Let’s talk breakfast foods for a minute, shall we? More specifically, the enjoyable carbs that accompany our traditional eggs, bacon and sausage. While it’s hard not to love a buttery biscuit, perfectly flipped pancakes or a warm piece of toasted bread, nothing quite beats the sensation of biting into a crispy yet chewy English muffin for breakfast.
Of course, these pockets of heaven are so delightful thanks to the nooks and crannies within them. They scoop up butter and jam like it’s nobody’s business, and have an overall texture that’s airy yet satisfying. So why don’t we whip up a batch of them at home a little more often?
According to Ned Poland, a baker at St. John’s Bakery in Toronto, we should. “English muffins are a staple for any good baker to have in his or her recipe book,” he says. And they aren’t that hard to make.
Here’s exactly what gives English muffins that tasty, porous interior.
Perfectly proofed yeast
English muffins and biscuits may seem similar, but there’s one big discrepancy: biscuits don’t contain yeast. And that makes a huge difference when you’re looking to make English muffins properly. Yeast causes air pockets to form in the dough as it cooks — it converts sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide — creating that sponge-like texture that makes these muffins so lovable.
So if you don’t proof your yeast and make sure that it’s active at the beginning of the process, you’ve failed before you’ve even started.
“Because it’s a yeasted dough, there’s a proof time involved, but you also get a much more delicate flavour,” says Poland. “It’s kind of a blend between a biscuit and a yeasted dough. By allowing it to proof you get a much more open product with a softer texture and a crispier outside. You want to follow the recipe based on how much yeast is in it.”
It’s all in the dough
English muffin dough is a lot wetter than your traditional bread dough, and that’s a really important key for success. That stickier dough ensures the gases from the yeast are trapped within the muffins as they cook, further defining those signature air pockets. You also need to give your dough enough time to rise. Most recipes call for at least an hour of rise time, and some call for an entire day. That’s to ensure plenty of air enters the dough for a fluffy and sponge-like texture on the inside of your creation.
“You want a very smooth, silky dough that’s very wet,” Poland says. “The key to good English muffins is to be very gentle when you handle them. To get good bubbles inside, it’s all about handling. It will be very sticky, but mix it together for a long time until the batter is smooth.”
Cook them to perfection
Unlike almost every other bread or pastry, English muffins are cooked on the stovetop, on a griddle or in a pan. You want to make sure you have the right amount of heat to crisp the muffins on the outside while also slowly cooking them on the inside, so be sure to follow your recipe of choice exactly as written. Too hot and the muffins could be gooey inside; too cold and the outsides won’t crisp up.
“Traditionally they’re cooked on a cast-iron griddle on a stovetop,” Poland says. “Cook them on one side, flip them over and you’re done.”
Another important but often-overlooked key to English muffin success is cornmeal. Make sure that when you’re letting your muffin rounds rise, you do so on parchment paper covered with the stuff. Also, you’ll want to sprinkle cornmeal into the pan first so that the dough doesn’t stick as it crisps up.
“Proof your muffins in some cornmeal, or even [put] cornmeal right on the griddle,” Poland advises. “The cornmeal is kind of a lubricant on the outside that allows the dough to continue to expand.”
Finish them off right
So you’ve “baked” the most perfect English muffins, full of those desirable nooks and crannies? The last thing you want to do is ruin your creation by cutting your muffins in half with a knife. Instead, use a fork to “score” a cut all along the outside edges. That way, you keep all of those nooks and crannies intact before toasting, helping you to take full advantage of the awesome texture within.
“Traditional English muffins are crispy with a soft centre line,” says Poland. “Using a fork to separate them increases the bubbles and tears them apart rather than cutting into them. That means more nooks and crannies for the butter or jam to sink into.”
Well that sounds like a delicious idea to me.
Looking for an amazing English muffin recipes of your own? I recommend starting with this one.
You know what would probably go well with some perfectly buttered english muffins? This omelette made in a waffle iron that is as delicious as it is cool looking.