I grew up with the English muffin; I know its habits. It comes from the grocery store, lives in the fridge and has a thing for the toaster. It’s quirky: brown spotted, fork split, craggy faced. I didn’t pry.
Then I tried to make one. Turns out the muffin has a background, a heritage, a past.
I mixed a bread dough enriched with butter and milk. I patted it flat, punched out rounds, then read: griddle. Who knew?
Anyone who has made an English muffin, I suppose. Or who has studied its lineage. The English muffin is a direct descendant of the crumpet, a yeast-raised, griddle-crisped pancake. Turns out the English muffin is, well, English.
As I worked, I watched the muffin strike its classic pose: brown sides, perforated perimeter, craggy center. It was good to see my old friend, anew.
½ cup warm water
2 teaspoons honey
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus a little
Salted butter, for griddle
Proof: In a large mixing bowl, stir together warm water and honey. Sprinkle in yeast. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
Mix: Stir in milk, butter and whole wheat flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm spot, 1 hour. This wet dough (called a sponge) will bubble and, when poked, look something like a sponge.
Rest: Whisk together salt and 1 cup all-purpose flour; stir in. Turn out and knead, adding a little flour if needed to achieve a soft but cooperative dough, 1 minute. Pat dough into a ¾-inch thick circle, about 10 inches across. Dust lightly with flour. Cover with plastic and let rest, 30 minutes.
Cut: Punch out 3-inch circles with a cookie cutter or drinking glass (re-pat scraps once).
Crisp: Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium. Brush with salted butter. Griddle muffins until light brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Bake: Slip griddled muffins onto a baking sheet and slide into a 300 degree oven. Bake until cooked through, about 8 minutes.
Toast: Poke a fork around the perimeter of each muffin and pry open. (The fork method assures the most butter-catching crannies. Don’t use a knife!) Toast. Butter. Munch.
Makes: About 1 dozen (double-sided) muffins.