Until recently, I didn’t give much thought to English muffins. I passed by boxes of them at the supermarket without pausing. Maybe I noticed them underneath my poached eggs at brunch. They were good for sopping up egg yolks and hollandaise. But I wouldn’t dream of eating what is essentially an absorbent sponge on its own.
Then I started to see handmade examples of this quintessential industrial bread product in cookbooks and artisanal bakeries. Coated in cornmeal and freshly griddled in abundant butter, these English muffins looked gorgeous. The ones I tried had a yeasty flavor and a moist, open crumb.
According to food historians, the English muffin as we know it was invented in the late 19th century right here in New York by baker Samuel Thomas, an immigrant from Plymouth, England. Advertised as a “toaster crumpet,” this flat version of that item had holes on the inside (crumpets are made with a runny batter and have holes on the outside). When split and toasted, those holes were perfect for catching and holding melted butter.
Commercial English muffins are a scant inch thick, which is one reason why they are dry all the way through. To ensure a soft, moist interior, I made mine 1 ½ to 2 inches thick. Buttermilk instead of regular milk added moisture and gave the finished muffins tangy flavor.
Since I wanted to eat my English muffins in the morning, and I didn’t want to wake up at 3 a.m. to make them, I decided to start a day in advance, let the dough rise, shape it and then refrigerate the unbaked muffins overnight. When I got out of bed, I let them come to room temperature and puff up a little bit before getting out the griddle. This slow second fermentation not only allowed me to eat at a reasonable hour, but it gave the muffins time to develop a more complex flavor and bubbly texture. Some recipes tell you to use metal English muffin rings to shape the dough as it bakes. But my dough was stiff enough that it kept its shape without them.
Because these muffins are thicker than conventional English muffins, they won’t bake all the way through on the griddle. First, they need to be browned on both sides, and baked enough so that they won’t collapse when handled. As soon as they are browned, transfer them to a preheated oven to bake through. Don’t be tempted to eat them hot from the oven. Just-baked muffins will be gummy inside. They’ll finish baking as they cool.
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Cornmeal for dusting
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast together in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the buttermilk and stir with a rubber spatula or mix on medium until a rough dough comes together.
2. Knead the dough until it is smooth, 10 to 12 minutes by hand or 8 to 10 minutes on medium-low with a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until it doubles in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
3. Heavily dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. Turn the dough onto a floured countertop and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a round and then flatten slightly to measure about 3 inches in diameter. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheet and turn to coat both sides with cornmeal. Arrange at least 1 inch apart and drape loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
4. Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand until the muffins are puffy and spring back slowly when pressed with a fingertip, 1 to 2 hours.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a clean baking sheet in the oven. Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle on top of the stove over medium-low heat.
6. Melt a tablespoon of butter in the preheated skillet. Use a spatula to gently place three of the dough balls in the pan and cook until the bottoms are well-browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Carefully turn each muffin, and cook until golden brown on the other side. Take care not to turn the English muffins too quickly. You want to wait until they are well set, or they might collapse.
7. Place the muffins on the baking sheet in the oven and bake until they are cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining 3 muffins. Transfer the fully baked muffins to a wire rack and let cool completely.
8. With a serrated knife (or a fork to get the characteristic nooks), split each muffin in half horizontally. Toast under the broiler or in a toaster oven until lightly browned, butter, and serve. Makes 6 muffins.