Friday, March 13, 2009

English Muffins

English Muffins rank way up there among favorite breakfast foods with my 'boys'.
My youngest especially is quite self sufficient with his breakfast when we have them on hand.
I encourage self-sufficiency at all time. (very big grin)

Recently, the price of the store bought English Muffins has escalated. Even the store brands are in the price range of $2.50 for six muffins. A teenage boy, ONE teenage boy, can eat 6 muffins in a maximum of two days. Double the teenage boys, add a husband, eat one yourself... I'm sure you can see my point, both financially and from the standpoint of quality of what you serve your family.

Oh, I am so not inclined to pay these prices, especially for something that contains preservatives and has been sitting around refrigerated for weeks.

Recently, I've had a particularly good run with my sourdough starter. Unlike folks who can keep starters for years and years, I tend toward starting one up and keeping it going in the winter months and abandoning it entirely in the summer. But this particular one has been very flavorful, easy to maintain and good.

Now, I've made English Muffins from scratch before and have a good recipe for that, as well, but decided to try my hand at sourdough English muffins.

And the results (made them 3 times) were pretty darned good. AND, of significant importance to me is that for very little effort and time, I produced between 16 and 19 muffins each time for a total expenditure of less than $1 each time I made them.

Warm off the griddle, they're unsurpassed. Popped into a gallon ziploc, they've kept as long as they lasted. I froze two to see how they held up and they were very, very good, split, toasted and buttered of a morning.

So, this is what it looks like... recipe to follow.

They are a fairly fast 'mix'. I have left it a pretty soft dough, sometimes soft enough to make it a little difficult to cut into muffins.

You mix up the 'mother' and sit it to rise. It can rise overnight, or all day, or just 4 or 5 hours, whatever suits your schedule. It should about double in size and be a very spongy thing that looks a bit stringy and gooey when stirred. I cover my mother for these muffins, so I use a large red plastic bowl with a fitted lid. ( I will snag a photo of this the next time I make muffins)

Whenever it suits me, I mix up the muffins using the mother, cut them out and let them rise. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this takes 3 to 5 hours. You're gonna need to check them every hour or so, to determine how the rise is going. More about that later.

As a cutter, I use the time honored 'tuna can'. It is the perfect English muffin cutter.
If you don't have a tuna can which has been cleverly repurposed as a muffin cutter, please feel free to make some tuna salad for lunch or give the cat a treat. Plain and simple, tuna can cutter is the way to go.

You also want to dust your work surface and your rise surface fairly generously with corn meal. I used white corn meal, it's what I had on hand. I used a sheet of wax paper during the rise phase. While it isn't necessary, it makes lifting the soft muffins easier. You get far less 'distortion' and weird shaped muffins, at least that first few times you try it.

There's a little trick to the 'rise time' on muffins. You want them to rise so that they are at their peak. Then you get all those nice little nooks and crannies that soak up whatever goodness you put on them. You want to 'maximize' the nook and cranny factor. There is a point at which they 'crash' or simply 'give it up' and they are done. If this happens, you're gonna need to start over. If you don't start over, and cook them anyway, just don't tell anyone that they were supposed to be English muffins. Pretend you have invented a new 'roll' recipe! The top of the muffin, as it approaches perfection should be slightly domed, as the ones in the photo.

When this phase is reached you're gonna 'bake' them on a skillet or covered pan of some sort. I use my tired old electric skillet for a couple of reasons. It works beautifully each and every time, and it fits on the counter, kind of out of the way, as I usually get the muffins to this phase while I'm also cooking dinner. (So, dinner may be at 7:30 instead of 6, depending on the rise of the muffins) A good dinner plan this evening is anything with a long baking time in the oven or a slow cooker selection.

In my experience, it is important to 'bake' each side for the two separate times. You always end up with far more beautiful muffins with a nice 'nook and cranny' quotient.

The recipe made around 18 for me, so it took two 'rounds' of this type to complete the batch. With minimal attendance by me, the time frame for two batches was an hour.

Timing is one of those things that keeps a lot of folks from trying such a thing. Again, this hour was spent in and about the kitchen, making dinner and occasionally flipping the muffins.

As they are done, you need to cool them. The original recipe that I started with made a huge deal about exact times for cooling. With two batches, folks, that's a pain! I simply laid the first batch out on the cookie sheet to cool, while I baked the second batch. By the time I had finished, there had been several 'walkby muffin snatchings" and I had far less muffins to deal with. When they were all relatively room temp, I popped them into a gallon ziploc. The moisture in the muffins will sort of evenly distribute overnight and they'll be perfect.

I have yet to need to figure out the perfect timing for storing them. They disappear that fast.

And if you simply don't need 18 muffins (not even stored in the freezer), pop some on a plate and trot them over to your neighbor's house. They'll love you even more.


Sourdough English Muffins

2 cups flour (I used a combination of bread flour and white wheat, sometimes I throw in a handful of whole wheat)

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup of buttermilk

Mix these ingredients thoroughly. It makes a very wet sticky dough. This is the 'mother' or 'madre' or sponge. Cover this tightly to retain the moisture and wllo it to rise overngiht, or until it has coubled. When it's ready, it will be frothy and easily stirred.

To the mother you will add:

2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
Flour - an additional 3/4 to 1 cup

Stir, then knead, using extra flour if needed, but you want to maintain a nice soft, almost wet dough.

Sprinkle your work surface with corn meal and put your dough on it. Flip flop the dough to get both sides covered with enough cornmeal so that it doesn't stick. Roll it about 1/2 inch thick.
Check the measurement the first time or two... 1/2 inch is about perfect.

Cut with the tuna can cutter. Transfer cut muffins to a place to rise. I use a sheet of wax or parchment paper on a cookie sheet (and when I ended up with more than I expected, the lid of the bowl that I used to mix them up in). You're gonna want to generously dust that rising surface with some more corn meal. Let them rise until doubled in thickness, a bit more than an inch tall. If the room is warm, it happens fairly quickly, a cooler room requires more rise time. If they 'over-rise' they'll 'fall' and your texture will be lost. Try to avoid that. You want to catch them just as they're a little over an inch tall and the top is still domed... If they start to sag at all, go ahead and cook them.

Bake them in a covered skillet at 325 degrees. If you're not using an electric skillet, you'll have to guess where this is, on your stovetop, in the grand scheme of low/medium/hot. Bake them on each side for exactly 10 minutes (20 minutes total) then flip them again, for another 5 minutes on each side (another 10 minutes total). Each side of the muffin will have baked for two sessions, but a total of 15 minutes. It works much better for texture and appropriate color to do the two different timed 'flips. I actually use a timer on this, as I am easily distracted during the 10 minute time frame.

Cool them at room temperature and place in a ziploc bag. If your muffins are dry at all, then the next time you bake them, remember to keep the dough 'almost sticky' soft and put them in the ziploc before they are cool, so that they 'steam' a bit in the bag.

Go ahead... give it a try. You'll save a lot of money and get a muffin that is so tasty and good that you will no longer want a store bought one...

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