Driven half mad by the escalating price of English muffins, I recently decided to start making my own. My cookbooks are mostly in storage, so I was left to wander around the internet; I found three basic schools of thought. There was the batter and griddle school, the dough and griddle school, and the dough and oven school. The last I rejected out of hand as mere odd looking dinner rolls; what appealed the most was the batter and griddle method; I mean, if you're gonna call it a muffin....
The main, maybe the only recipe I found in this category was a widely distributed one by Alton Brown. I made several shots at this, and thought for a time I was only a few tweaks away, but it eventually became clear that 1) They just weren't going to get done this way and 2) the flavor, though there was nothing wrong with it, was not really what I was aiming for- so I set out to develop my own recipe. One thing I learned along the way, by the way, is that commercial English muffins are not made this way (the shape and browning patterns are giveaways)- I believe they're some sort of cut and mostly bake process. What I came up with was a surprise to me, really, unlike anything I'd had. It may not even be technically an English Muffin, as there are holes in the surface of the first side. What they are is light and airy, with a crisp, almost crackerlike exterior and a flavor exceeding expectations.In response to one innumerable request, I include my recipe below- I'd love to hear about any adventures the rest of you may have had.
This recipe, like most bread recipes, isn't much work, but it does take some time. It also requires 11 3 1/2" English Muffin rings (or 15 3"). Handleless cookie cutters can be substituted. People used to cut the bottoms off tuna cans to make 3" rings but modern cans won't work- some imported stuff comes in old fashioned cans with removable bottoms, try the Chinese foods section. Rings are available in my area through Sur Le Table stores- don't know how widespread this chain is. Onward...
2 1/2 c. Bread flour (with malted barley included)- I usually use King Arthur
1 1/2 c. Water
2 1/4 c. Dry Yeast
2 Tb. Butter, melted and cooled
2 tsp. Sugar
2 tsp. Vinegar (doesn't matter too much what kind, I usually use a cider vinegar)
1 Tb. Rice Flour
1 tsp. Salt (I don't like things very salty, you may want to double this)
Cornmeal for dusting
Step 1- Poolish
mix 1/2 c. cold water, 1/2 c. flour, 1/4 tsp yeast , cover and let stand at room temp. at least 8 hrs., overnight is better
Step 2- Sort of sponge
Mix 1 c. flour, 1 c. warm water, 2 tsp. yeast, the sugar and the poolish. Cover and let stand 1 hr.
Step 3- Sort of Batter
Add to the above the butter, salt, vinegar, remaining 1 c. flour and the rice flour. Beat thoroughly- I give it about 4 min. at #4 on my kitchenaid mixer (using the paddle)- however you do it, it should get a thorough workout. It should be about the consistency of Ooblek. Let stand 1 1/2 hrs.
Step 4- here we go
I find it much the best to do all at once, as this will take some time. I use an electric griddle for 8 of them, a small cast iron griddle over a gas flame for the rest. The cast iron I warm very slightly- it should still be reasonably comfortable to the touch. Butter and flour the rings, sprinkle some cornmeal on the griddle and place the rings- you'll need a little room to turn them. The next part is tricky, because this stuff is just too sticky to measure- divide the batter evenly among the rings- they should be about 1/3 full. Don't worry too much about distributing- do the best you can, but it will even out some as it rises and cooks. I use an old fashioned ice cream scoop and a silicon scraper, hope to find a better way some day Let stand 20 min.
Turn on electric griddle to 325. The cast iron I start med. high and turn to med after 3 min. - that one takes some practice. After 5 min, sprinkle with cornmeal and turn- the tops will still be pretty liquid, so be careful. They should be at or near the top of the rings by now- usually a bit over. Continue cooking for 10 min., then turn again and finish for 5 more min.- 20 min. total on the griddle. Remove and dry in a 280 degree oven for 20 min., still in the rings (otherwise the sides will get tough and they will be hard to split).
Bon chance, et bon apetit.