griddle-less english muffins

I was in the mood to bake today. Ok, I know, I’m often in the mood to bake. But today especially, rain pouring down, I wanted something bready to warm up the house. Even Hugo was lacking his usual spunk – he sprawled out on my bed and alternated between snoring away and absently gazing out at the grey world. Every time I mustered my best “ok time to go outside,” he looked at me like I was totally nuts. So, we stayed in. He napped and I made English muffins. 
I’ve seen some whacky looking English muffin recipes lately. Really wet no kneed doughs, often requiring cake rings to hold them together as they cook. The results look and sound sort of doughy and dense and not at all what I (or most people) think of as an English muffin. I’m just not in the mood for super wet doughs either after my recent cornbread debacle.Lucky for me, I didn’t have to look far to find a tried and true recipe – my Dad made English muffins often when I was little and flipping through the recipe box my parents gave me when I moved out, I found the recipe neatly scribed by my mom. Only one problem: the muffins are supposed to be cooked on a griddle, and my household is griddle-less. I laughed when I read my mom’s instructions for cooking the muffins: “preheat a griddle (ha ha ha) to 325 degrees.” Thanks, Mom. I picked up the phone and, to my surprise, my Dad informed me that they had lost the griddle years ago (or more likely accidentally sold it in a garage sale, a testament to the questionable merits of owning a griddle.) So how does he do English muffins now? “Oh just in a pan on the stove.” Perfect. 
Off I went on my English muffin adventure, and oh the result: toasty brown, open textured, beautiful muffins that took hardly any effort to make and even less to scarf with a little salted butter. John ate 5 at once (though he’ll deny it), and I’m already wishing I had made a double batch to freeze. They’re just that good. Makes 12-14 muffins.

For the English Muffins

1 cup milk
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup luke warm water
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1 egg (optional according to my mom and dad, thought I included it)
4 cups all purpose flour
Cornmeal for rolling

Making the Dough: Place the milk in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil then immediately remove from the heat and add 1 tbsp sugar, the salt, and the vegetable oil. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Combine the water, yeast, and 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir the yeast into the milk mixture and then beat in the egg and 2 cups of flour. Allow the mixture to sit in a warm place covered with a clean dish towel for 1 ½ hours. 
Next, add the remaining 2 cups of flour and stir until the dough is no longer sticky. Tip it out on a floured surface and kneed 2-3 minutes. Cover with a clean dish towel and rest for at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes.
Rolling and Cutting the Dough: Sprinkle a clean work surface with cornmeal and, using more cornmeal on top of the dough, roll the dough to ¾ inch thickness. Cut using a round 3 inch cutter and set the muffins on a baking tray. Ball up and re-roll the scraps. Cover the muffins with a clean towel and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size (about 45 minutes to 1 hour.)
Cooking the Muffins: Place two large sautee pans* over medium low heat to preheat for 2 minutes, then carefully arrange 2-5 (depending on the size of your pan – mine fit 4) muffins in the bottom of each pan. Do not overcrowd the pan as the muffins with expand as they cook. Cover both pans with a tight fitting lid (a dinner plate works too if you don’t have lids that fit) and cook for 4 minutes. Remove the lids and carefully lift one or two of the muffins to check that they are cooking well – they should be lightly brown but not dark brown or completely blond at this point. Return the lids to the pans and adjust the heat as needed. Cook an additional 4 minutes and then flip the muffins, recover, and cook 8 minutes on the second side. Repeat this process with the remaining muffins – once you find the right heat level for your pan you won’t need to check the muffins midway through cooking. 
Serving: My parents taught me to use a fork to split the muffins while they’re still hot – just poke the muffin around the center and then pull apart the two halves. This prevents the hot muffins from smooshing (technical term) under a knife, leaving you maximum bubbly surface area to absorb butter and the like. Try the muffins with salted butter, jam, peanut butter, honey, cinnamon sugar, cheese, or a fried egg. After they sit for a few hours, I like to warm them slightly in the oven or toast them before serving. The muffins also freeze exceptionally well in a ziplock bag for up to 2 weeks (or as long as you can resist their charm.) 

*I had my doubts about cooking the muffins in a pan – griddles, though cumbersome to store, are notoriously even temperatured. I was worried about getting the heat low and consistent enough to cook the insides without scorching the outside. But, the pan worked just fine and was surprisingly easy. To speed the cooking along, I had two pans going, one cast iron and one stainless steel. The stainless steel was by far the champion cooker, yielding the most evenly cooked muffins. The cast iron worked too, but I found myself having to play around more with the heat to get it just right.

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