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English Muffins

English muffins are one of the first foods I can remember eating. My mom has always liked eating breakfast at diners, and as a child I would accompany her to various diners on the southwest side of Chicago. This was in the days when you could smoke in a diner, which lent a certain ambiance that doesn’t exist any more. They were pretty magical places full of regulars, and sassy waitresses. Our usual order was two English muffins and an order of bacon (crisp, please!), which we would split. She had coffee, black, and I had orange juice. It was fun.

When I was a teenager I made a lot of English muffin-pizza-things. It was a good after school snack at a time when I was always hungry.

In Paris I like to get the muffins from the American guy at the farmers market on boulevard Raspail. They are delicious, and a good venue for Bordier butter or preserves.

You see, English muffins and I go way back. I keep hoping there will be an English muffin renaissance in Chicago, but it is all bagels right now. Which left me no other choice but to make them myself.

Recently my mom went to Seattle and brought me back the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by the prolific Tom Douglas. The first section of the book is dedicated to English muffins, which the bakery uses for sandwiches. The muffins looked amazing, and so I thought I would roll up my sleeves and tackle this recipe which took up a full 4 pages of the book.

You know you wouldn’t be reading about them if they weren’t good. They’re great. And like all big projects, the feeling of accomplishment (and your first bite into one of the toasted and buttered muffins) make it all worth doing. Now I’ll be honest, this recipe isn’t for everyone. If you scroll down and see the length of the recipe and gasp, it might not be for you. If you have never made bread before, it might not be for you. Then again, maybe it will be. What do I know?

The recipe really stresses the importance of the temperature of both the water and the dough. I used a thermapen to test and did everything exactly as instructed. I wish I could buy each of you a thermapen, it is a great anxiety reliever. The recipe worked out just fine, and was actually pretty fun. I completed the whole process in one day, but the instructions indicate you can refrigerate the dough and continue later.

Toast these and spread them with salted butter. Orange juice compliments English muffins in the most perfect way, I highly recommend a ice cold glass of freshly squeezed juice. Unless of course you want to add a layer of jam on top of the salted butter, in which case I recommend black tea. These freeze perfectly, so don’t feel any pressure to eat the whole dozen right away. But ours went quickly, we managed to find all sorts of uses for them (grilled cheese!)

English Muffins (adapted lightly from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook [1] by Tom Douglas)

Peel the potato and cut it into 1-inch chunks. Put the potato into a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the potato is tender, 8 to 10 minutes after the water is simmering. Drain the potato, transfer it to a bowl, and, using a potato masher or fork, mash the potato. Measure the mashed potato. You should have a well-packed 1/2 cup of mashed potato. Discard any excess potato and place the 1/2 cup of mashed potato in the refrigerator to cool. When the potato is completely cool, start your dough.

Pour the first portion (1 1/3 cups) of water into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add both flours, the cooled potato, the honey, salt, and yeast. Mix on low speed for 10 minutes. You should have a soft dough that is sticky, stretchy, and wraps around the paddle. Scrape down the dough. Turn off the mixer and allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.

After the dough has rested, turn the mixer to medium speed and mix the dough for another 1 or 2 minutes. At this point, the dough should be wound around the paddle and will be stronger, tighter, and stretchier. With the machine running, start adding the second portion (1/3 cup) of water (the water must be 68°F) about 2 tablespoons at a time. Wait until an addition of water is absorbed before adding more water. It is very important to add the water gradually, in about 3 additions. When all of the water has been added, allow the dough to mix for another 2 minutes, until a smooth and shiny dough is formed. Use your thermometer to take the temperature of the dough. The dough must be between 75°F and 80° F.

(If the temperature of your water was 68°F, the temperature of your dough should be in this range. But if the dough is cooler that 75°F, you c

an place the dough in a warm place for a little while and check the temperature again. In the dough is more than 80°F, you can place the dough in a coll spot for a little while.)

Oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and roll and flip it over into a ball, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a slightly warm place and allow to rest for 30 minutes. (Slightly warm means warm room temperature, If your kitchen is 68-70°F or so, just letting the dough sit on the counter is fine.) After the 30-minute rest, uncover the bowl so you can “turn” the dough. Rub some oil on your hands before tuning the dough because the dough is sticky. Use your hands to reach over to the side of the bowl farthest from you and pull straight up on he dough on that side, stretching it upward. Then drop the dough as you fold it over toward the side of the bowl now closest to you. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat, pulling the dough on the side of the bowl farthest from you, stretching i straight up, then folding the dough over toward the side of the bowl closest to you. Continue giving the bowl a quarter turn, and stretching and turning the dough, until you have gone around the circumference of the ball of dough a total of 4 times.

Then turn the dough over, cover it again with plastic wrap, and return it to the slightly warm place to rest for another 30 minutes. Again, “turn” the dough with oiled hands as described above, working your way around the circumference of the call of dough a total of 4 times. Then cover the bowl, return it to the slightly warm place, and allow the dough to rest for an hour (which adds up to 2 hours total resting time). The dough should be sticky, bubbly, and active.

At this point you can either finish the English-muffin-making process in a single day and continue to shape, poof and

bake the English Muffins or cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

When you are ready to shape and bake the English muffins, combine the 2 tablespoons flour, and 2 tablespoons cornmeal (for dusting pans) in a small bowl. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust them with the flour-cornmeal mixture. Set the pans aside.

Generously flour a work surface, then dump the dough out onto it. Using a a floured metal bench scraper or a floured knife, cu the dough into 12 equal pieces. To shape each muffin, roll each portion of dough firmly between the palms of both hands, flouring your hands if needed.

Place 6 English muffins on each prepared baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Cover the rolls of dough with clean kitchen towels and put them in a slightly warm but not hot place until they have doubled in size, which will take 1 hour to 1 hour and 45 minutes if the dough has not been refrigerated and will take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours in the dough has been refrigerated.

When the English muffins have doubled in size, the dough will feel a little less sticky to the touch. Also, when you press gently on the dough, it will feel light and airy, not dense and you may see some bubbles. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425° F.

Put the pans in the oven and bake the muffins for 8 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and flip each muffin over to the other side. Use your hand to give each muffin a firm pat to flatten it slightly–but do it quickly and be careful of the hot steam. Rotate the pans and return them to the oven, switching them between the racks. Bake the muffins until they are golden and baked through with a few browned patches, about 8 minutes more (about 16 minutes total baking time).

Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, then slice each English muffin crosswise in half and toast.