Do You Know the Muffin Man?

I want to tell you two stories about scratch cooking and/or baking.

The first story is about a woman I worked with for many years. She boasted about the fact that she made everything from scratch. This fact annoyed my inner not-so-nice self. To be perfectly honest, many things about her annoyed me. She told me once that she, her husband, and their two kids could eat dessert twice from one of those small cartons of Hagen Daz ice cream. Seriously? They got eight servings out of a pint of ice cream? Did she dip it with a thimble? But the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was the day she proudly announced that she and her family had s’mores for dessert the night before. I wouldn’t have given this a second thought until the next words came out of her mouth: I made the graham crackers and the marshmallows from scratch. I believe I just turned around and left, entirely speechless. Who makes graham crackers? Nabisco, that’s who. And King Soopers sells their marshmallows for a buck a bag. Maybe it wouldn’t have annoyed me so much if she hadn’t already told me about the Hagen Daz.

My second story concerns a very good friend of mine. Early in her marriage, money was tight, as it was for many of us when were young. She stayed home while her husband worked. To compensate for her not bringing in an income, she took her role seriously as the stay-at-homer. And in order to save money, she made most of their bread items from scratch. She had a Kitchenaid mixer that she either inherited or purchased for a great price at a thrift store. She used the Kitchenaid to make all of their bread, including hamburger buns and bagels.

Isn’t it funny how I’m annoyed at the one and proud of the other?

Anyway, I was thinking about both of those women the other day when I decided to make English muffins from scratch. Bill and I have a toasted English muffin at least three or four times a week. I like the Thomas muffins. I smear mine with peanut butter; Bill prefers cream cheese. My idea to make them from scratch didn’t come from any concern about preservatives or cost; rather, I simply am challenging myself this summer to give some of these projects a try. Other recipes I’m going to attempt are homemade pho and homemade gyros meat. The idea of making croissants from scratch crossed my mind for a fleeting instant, and thankfully dissolved quickly.

Bread baking eludes me for some reason. My bread simply doesn’t seem to rise. I have begun to think that perhaps I’m just too impatient. Because our house in Denver tends to be chilly, I think bread rising just takes longer. My brother-the-baker has suggested that perhaps I am putting the yeast in water that is too hot, thereby killing the yeast. All I know is that I am determined to successfully make bread. I decided to give English muffins a try.

I found a recipe, and spent a few hours the other day making the muffins. I can’t say it would always be this way, but everything went perfectly. My dough rose just as it should. I formed the dough into disks, and they again rose just as they should. I briefly browned them on both sides on my griddle and baked them for 10 minutes. They are yeasty and delicious, with nice little holes and crevices as befits a good English muffin.

I will leave you with my recipe for English muffins. I’m now going out to skin a snake to make a belt for Bill….

toasted English muffins

English Muffins, courtesy Baked by an Introvert

2 c. whole milk
3 T. honey
2-1/4 t. active dry yeast (1 package)
1 egg, room temperature
4 t. butter, melted
5-1/2 c. bread flour, measured correctly
1-1/2 t. salt
cornmeal for dusting

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and honey over low heat until it reaches between 105 and 115 degrees. Remove from heat, stir in the package of yeast, and set aside for 5 minutes to let the yeast ferment. Whisk in the egg and the melted butter.

Add the flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed and gradually pour in the milk mixture. Continue to beat on low until the flour is incorporate, stopping to scrape the sides as needed. Turn the speed up to medium and mix for 4 minutes until the dough is smooth and sticky.

Scrape the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn so the dough is oiled on both sides. Cover and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until double in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, using as little flour as possible. Gently knead the dough together. The dough is sticky, but just add enough flour to make it easy to handle. Divide the dough in half. Then cut each half into 8 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten the ball into a disk. Place the disks on a cookie pan lined with parchment paper that has been dusted with cornmeal. Sprinkle more cornmeal over the tops. Cover and set in a warm place for 1 hour, or until double in size.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a griddle over medium-low heat. Using a spatula, gently place the muffins onto the pan, being careful to not deflate them. Cook them for about 2 minutes on each side, or as long as it takes to make them lightly browned on both sides. Work in batches. Place the muffins back on the cookie sheet and bake them for 10 minutes.

Split the muffins with a fork. Serve warm immediately, or later toasted.