We’ve always enjoyed English muffins in Gourmandistan, but have long been dissatisfied with what can be found in our grocery. Years ago we bought some muffin rings and tried the recipe inside, but the oven-baked muffins were dense and not at all like the nook-and-cranny nirvana we sought. So we abandoned our muffins for other breads, occasionally buying a package of Bays for hamburger buns, only to find their freezer-burned corpses littering the Sub-Zero’s floor after we forgot about them. Then Michelle, once again reviewing her vast cookbook collection, found a Julia Child version that cooks on the stove top. That’s when we realized that, if you can make pancake batter, you can make English muffins.
Julia Child describes English muffin dough as “heavier than the usual pancake batter but not at all like the conventional dough.” Our first attempt was a little on the heavy side, resulting in a solid, yet still delicious muffin. On the second try Steve put in a bit more salted water for the second rise (Julia also allows adding water just before baking) and the thinner batter yielded a perfect platform for melted butter and jam, with crunchy bits holding pockets of melty-sweet goodness.
Now our freezer holds several muffins we can hardly wait to eat. And if you’re about to indulge yourself in pancakes some Saturday morning, have a bit of yogurt instead—your muffins will be ready by lunch.
(adapted from Julia Child’s Menu Cookbook) (for 10 to 12 muffins)
1 tablespoon dry active yeast dissolved in ¼ cup tepid water
¼ cup grated raw potato simmered until tender in 1 cup water
½ cup cold milk
2-½ cups all-purpose flour in a 3-quart mixing bowl
To be added after first rise: 1-½ teaspoons salt dissolved in 3 tablespoons of tepid water
2 to 3 tablespoons butter, softened
Beat the cold milk into the potato pan, then stir mixture into flour, adding the dissolved yeast once the mixture is tepid. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon or stand mixer for a minute or so, making a loose, thick batter—heavier than the usual pancake batter but not at all like conventional bread dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until batter has risen and large bubbles have appeared in the surface (usually about 1-½ hours, but it must be bubbly, however long it takes).
Once it has become bubbly, stir the batter down, then beat in the salt and water, again beating vigorously for about a minute. Cover, and let rise until bubbles again appear at the surface, about an hour.
The muffin batter should be heavy, sticky and sluggish, but not runny. When the muffin batter is ready to cook, generously brush the insides of muffin rings (or clean cat food or tuna cans with tops and bottoms removed) with softened butter. Butter the surface of a griddle or frying pan and set over moderate heat. When just hot enough so that drops of water begin to dance on it, the heat is about right. Scoop your ladle or cup into the batter and dislodge the batter into a ring or tin with a rubber spatula. Try to have the batter be about ⅜ inch thick to make a muffin twice that thickness.
Cook the muffins slowly on one side until bubbles pierce through the top surface, watching as almost the entire top surface changes from wet ivory white to a dryish gray color. This should take about 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the heat—regulate the heat so that the muffin bottoms do not color more than a pale or medium brown. At this point, remove the rings and turn the muffins over and cook about a minute on the other side, until the top is just brown. Cool the muffins on a rack.
Using a table fork, split (don’t cut!) the muffins horizontally, leaving the inside slightly rough and full of holes. The muffins must be toasted slowly under a broiler (do not use a toaster). Toast the uncut side for a minute or so, then turn the muffin halves and toast the cut side for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Butter the cut side and return to the broiler for another minute or so, until the butter has bubbled up and sunk into the muffin. Serve as soon as possible, with jam or honey (Michelle) or salt (Steve).