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Thursday, February 17, 2011

English Muffins

Has food ever surprised you? Like, you always wondered how they made gummy bears. Then you were totally surprised that they were molded in cornstarch? I was so amazed when I discovered how those little pictures were made inside of taffy (they start with a really big picture). Maybe you were amazed at how Hostess got the cream inside of a Twinkie, or how Tyson made chicken into little dinosaur shapes. Okay, maybe no one wants to know how Tyson does their magic.

On my current goal to complete the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, I’ve been learning a lot of things I didn’t know before. Like patience. Lots and lots of patience. Why is yeast so slow at doubling in size? You know what helps? A DVR filled with Doctor Who episodes. Nothing like watching David Tennant run after monsters to pass the time. (I like you too Matt Smith, but your episodes aren’t running right now).

I’m also learning to measure. How can I tell when it’s exactly doubled? Luckily I’ve found something that really helps with my measuring problem. Granted I got mine in Interlocken, Austria and therefore my measurements are in metric, but it does the trick. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to bake a lot of bread.

Recently, I’ve learned about English muffins. I’m a big fan of English muffins. Toast them up, add a layer of peanut butter or jam or add some egg whites and a slice of good old Kraft American and you’ve got a meal. I had never considered baking my own English muffins, they always seemed so perfect. Even the commercials touted Thomas’ years of practice to obtain the ideal nook and cranny filled muffin. How could I make something to rival that which took the Thomas people centuries to perfect?

You know what, it’s all in the grilling. That’s right, I said grilling. Before my beautiful little orbs of dough were baked in the oven, they were cooked on the griddle. That’s it! That’s the secret! The curtain has been pulled back and the wizard is nothing but a square griddle. No magic, no special machine, just smoke and mirrors. But you might be asking, “How do they compare to the famous Thomas’ English muffin?” You know what? I’m never getting store-bought again.

Look at those nooks and crannies!

English Muffins

2 ¼ cup bread flour
½ tbsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 ¼ tsp yeast
1 tbsp shortening
¾ cup buttermilk (plus ¼ cup)

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Add shortening and ¾ cup buttermilk and mix with a hand mixer or in your stand mixer. Add extra ¼-cup buttermilk, a little at a time, until dough comes together.

Knead dough by hand for 10 minutes or in the stand mixer for 8 minutes. If using a stand mixer, knead the last minute by hand. The dough should be tacky, but not sticky. Oil a medium bowl (or your large measuring cup) and add dough. Turn dough in bowl to coat in oil. Let dough sit until doubled in size, it should take about 60 to 90 minutes.

Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces (I weighed them out on a kitchen scale). Shape pieces into balls and place on prepared baking sheet. Spray with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Cover with plastic wrap and let the muffins rise for about an hour.

Heat a griddle to medium heat and preheat oven to 350 °F. Add 4 muffins to the griddle and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Bake these 4 muffins for 6 minutes. While the first 4 are baking, cook remaining 2 on the stovetop, then in the oven. Allow muffins to cool on a wire rack until completely cool.
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