Today, most Americans think of Thomas’ when English muffins are mentioned. Jane Austen acknowledges the muffin man in her novel Persuasion and of course there is the old English nursery rhyme, “Muffin Man” from the early 19th century. The type of muffins that were being sold door-to-door by the English muffin man of Drury Lane were what are now known as English muffins, a yeast leavened bread cooked on a griddle.
Soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, there is no contest when discussing the virtues of homemade English muffins compared to store-bought. With a subtle buttermilk flavor adding just the right amount of tang, as well as, the slow rising and fermenting process, this recipe makes for a rich tasting muffin with a lovely texture.,
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cornmeal, for dusting
Add the melted butter to the buttermilk, give it a stir and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast.
Using a paddle attachment, mix the dry ingredients on low and then slowly beat in the buttermilk and butter mixture to form a soft dough.
Switch to a dough hook attachment and continue mixing the dough until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes on medium-low speed. The dough should be soft and a little tacky but if it seems too wet add additional bread flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it is still soft but manageable.
Set the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or foil and let it sit at room temperature for an hour and then refrigerate overnight (this slows the proofing process and allows the flavors to develop).
About 2 hours before cooking, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
Using greased hands, divide the dough into 6-8 even portions (I like really big fat muffins so I make six). Form each portion into a ball and then flatten a bit into the shape of a disk that is about 1-1/2 inches in thickness. Using a serrated knife carefully cut the disk of dough in half horizontally and then place the top half back onto the bottom half and gently press the two together. This last step will make so you can simply pull the muffins apart without cutting them. This also gives them that uneven texture that toasts so beautifully allowing butter or jam to pool up in the nooks and crannies.
Sprinkle the cornmeal on a parchment lined sheet pan. Place the disks on the baking sheet. Leave the dough to rise for 1 hour in a warm location.
Heat a griddle or skillet over medium-low heat (don’t overheat the griddle or the muffins will brown before they are fully cooked inside). Very lightly grease the griddle and then gently place the muffins on the griddle, leaving a little space between each.
Cook the muffins on one side for 5 to 8 minutes until set and lightly browned and the muffins have risen. Using a spatula, flip each muffin and continue to cook until the other side is set and lightly browned, about 5 minutes more.
It can be tricky to know when and if the muffins are completely cooked so what I do is have the oven preheated to 350 degrees with a sheet pan set on the center rack. I almost always find that while the muffins are browned enough on the outside, they are still a little underdone on the inside, which is mostly due to the fact that I make huge muffins. So after they have browned on the griddle, I then transfer them to the oven, cover them with foil and allow them to bake for 15 -20 minutes.
Cool the muffins on a rack.
Once the muffins are warm enough to handle, you can pull then apart, toast them and serve with butter, jam, and honey or use them as the base for eggs Benedict. They freeze well, too, so once they have cooled completely, place them in an airtight container and freeze.