Monday, 7 May 2012

What I learned about making English muffins

I have a very extensive wish list of things I’d like to make one day. However, crossing those off is kind-of like visiting all the places that I hear about or see on tv and think “I’d like to go there some day”. But, when the time is right and the stars align….or, when you have a depressingly rainy bank holiday weekend….something on that wish list starts to look achievable. (This applies to both baking and travel – I know a few people who have managed to escape the cold sogginess that is Britain for warmer Mediterranean lands this weekend.)

English muffins were one of the things on the list. I tried a recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible – she’s one of my baking heroines, and I trust her recipes completely. It looked amazingly simple – just flour, warm milk, yeast, sugar and salt – and the instructions were pretty basic: make dough, cut into shapes, let rise, fry lightly in oil on a griddle. Wait…what was that last one?

No, I didn’t realise that English muffins are cooked on the stovetop rather than in an oven. And yes, that means I never really thought about why the tops and bottoms are always 50 shades darker than the sides. Albeit a long process with cooking each side for seven minutes, the end result wasn’t bad, and here’s what I learned:

1) Temperature control is vital. This is something where the water test to check the initial temperature really helps (flick a few drops on the griddle to see if they sizzle). And, because you’re picking up the griddle in between batches to re-coat it with oil, it’s important to check how each batch is browning before the time is up.

Sprinkle the dough rounds with semolina before rising.
It gets everywhere, but bakes nicely into the top 

when you flip it over....
2) Re-oil the griddle before adding a new batch. You don’t need loads because the muffins will soak it up, but just a bit so they’re not just sitting on a hot surface and burning.

Downside of a gas hob – the heat is concentrated right
the middle. Checking periodically will avoid getting 
uneven colouring, as shown on the left one.
3) Make sure each side is dark brown. It may even get a little black, but that doesn’t mean it’s burned. The first batch I did was slightly undercooked as I thought they were getting too dark after six minutes, but when I allowed the subsequent muffins to brown up a bit bit more for the full seven minutes that I noticed as they cool down, they just looked like the kind you get in the store. English muffins need to stay on the griddle so long because they’re thick, and they rise as they cook.

4) The uncooked muffins are still rising. There’s not much to do about this, but it just means being strategic about which ones you choose to cook next. Don’t just work from one side of the tray to the other – try to choose muffins that are in between others so the ones left have space to rise, and don’t get stuck to their neighbours. This means they’ll pull a little as you separate them to put them on the griddle, causing them to sink again.

5) There’s no way to make these fresh for breakfast. Unless you really want to go the extra mile and wake up at 4am, you’ll be making these the day before. The cooking process along takes over an hour and a half so I’m not sure when I’ll be making these again, but the taste when they’ve just come off the griddle is definitley an incentive – well worth the wait.