With all the holiday and birthday business pretty much off in memory land for the year (two more birthdays and we’re clear for a bit), bread baking has come back to just baking for every day. Except that we’re all a little food-hungover still, and kinda sick of bread. The last loaf even sat long enough to go green!

So something different, as Our Man Cub still needs a sandwich to bring to school during the week. English muffins, anyone? English muffins, it is.

A note to the adventuresome: the english muffin recipe in the King Arthur Bread Book, which has never ever ever failed me before, was surprisingly remiss on this one. The things produced with their recipe are not english muffins – they are frightening dinner rolls with a cornmeal dusting. Don’t do it, for the love of Pete. Bake some cookies – the crispy almond ones are particularly good, in fact. Make some of those instead.

On the other hand, Michael Ruhlman has a bomb english muffin recipe on his site. Those are totally worth the slow-ass cook time and the cornmeal all over the place*. His english muffins come out completely delicious, crunchy and chewy in all the right places, and pretty easy to put together.

I think I forgot along the way, through all the bullshitting with Anthony Bourdain on the teevee – all that hipster-in-the-kitchen** hooey – that Michael Ruhlman is one badass chef. CIA graduate and cookbook writer guy, he’s got the credentials, for sure. But what I love best about him is that he can be so freaking encouraging. Look -

“YOU DON’T NEED A BOXED MIX!  DON’T LET FOOD COMPANIES TELL YOU YOU’RE TOO STUPID AND TOO LAZY TO DO IT YOURSELF! THIS IS BEAUTIFUL FOOD MADE FROM BASIC INGREDIENTS: WATER, BUTTER, FLOUR, EGGS!”

That’s from this post. Anyone who tells me stuff like that is, in my opinion, Entirely Full of Win. After years of being a pretty good cook and a miserable baker, I decided this year that I would learn to bake. I still have a long way to go (at least I’ve gotten some pretty osm cookies out of it. And some breads too!) and words like that go a long way for me to truck on through the stuff that doesn’t work (for the time being: pâte à choux – quelle disastre!) to nommier pastures.

Anyway! I’ll leave you to go hit up his page for the recipe, and tell you what I found out in the process of making these (which are in the pan on my stove as we speak):

1. When he says you can either let the dough sit for an hour in the fridge, then an hour out of the fridge, or you can leave it in there over night and take it out an hour before you want to make them? Totally go with the overnight business. It made a really big difference as far as both taste and fluffiness. If you’re impatient (like me), it’s counterintuitive to make stuff and ignore it for twelve hours, right? Oh, but you will reap the rewards!

2. The business with the baking powder at the end is weird. The dough is so sticky, I’m not entirely sure that it’s mixing into the whole thing. But I mix it in there anyway. It just feels like the right thing to do.

3. When Ruhlman says, “moderate,” heat, really he means, “pretty low,” heat. I set my pan up on the stove around 4 on the dial and let it heat up for ten minutes before putting in the dough, and that seemed to work well (around 8 mins on each side) without scorching the cornmeal or leaving my muffins burnt on the outside and gooey on the inside.

4. Flipping them after the first eight minutes – BE CAREFUL. I found that if I just did the flip with the spatula alone, my product was flat. So I picked them up on the spatula, dusted a little fresh cornmeal in the pan, and put them back down, flipped over, with my fingers, and very gently. Fluffy muffins FTW.

5. I found it super handy to keep a plate closeby to empty out the cornmeal from the pan between batches. I used a nonstick pan*** and it was easy to clean it up quick with a paper towel.

6. Ruhlman recommends that you rest the product for at least ten minutes before you dig in. Do it – you’ll be happy about it later.

7. English muffins are meant to be fork split, not cut in half with a knife. That’s what’ll make the texture really prefect and craggy. Don’t know how to fork split? No worries – here’s how you do it: take the fork and stick the tines into the part pf the english muffin where you’d cut with the knife. Then take the fork out and turn the muffin a little bit. Stick the fork back in. Do this  until there are holes all the way around the muffin, then pry it apart with your fingers – voilá!

***

*ALLLLL over the place. I am clearly incapable of doing this without making a complete mess.
**Well, maybe not hipster of the white-belt variety, but snarkity foodie kind of hipster. Possibly even teevee-made-for-grupsters kind of hipster.
***Experiments with my good cast iron pan were failed experiments, for the record. The cornmeal burnt and then stuck. This may or may not be a seasoning issue.

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