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Thursday, December 27, 2012
I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Since I'm in my last month before our new arrival arrives, I've been on restricted travel... I wasn't allowed to drive fourteen hours to spend Christmas with the family this year! It's the first time in the almost ten years that we've been married that my husband and I spent the day at home alone. It was relaxing, but I think I prefer the wonderful chaos of our normal routine better.
Being stuck at home, we decided we could celebrate our time together by splurging on our meals. I prepared some items I've never prepared before and enjoyed some other special meals that I only get to make rarely. Christmas eve we enjoyed a small prime rib. For Christmas day dinner, I made a roasted duck. This is the second time I've roasted a whole duck, and while it was darn tasty, it sure did make a mess of the oven! Last night was the finale of our gluttonous extravaganza. I made a roasted rabbit with mashed potatoes and gravy; boy was it tasty!
Surprisingly, probably the most challenging meal I made was breakfast on Christmas morning. I've been playing with an English muffin recipe and I know how much my hubby loves a good eggs Benedict, so I figured I'd give it a go. There were two components in this dish that I had never made before: poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. I'll talk more about eggs Benedict in a future post, but let it suffice to say for now that these English muffins played a wonderful supporting roll.
Now, while we're on the subject of English muffins, lets talk about nooks and crannies. Those round holes you see in so many brands of commercial English muffins? Yeah, that's not traditionally an English muffin feature. You find those holes in crumpets, which also are also an English bread and are also cooked on a griddle, but are made from a looser batter and require rings to make. The traditional English muffin looks more like regular bread inside when split. It still holds the butter nicely when toasted though, so don't you worry!
The first step is to mix the dough. Mix the dough at least the night before you plan on making the muffins. For a more robust flavor, you can actually make the dough 2-4 days in advance. This extra fermentation time in the refrigerator helps to develop a very nice flavor, but they're still good when made after only twelve hours. The dough mixes together nicely and does not need to be kneaded for an exceptionally long time. When ready, dump the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator. It will swell up nicely and do some lovely yeasty things.
When ready to make the muffins, lightly flour the counter and dump out the dough. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour too and roll it out until about one-quarter of an inch thick. Make sure you roll it thin enough. One time I didn't and I ended up with English muffins that looked like the Sears tower! They were crazy! Cut out using a 3 1/2 inch round cutter (or something similar). A nice sharp cutter is preferred because you don't want the dough on the edges to get sealed together as this can inhibit the muffins from puffing properly. If you only roll once, you should get about 8 muffins out of the dough; if you re-roll the scraps, you can get up to 14 muffins. Please note, however, that once you try to re-roll the dough, you'll be waging an uphill battle against gluten.
Place the muffins on a sheet tray sprinkled with cornmeal or farina (Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat cereal). I prefer the look and taste of the farina, personally. In this picture, you're looking at cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins as well and then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until they have doubled in volume. Be sure to let them rise fully. If you try to cut this step short, most likely you will end up with dense, doughy English muffins.
When they are done rising, preheat your electric griddle to 325F. You can do this step on the stove, but I find being able to easily manage the temperature is a real plus here. Cook the muffins for two minutes on one side.
Give them a flip and let them cook another 5-7 minutes on the other side. If they do not have a nice golden color on them when you complete this first flip, you may want to hold off a bit longer and evaluate your griddle temperature.
This photo shows the second side once it has finished cooking as well. You see how it is not as flat as the first side? The first side cooking time is short for a reason. If you let the first side go too long, the top of the muffin gets too rounded and you end up with a smaller and smaller flat spot on the top of this second side, leading to a domed muffin instead of a nice flat muffin. In my experience, two minutes is a nice compromise between color development and maintaining as flat a second side as possible.
Let muffins cool slightly before slicing and toasting. While you can fork split these muffins, I almost prefer them cut open. Give it a try both ways and see which one appeals most to you. These muffins are great by themselves (as shown at the beginning of this post) or as part of a smashing eggs Benedict. Freeze the leftovers (I slice mine apart first), and you can enjoy homemade English muffins whenever the mood hits!
Yield: 8 - 14 3-1/2 inch muffins (depending on whether you re-roll the scraps)
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp table salt
1 1/4 cup milk
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
2 TBS vegetable oil
Mix all ingredients together and knead by hand or in a stand mixer for 5-7 minutes. Dough should come together but still be somewhat sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator at least overnight, but up to four days. The ideal time from a flavor/yeast development standpoint is probably on day three (let sit two nights in refrigerator).
When ready to make the muffins, pull the dough from the refrigerator and dump out onto a lightly floured counter. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and roll immediately until the dough is 1/4 inch thick. You should be able to cut eight 3 1/2 inch rounds without having to re-roll the dough. If you want to use all of the dough now, re-roll to obtain up to 14 rounds. The gluten will start to fight you as soon as you start re-rolling. Let the dough sit a few minutes to allow the gluten to relax a bit if it gets too frustrating.
Place rounds on a sheet pan generously sprinkled with farina (Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat cereal) or cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins as well. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double. Be sure to let them rise fully or you may end up with muffins that are dense and doughy.
When they have doubled, heat a dry electric griddle to 325F. Once preheated, place the rounds on the griddle and cook two minutes on the first side. Check to be sure the bottom is nicely golden and give the muffin a flip. If you wait too long to flip, the muffin will be dome shaped instead of flat. Cook another 5-7 minutes on the other side. Let cool briefly before splitting and toasting. Muffins can be frozen for up to six months.