Artisan English muffins are all the rage right now. Every local bakery bakes their own.
Lately I’ve worked on rye bread, croissants, bagels and sourdough country bread. I can’t say it enough, but Tartine Bread is a great tool and reference. It’s now covered in flour and dried up bits of dough. You can buy a copy here: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
I decided a while back that I wanted to tackle English muffins. The problem is that Thomas’s are so endeared to the American public that anything less is substandard. That being said, I did not get those perfect “nooks and crannies.” I did get flavorful, crispy English muffins with a few divots for melted butter. They take a couple days, but are really worth the effort.
You’ll be able to find Tartine’s English muffin recipe in their cookbook, so I will not type it all out here.
The basic recipe:
1. Expand your starter and let that come to life overnight (8 hours minimum).
2. Make a poolish with commercial yeast and flour.
3. Mix the dough accordingly. Give it a long bench rest (rise) and turn the dough with damp hands every few hours in place of a formal kneading.
4. Turn out the dough, give it a brief rest and press into a prepared pan, and let it rise overnight in the fridge.
5. Griddle to cook the English muffins
I’ll give you a step by step run down of what I did differently and an explanation of it all. My mature starter is named Zelda, as in Zelda Fitzgerald, if you wonder to whom I’m referring when you see the name pop up.
1. EXPAND YOUR STARTER- The original has a formula to take a portion out and discard the rest, but I prefer to take what I need out, feed Zelda and set it aside for another job. From there, I expand what I’ve taken. I feed the starter with all organic bread flour. The original recipe calls for expanding the starter with a 50% AP white flour, 50% whole wheat flour blend. Since I take from my starter stash, I can expand whichever dough I making with all bread flour. I refresh Zelda with the blend, though my blend is 50% organic white flour, 25% rye flour and 25% whole wheat. A blend gives your finished product depth of flavor. I use rye flour in my blend and I feel using bread flour for the expand gives it a little extra oomph.
2. MAKE A POOLISH- basically mix the yeast and flour and allow to rest per the recipe.
a. Unlike the recipe, I add the salt during the mixing of the dough. Salt can retard your rise, but I found it easier to do it this way.
b. After mixing, place your dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Keep it in a warm spot. The bench rest should take about 4 hours.
c. You will need to fold your dough intermittently as it rests. Wet your hands with some water before grabbing your dough, it will help prevent sticking. I folded my dough every 40 minutes for the first 2 hours of the bench rest and every hour for the last 2 hours of the bench rest.
*A note on “folding”*
It’s a simple, less taxing-on-your-forearms method of bread dough prep that requires folding the dough around itself every 30-40 minutes over the course of a 4 hour bench rest. This takes the place of kneading for 10 minutes. Basically you lift the dough and fold it over itself. Gentle folding allows your dough to rise, become structurally sound and create air pockets within the dough that will make those beautiful holes inside your loaf of bread.
4. TURNING OUT THE DOUGH AND PREPARING FOR A GOOD LONG REST-
a. Prepare a large sheet pan. I use a half sheet pan, and I line mine with a silicone mat and generously dusted it with coarse corn meal (polenta grind).
b. Gently remove your dough from the bowl. It will be nice and relaxed. I pre-stretch the dough into a rough rectangle and lay it in the sheet pan. Let your dough relax for 30 minutes.
c. After 30 minutes, press and gently stretch to fit the pan. Make sure it’s an uniform thickness.
d. The original recipe calls for an overnight rise immediately after fitting your dough into the pan. I give mine a 2 hour rise on the counter before placing it in the refrigerator for the night. It might be my fridge and it might be too cold, but I found that I don’t get a good enough result from putting the dough directly into the refrigerator once it’s been placed in the pan. Those 2 hours on the counter gives the dough enough time at room temp to start getting puffy. The slow rise in a cold environment allows the flavors in the dough to develop as well.
e. Remove the dough about 2 hours before you want to cook the muffins. The Tartine recipe advises 30 minutes, but I’ve found that this doesn’t give enough puff to the muffins when they hit the grill, as the dough is still too cold from the fridge to wake up sufficiently. Dan takes dough out when he gets up in the morning, so by the time I haul my butt downstairs, it’s just about ready to go.
5. GRIDDLING- You’ll find many artisanal English muffins to be heavily fried in clarified butter or oil. I am not a fan of this method. First, if they are fried and not eaten within a day or two, the cooking medium can turn rancid and taste bad. Second, the outside of the english muffin gets greasy when its fried. It’s not for me. I’ll load up the butter after toasting.
*A note on cutting your dough*
You will waste quite a bit of dough when you cut out the English muffin rounds. I’ve thought about cutting them into squares, but haven’t gotten that daring yet. We all know that one person who will say “Why’d you do it like that? They are supposed to be round,” instead of complimenting you on your hard work and how delicious the square HOMEMADE English muffins are. Actually, I only thought of it after I threw away a bunch of dough from my last batch.
Anywho… Have a cooling rack ready. Preheat a non stick griddle to 400. Give it a swipe with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil- just barely enough to a little extra “prevent sticking” insurance. Using a nice sharp 3-4 inch biscuit cutter, cut 6 rounds and place them face down onto the griddle (corn meal side up). Allow to cook for 4 minutes. They will puff up and can do so a little unevenly, but that will be fixed when you flip them over. Flip over and cook for another 4 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 if they are browning too quickly.
**if your griddle has hot and cool spots like mine does, rotate the muffins around as they cook to decrease the chance of burning. Allow to cool completely before slicing, toasting and enjoying if you can.