It’s Sunday morning, and the rain that has plagued the North Country for three days has finally stopped (here’s hoping the garden has a chance to dry out today). The temperature is a perfectly pleasant 65 degrees. Sitting on the screened porch, working on my book, I crave an English muffin toasted and spread with butter and jam.
What I do not have is an English muffin. Solution: English Muffin Bread.
To be honest, now that I’ve started making my own bread, I really have trouble buying the grocery store stuff. Not only is it waaaaayyyyyy more expensive than the home-baked version, it also very often has a processed taste and a suspiciously soft texture. And preservatives. And ingredients I can’t pronounce.
But I often make an exception for English muffins. I love the crunch of the cornmeal that sticks to the bottom. I love the nooks and crannies–those craggy, soft, squidgy holes that toast up impossibly well and make perfect miniature muffin buckets that hold on to butter and jam so beautifully. Or scrambled eggs and cheddar. Or peanut butter.
It is possible to make one’s own English muffins, but this is a time consuming process. Instead, I like to make English muffin bread. It’s incredibly quick to throw together–dump, mix, rise, bake–and requires no kneading. The double hit of baking soda and yeast give it just the right puffiness. The dampness of the dough results in a spongy texture and moderately sized holes that give it, more or less, the look and taste of an English muffin. The cornmeal adds the perfect crunch.
I’m not going to claim that this is exactly like a traditional English muffin. It isn’t. But that isn’t the goal here. The goal is to make something homey and delicious that is reminiscent of a fussy baked good without all the fuss. And without a trip to the store for expensive preservatives and plastic packaging.
Sunday morning English muffin bread: Go!
ENGLISH MUFFIN BREAD
1 1/2 c. bread flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. instant yeast
1 c. milk
1/2 c. water
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter, melted
non-stick cooking spray
one loaf pan, 8 1/2 x 4 1/2
First, I poured myself a cup of tea. Very important.
Mix all of the dry ingredients together. I like a blend of flours here. Bread flour has a higher protein content and so lends chewiness. Chewiness is an English muffin’s friend. Unbleached AP flour would also be fine. I then add an equal amount of whole wheat flour. This can increase the density of the loaf, but I really like the slightly nutty taste. It also lends heartiness to the bread and better nutrition, but I find a 50/50 mix keeps the bread from becoming a whole wheat brick. You can use any combination you like here. Any changes you make will change the texture of the final bread, but the combo of yeast and baking soda means this will fluff up pretty reliably no matter what.
Combine the milk, water, and oil. Heat it in the microwave until it reaches 125 degrees. Anything between 120 and 130 degrees will be fine.
I did take its temperature. I know it sounds fussy, but once you become a person who tests doneness via temperature, you’ll never go back. An instant-read thermometer is not expensive, and it’s easy to use. If you don’t have one (yet), test the temperature by sticking your (clean) finger in the liquid. It should feel hot, but not uncomfortably so.
If you’re thinking: “What does that mean? ‘Hot but not uncomfortably so?’ That’s annoyingly vague.” Go out and get an instant-read thermometer. It will take the uncertainty out of your baking life.
While the liquid heats, spray the baking pan liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Coat the pan with cornmeal, also liberally. Note that the non-stick spray makes the cornmeal stick. Weird, right?
Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix for one full minute, but not more. You’ll want to mix this vigorously so as to get the yeast going and develop a little gluten. You can do it by hand if you’re up for it, or with a mixer. The dough should come together, but it will be sticky, wet, and kind of shaggy-looking. If it’s not, add more water a little at a time. You want this to be a squidgy, wet dough. That will lead to a spongy texture with lots of holes.
Spoon the dough into the pan and spread it evenly. This is sticky stuff. I used a rubber spatula after finding that a metal or wooden spoon stuck to the dough rather remarkably.
Let the dough rise until it is about 1/4 inch above the pan. You don’t want to let this dough go too far or the whole texture will start to go south. The rising takes 45 minutes to an hour depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the temperature of the liquid ingredients, but keep an eye on it. If it’s a hot, humid day, it will go quickly.
As with all bread baking, pay attention to the rising. Don’t go far. If your stovetop looked like mine did this morning, this would be a good time to go ahead and clean that mess up.
While the bread rises (and the burners and other stove parts soak in the sink–how do they get so nasty?), preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
When risen, bake for 24-28 minutes. You’ll do this in two stages. First, bake for about 12 minutes. During this time, melt 2 tbsp. of butter. After 12 minutes, take the bread out and brush it with half of the melted butter. This helps with browning and lends flavor to the crust. Bake for another 12 minutes and check for doneness–you want the bread to be 190 degrees. Mine took the full 28 minutes to get there.
Yes, I’m saying you should take the temperature of the bread. This is really the best, most foolproof way to know whether or not any bread is done baking. You can do all sorts of tests like tapping on the bottom and listening for a hollow sound, but I find that to be really unreliable. Temperature is best. My bread was perfectly brown and looked done at 24 minutes, but the internal temperature was only 160. That would have been a chewy, undercooked mess inside.
When the bread is done, brush it with the rest of the melted butter. You can skip the melted butter if you like, but it really does make a difference.
Let the bread sit in the pan for five minutes, then remove and let cool on a wire rack. You really only want to leave it for five minutes–if it sits in the pan longer, steam will ruin the crust and make the bread too wet and gooey. Let it cool pretty thoroughly before slicing into it. Slice it too early, and the steam will escape, leaving you with dry, gummy bread. I don’t think anyone ever said, “I love English muffins for their dry, gummy texture.”
Slice, toast, and spread with whatever you like. Marvel at how superior this is to an expensive packet of store-bought English muffins.
And it only took an hour and a half of my Sunday morning. Wish: granted.
Happy weekend baking!