Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Easy Bread/English Muffins

Between my fear of baking with yeast, my finicky oven and my overall belief that homemade bread is never as good as something fresh from a boulangerie, I almost never make my own bread. That being said, after the challah, the pretzels, and now these english muffins, my fear of yeast is essentially overcome and I am looking forward to the day that I have an oven powerful enough (and kind enough) to form a crusty brown loaf from a ball of perfectly risen dough. In the meantime I am finding loopholes, ways to get over my fear of yeast without worrying about the repercussions of a weak oven.

Enter the english muffin. About five years ago when I saw Alton Brown making english muffins on Good Eats, I knew I would have to make them one day. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I finally gave his recipe a go; it was an utter disaster. I almost blamed myself and gave up, but the truth is I just didn't like the recipe. There was just way to much yeast giving these an overly sour, raw flavor and a gooey, under risen texture. Instead of giving up, I forged on and did some more research and noticed that most recipes used at least two times as much flour for the same amount of yeast! It really wasn't my fault, the proportions were off as I had thought and I comforted myself by realizing that maybe I do know a thing or two about bread making.

The second round yielded ideal results, I used half the amount of yeast, replaced half the flour with whole wheat flour and wound up with beautiful, toasty, fork-splittable disks that are as good for absorbing melting butter as they are for making a sandwich. Brown suggests cooking them on a griddle using 6, 3-inch metal rings, but considering my overall lack of kitchen equipment, I only made 2 at a time using one 3-inch round cooking cutter and one 2 1/2-inch cutter. These different sizes didn't have much impact on cooking time and I quite enjoyed being able to choose between the two; smaller for breakfast toast, larger for a lunchtime sandwich. If you're looking to make homemade bread, these are a great place to start, they involve no kneading and are about as easy to make as pancakes. The best part is that what they lack in effort they make up for in flavor, I don't know about you, but I can't think of a better combination than that.

English Muffins
yields about 8
(adapted from Alton Brown)

• The recipe originally calls for letting the dough rest/rise for thirty minutes, I decided to put it in the fridge overnight to allow the yeast to fully activate and for the additional depth of flavor from a longer rise. You can omit this step.
• I had to idea what a 300 degree griddle meant so I just kept my stove around medium-low which browned the muffins slightly, but still left time for the insides to cook. You'll have to adjust this slightly depending on your stove; basically you don't want the pan too hot because it will cook the outside and leave the inside raw, but you don't want it too cool because then the muffins will not cook, nor will they form any crust at all.
•Apparently, taking the top and bottom off a tuna can will leave you with 3 inch rings which you can use to form these.
• These freeze wonderfully, when they are frozen just stick them in the microwave for 30 seconds or until soft, split them with a fork and toast.

1/2 cup of non-fat powdered milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup hot water
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup warm water
1 cup AP flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
Non-stick spray

1) In a large bowl combine the milk powder, sugar, salt, butter and hot water, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. In a separate bowl, combine the yeast, 1/8 teaspoon of sugar and 1/3 cup of warm water, let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add this to the milk mixture.
2) Add in the flours and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge overnight (if you want to omit this step, let the dough rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes and continue).
3) When you're ready to make your muffins, bring the dough back to room temperature. Preheat a griddle (or large pan) to 300 degrees. Lightly spray the pan and your rings with non-stick spray, scoop in enough batter to come about halfway up the rings (about 5 tablespoons for a 3 inch ring). If you're using a pan, cover it with a lid, if you're using a griddle cover the rings with a baking sheet. Cook on one side for 5-6 minutes. Then, using tongs flip the muffins with their rings, cover again and cook for another 5-6 minutes.
4) Place on a cooling rack and remove the rings, continuing with the rest of the batter. Split with a fork and serve.


Mickle in NZ said...

Your english muffins look really good. In the past I've just glooped a generous spoonful into the fryingpan/griddlepan. Will now try with some egg rings I have (not fond of canned tuna). Super thanks for your recipe and method,

Happy Eating, Michelle - downunder in NZ