Friday, July 13, 2012

A Beginner's Bread Baking Part II: Whole Wheat English Muffins

I like English muffins for breakfast. Sometimes toasted with peanut butter for a quick meal and other times with an egg (and/or cheese and meat) tucked inside for a hearty breakfast sandwich. I don't eat many in a given week, just one or two, but I like to keep a small supply in the freezer so I have one whenever the mood might strike. With all the foods we've eliminated due to excessive (and unpronouncible) ingredients, English muffins were about 2nd on my list of foods I was missing.

So, once again, off to the kitchen!!

After doing some research and a few test recipes, I've learned a few things about English muffin recipes. First, there's a lot of them. Some are simple and others have an ingredient list even longer than the ones at the grocery store! Secondly, there are no fewer than 3 major approaches to making an English muffin.

You can go dough based and roll or hand shape your muffins. The first recipe I attempted used a dough based approach. While the outer appearance and flavor were acceptable, they were completely lacking the critical nooks and crannies characteristic of a great English muffin. This also made them a bit dense.

There is batter based where you spoon a looser, more liquidy type of mix into ring molds where they cook. I was going to go for a batter based approach for attempt #2 but I don't have any ring molds and I'm not particularly interested in buying any (or eating 4-6 cans of tuna to make some) just for this recipe.

Finally there is what I'm calling the overproof method. This involves making something with a consistency between a dough and batter an allowing the yeast to rise until the dough falls under its own weight. The proponents of this method claim it is the most traditional approach. I don't know if that is true or not but it is the technique I found the most success with. With a few modifications from the recipe posted here (to get to 50% whole wheat & streamline the process) I think I have something workable.  The flavor is very similar to my old grocery store brand (VanDeKamps) and the process was pretty easy (although it does take a long time overall, it is mainly short bursts of activity here and there, like bread making) The recipe below yields 6 larger muffins or 8 medium sized ones.

Recipe: Whole Wheat (50/50) English Muffins

1 cup milk (I used whole)
1 Tbs butter
1Tbs honey
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur's)
1/2 tsp salt--see note at step 4
1-4 Tbs water
1 cup corn meal

1) Gently warm milk in a saucepan or in microwave (be careful of hot spots!) until it is very warm but not scalding hot.
2) Add in honey and butter. Stir until butter melts and honey dissolves.
3) Add yeast to warm liquid. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until foamy (if it doesn't foam, your yeast is dead & you need to start over!)
4) In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt (if you used salted butter in step 2, you may omit the extra salt).
5) Pour foamy liquid into flour mix. Stir to combine. Soft dough should form.
6) Slowly, 1 tablespoon at a time, add the water. Stir vigorously to combine. Stop adding water when dough is wet enough to stick to all sides of your bowl and the consistency is between a batter and a dough.
Dough Mix before rising
7) Cover dough mix with a tea towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm corner of the kitchen. Allow it to rise until it collapses (approx. 2 hours for me-- it may be more if your yeast isn't as fresh or your kitchen is colder). NOTE: The longer the dough sits, the more sour the bread will be. My first batch sat about 7 hours (the original recipe called for overnight) and was MUCH too sour for me. The 2 hours I used for the subsequent batch isn't sour at all. If you want them somewhat sour, try 3-4 hours to start with and go up from there to find your preferred balance!
Dough mix at maximum rise
Dough mix after collapse-
note wrinkled surface &
pulled bubbles at edges.

8) Pour corn meal into a dish with sides.
9) Stir dough thoroughly and scoop out approximately 1/3 cup dough mix.
10) Drop dough scoop into corn meal. Roll until evenly coated on all sides.
11) Carefully pick up dough ball and gently pat into a flattened circle 3-4" in diameter.
12) Place on lightly greased skillet on stove. Be sure to leave 1-2" between muffins for expansion.

13) Once skillet is filled, turn heat on to low. Not super low but not medium either. Cook first side until golden (12-15 minutes). Flip & cook other side (8-10 minutes). Low and slow is necessary for the insides to cook without the outside getting too brown.
14) Remove to wire rack for cooling.

15) Use fork to split muffins for maximum nook and cranny-ness.


If you aren't going to eat all of these in the first day (I'm not judging here....) you might consider keeping them in the fridge or freezer as they are preservative free.

Comment below and let me know how this recipe worked for you in your kitchen!

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