Of all the English muffin recipes I’ve tried this is, by far, the best. However, it takes most of the day (you’re not working on it all day, but with all the wait times, it will be 4 or 5 p.m. when you are cooking them if you start about 8 a.m. Don’t rush them! I’ve found it never hurts to let the flour mixtures rise more than their allotted times.
2 c. warm water
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (medium gluten)
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp. fresh dry active yeast
Here are some alternatives to the all-purpose and whole wheat flour that I have tried. I like adding a little soy flour.
1 c. wheat and 1 1/2 c. unbleached
1 1/2 c unbleached, 1/2 c. wheat, 1/2 c. soy (my favorite)
1 c. unbleached, 1 c. wheat, 1/2 c. soy
1 c. unbleached, 1 c. bleached, 1/4 c. soy, 1/4 c. gluten
Stir together water and yeast. Let sit a few minutes to dissolve. Continue only if yeast slurry becomes visibly active (bubbly). Mix in flour(s). You will create a thick batter (not dough). Cover and let this "starter" rest at warm room temperature for 4 hours.
I normally cover the starter with plastic wrap and place in an oven that has been warmed a little (don’t put it in an oven that is on!).
2 tsp. fresh dry active yeast
3/4 c. warm water (about 110 degrees F)
2 c. (about 1/2) of the starter from part 1
3/4 c. scalded milk, cooled to lukewarm *
2 c. high-gluten or bread flour, unbleached
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 2 cups starter (reserve remaining starter for dough) and mix well. Stir in the milk and bread flour to make a thick batter. Cover this "sponge" and let stand for 1 hour.
* Why do you scald milk? Scalding served two purposes: to kill potentially harmful bacteria in the milk, and to destroy enzymes that keep the milk from thickening in recipes. Well, most people think it is an unnecessary step nowadays because milk in most countries is pasteurized and the harmful bacteria have already been destroyed. However, in this recipe it does create a nice, warm environment for the yeast, so I always do it.
3. English Muffin dough
Sponge mixture from part 2
Remaining starter from part 1
4 c. (approximately) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
4 tbsp. honey
2 1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. dry buttermilk powder
2 tbsp. corn meal
1 tsp. cinnamon (aka crack) **
Various grain combinations (select one or none or make up your own):
2 tbsp. flax
4 tbsp. flag and 1 tbsp. corn meal
4 tbsp. gluten
3 tbsp. flax seed & 1 tbsp. millet
Stir down the sponge mixture and add the remaining starter, flour, honey, salt, buttermilk powder and cornmeal (and/or grains). Beat about 5 minutes with your super powerful mixer (don’t try and use a hand mixer). Do NOT use extra flour to stiffen. Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk (45-60 minutes).
** Why do I call this “crack?” Because I’ve found that a little cinnamon imparts a flavor that makes people really go “Wow!, these are good!”
If you cover the dough with plastic wrap, spray the plastic wrap with a non-stick spray so it doesn’t stick to the dough when it rises.
To prevent the dough sticking to plastic wrap or wax paper, sprinkle cornmeal on the outside of the muffins when they are rising.
In the next stop, avoid completely deflating the dough, if possible. On a work surface sprinkled generously with corn meal, gently roll or pat the puffy, elastic dough out to a 3/4-inch thickness (no thinner!). Use a floured, sharp cookie cutter (or an inverted can) to cut into 3 1/2-inch rounds. Place on a baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with corn meal. Cover and let rise slightly in a warm place (about 45-60 minutes). If you’ve avoided deflating the dough while rolling and cutting, less rising time is needed. The muffins need to be significantly higher than, and as much as double, their final desired height, as some deflation will occur while cooking on the griddle (especially when turning them over).
Heat a skillet (cast iron or large electric griddle) to medium heat. I use a large electric skillet heated to 300 degrees F. If you don’t have a large skillet, you’ll spend a lot of time cooking small batches. Sprinkle cooking surface liberally with corn meal. Gently (trying hard not to deflate them) place the muffins on the cooking surface, without crowding. Cook until the bottoms are browned (for me that is about 10-15 minutes per side). Turn the muffins gently to prevent deflating them and brown the other side. The trick is to not cook them too quickly…be patient. Transfer cooked muffins to wire rack or plate to cool.
Store in airtight container for 2 to 3 days or freeze and use as needed.
Makes 14 to 16 muffins
Note: The softer the dough, the more "nooks and crannies" will form. At the extreme, the dough can almost be of a batter-like consistency. In this case, you may have to use muffin rings to contain the dough while cooking. You can purchase muffin rings or make your own from large tuna cans by removing the tops and bottoms.