recipes & photos: Kat Gardiner
Kat Gardiner is a writer based in the City of Detroit. Little Wonder, a series of micro-fiction heartbeats that illustrate the year she and her husband ran a cafe and all-ages music venue in the back of a record store in a small town in Washington State, will be released later this year on Father/Daughter.
File this under slow and easy. Ideal for a long, lazy weekend where you have little to do and nowhere to go. Plan on starting this three to five days before you want to eat them. Don’t worry, though, it’s totally worth it. Anticipation makes everything taste better, right? Besides, the English muffins will stay good for about as long as it takes to make them. I’d even venture that they taste best the second day.
A few notes before we dive in. The first is about balance. There is a balance is between taste and crags here. The more sourdough starter you use, the more the flavor you get. The more active or dry yeast, the bubblier the crags will be inside your muffin. Totally up to you. Either way is wonderful.
And while we’re on the subject, if you can get your hands on some sourdough starter, I highly suggest it. I won the lottery on this one, as my husband has gotten into keeping an active starter in the house at all times, and I get to reap the rewards of his effort. Since he began that sourdough journey, it’s become an essential necessity in both our lives. Call me a gluten addict, I won’t deny it. Maybe that’s not the case for you. Either way, sourdough starter in this recipe will make it go from pretty good to fucking fantastic. Trust me. Ask your local baker if they’ll sell you a cup. Then feed it, nurture it. You won’t be sorry.
There are also a few tools that will make this a more fruitful process. A Dough Whisk (https://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/dough-whisk-15-long) is a great tool, but a regular whisk will work in a pinch. Also, if you have a stand-mixer, now’s the time to break it out. While you can kneed this by hand, the dough is rather wet and sticky, and you can get away with adding less supplementary flour if you have a cold metal machine come help you. Also a dough scraper will come in handy. I don’t think you need English muffin tins, but I am a huge fan of imperfection in baking. If we wanted a picture perfect English muffin, you’d go get some Thomas’s, am I right? Without a few flaws, what’s the point of doing anything at all?
All right, enough chit chat already. Here’s the recipe.
- 3/4 cup unbleached bread flour
- 1/2 cup lukewarm filtered water
- 2 tablespoons active sourdough starter or 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 cup “milk” (This can be any combination of buttermilk, half & half, whole milk or, if you must, 2%. If you use buttermilk—which I would if I were you—even it out with whole or half & half, as buttermilk is pretty low in fat. Also, you can use any non-dairy milk, here, too. Cashew, almond, soy, coconut. Make sure whatever you go with is unsweetened, and if you use coconut milk, omit the sugar in the dough.)
- 1/4 cup active sourdough starter or 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter or non-dairy fat (I’d avoid olive oil here and go with coconut oil or a good butter substitute), melted + more for greasing
- Butter or non-dairy fat
Day One, PM
In the evening, around the time you think you’ll be up to doing something 12 hours later—you know, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, whatever your sleep schedule dictates—put all the Day One ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. With whisk in hand, beat the mixture and count to 100. When you are done counting, you should have a smooth and glossy beige belly of a starter dough. Cover that beauty with some plastic wrap, or an old produce bag, and leave it somewhere out of the way and warmish, where it can get bubbly and cozy while you sleep
Day Two, AM (12 hours later)
Butter (or oil) a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand-mixer—or in another large mixing bowl if you’re kneading by hand— combine your “milk,” starter or yeast, and the bubbly, grownup starter-child you made last night. Whisk that shit together until you can’t tell one ingredient from the next and it’s gotten a little frothy.
Melt your fat, careful not to scorch it. Add the sugar to your big bowl of goop, along with the salt and the melted fat. Whisk it until it is, again, uniform.
A little bit at a time, add the flour. Use a spatula to incorporate it into the wet ingredients as you go, until you have a shaggy, floury dough that barely holds together.
If you are using a stand mixer, make sure it has the dough hook on, and get it going. Slow to medium speed for 5-6 minutes should be good. If you are mixing by hand, work with floured hands on a floured surface until the dough forms a smooth ball and has some spring back to the push. It’s a wet dough, and you want to keep it that way, so be wary about adding too much additional flour to the process. That said, if the dough is sticking like mad, do what you need to do. It’s ok. I won’t judge.
Once you think your dough looks lovely and glutenous and springs back when you touch it, transfer to that greasy bowl you made at the beginning of the day. Cover with plastic or that used produce bag and place the bowl in the fridge.
Let it rest there overnight, or for up to three days, if that makes more sense in your schedule.
Day Three, AM
If you have your heart set on English muffins for brunch, you’ll want to do this step first thing when you get up. These babies have to rise for two hours before you can begin cooking them.
First, get your coffee on.
Ok. Now line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with a generous amount of cornmeal. Set aside.
Sprinkle some flour on a clean countertop and take your dough out of the fridge. Carefully transfer onto the floured surface.
Using the dough scrapper or a long knife, divide the dough into twelve evenish pieces. I do this by imagining a clock. I cut from 12 to 6, then from 9 to 3. From there I divide each quarter into three pieces. Don’t worry if this isn’t perfect. It won’t be. Embrace the imperfection.
Once divided, set the dough off the the side. Cover your hands in a light dusting of flour and pick up your first piece of dough. Shape it in your hands, or with one hand against the counter. Roll it around and work with it until you’ve made a little squat cylinder. It should look a bit like a dinner roll at this point. Don’t worry if there are some splits in the dough, or it doesn’t look perfect. See above paragraph, last line.
Now place your first shaped muffin on the cornmeal covered baking sheet. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough until you have shaped all twelve muffins. Make sure when you place them on the sheet together, you don’t overcrowd. Give each muffin an inch of space around them.
Set a timer for 2 hours. Go take a shower or watch a movie or a couple episodes of your current favorite docudramady.
When the timer goes off, get out your favorite 10” or 12” skillet. Bring it up to a medium heat, and then drop the heat down to medium low. Melt a little pat of butter, or other fat, on the warm pan. Once that’s up to temp, place four of your smallest muffins on the pan. They should sizzle a little bit. Set a timer for 5 minutes. About a minute in, press the babies down gently with a spatula. Maybe a minute later, flip the direction the pan handle is facing.
Once that timer goes off, check the underside. If it’s still pretty blonde down there, wait another minute. If it’s a nice golden brown, then flip the muffins back onto that cornmeal paper with their raw brethren, uncooked side down. Add another pat of butter or dollop of oil to the pan, let it melt or warm up, then put the half cooked muffins back on, raw side down. Set the timer for 5. Press down a minute or so in. Once that second timer goes off, do the same doneness check. Remember, your pan will continue to get hotter, so the second side might cook quicker than the first. A good way to make sure the babies are ready is by gently squeezing their sides. Does it feel like bread or like dough?
Once done, transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool. Work the next smallest four and then the largest four.
Now your muffins are ready! I suggest splitting the little Brits with your fingers or a fork rather than a bread knife, and toasting them before eating. They’ll keep, in a sealed bag, for about 3 or 4 days.