English Muffins

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Last week, I pulled out The Dahlia Bakery cookbook and opened to their english muffin entry.  I invited my favorite foodie friend over to make them with me and then finish with eggs benedict.  As I dove into the intensive process, I realized it wouldn’t be an easy feat.  After kneading and resting, kneading and resting, my friend–the next Martha Stewart–gave up on me and went home.  I reached a point in the recipe that allowed for the dough to go in the fridge overnight, making it a two-day process.

The next morning, I recovered the bowl of raised dough from the fridge and let it come back to room temperature.  Continuing on with the recipe, I shaped 12 equally portioned pieces of dough into plump, round balls.  I put them on a cornmeal covered baking sheet and covered them with a kitchen towel.  Impatient by nature, I peeked under the blue checkered cloth every ten minutes watching them expand.

After pulling them from the oven and letting them cool, I was pleasantly surprised that upon slicing them in half they had the same look of a typical english muffin–with all the nooks and crannies for butter to hide.

Makes 12 english muffins/Dahlia Bakery

For the dough

  • 1 medium Yukon Gold or other waxy potato (5 to 6 ounces/140 to 170 grams)
  • First portion of water: 1 1/3 cups (11 ounces/310 grams) water, at 68 degrees (cool tap water)
  • 3 cups (14 3/4 ounces/418 grams) whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • Second portion of water: 1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces/70 grams) water, at 68 degrees
  • Olive or vegetable oil for oiling your hands and the bowl

For dusting the pans

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work counter
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal

Cut the potato into 1-inch chunks, leaving the skin on.  Put the potato into a small saucepan and cover with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook the potato until the potato is tender, 8 to 10 minutes after the water is simmering.  Drain the potato, transfer to bowl, and, using a potato masher or a fork, mash the potato with the skins on.  Measure the potato.  You should have a packed 1/2 cup (4 ounces/120 grams) 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 of water (1 1/3) cups of water (the water must be at or close to 68 degrees F) into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a 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.  Turn off the mixer and allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes.

After the dough has rested, turn the mixer to medium speed and mix the dough for another 1 to 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 (again, the water must be at or close to 68 degrees 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 the water has been added, allow the dough to mix for another 2 minutes, until a smooth and shiny dough forms.  (You can use a thermometer to take the temperature of the dough.  The dough must be between 75 and 80 degrees.)

If the temperature of your water was 68, then the temperature of the dough should be in this range.  But if the dough is cooler than 75 degrees, you can place the dough in a warm place for a little while and then check again.  If the dough is more than 80 degrees, you can place the dough in a cooler spot for a bit.

Oil a large bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl; 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 it to rest for 30 minutes.  (Slightly warm means room temperature.  If your kitchen is 68 to 70 degrees or so, just letting the dough sit out is fine.)  After the 30 minute rest, uncover the bowl so you can “turn” the dough.  Rub some oil on your hands because the dough is sticky.  Use your hands to reach over to the far side of the bowl and pull the dough straight up, stretching it upward.  Then drop the dough and fold it over itself.  Give the bowl a quarter turn, and stretching and turning the dough, until you have gone in a complete circle.

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 done before.  Then cover the bowl, return it to the slightly warm place, and allow the dough to rest for an hour.  The dough should be sticky and bubbly.

At this point you can either finish the english muffins or you can cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for up to a day.

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

Generously flour a work surface (because the dough is sticky), then dump the dough out onto it (removing it from the refrigerator if the dough has been refrigerated).  Using a floured metal bench scraper or a floured knife, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.  To shape each english muffin, place a portion of dough on the floured work surface and pull the dough up and over itself (folding the dough in half), flipping the portion of dough over so the floured side is facing up.  Then roll it into a ball using the  palm of your hand.  Ideally the sticky underside of the dough will allow friction against your work surface to roll it into a ball.

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 place until they have doubled in size, which will take 1 hour to 1.75 hours if the dough has not been refrigerated.  It could take up to 2.5 hours if it has.

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When the english muffins have doubled, the dough will feel less sticky.  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 degrees.

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–careful of 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.

Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, then slice each english muffin in half and toast.  For longer storage, place muffins in plastic freezer bags and thaw before slicing and toasting.

Phew!  You made it.

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