The Beauty and the Beast of this storm. I think I better take that shovel!

Peter Pan photos are from Harrod's 2010 Christmas windows.
China is Spode, Edwardian Childhood.
Blizzard is courtesy of Mother Nature.

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