Can you keep a secret? No? Even better — because the secret to making English muffins is too good to keep to yourself.Fans of "Downton Abbey" know all about secrets, of course, but here's a curious one: In England, these breakfast standbys are known simply as, well, muffins. It's only here in the United States that they gain the "English" adjective. Think of it as yet another adjustment Lady Grantham had to make.
Some bakers maintain that the basics of making English muffins hardly are secret: A sticky wet dough is cooked at high heat on a griddle, which quickly evaporates the water, leaving large air pockets.
They're right, of course, yet it's amazing how many variations exist. There are recipes with batter poured into rings, with dough rolled and cut like biscuits, with much kneading or little kneading.
Today's recipe borrows from several, resulting in muffins with the necessary sourdough tang and "holey" insides, and using a method that couldn't be easier. These muffins are substantial — no floury clouds here — and toast up beautifully. Another bonus? The total cost of ingredients for a batch of six muffins is about $1.
Start by mixing the ingredients the night before, then letting the soft dough sit covered on the counter until morning. This "sponge," which will swell and fall, gives the muffins their distinctive flavor. We recommend using as flavorful a honey as you have on hand.
The resulting dough will be too sticky to handle, but no need. Simply dip a serving spoon in water, then scoop one-sixth of the dough and drop it in a bowl of blended cornmeal and flour. Once flipped to coat, the dough then can be picked up, gently rounded and placed on a heated griddle.
After that, it's a matter of watching so the muffins don't cook too quickly; you want them to cook through without the bottoms scorching. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes on each side, so you can do other breakfast preparations while they bake. To make sure they're baked through, finish them in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.
Just be sure to allow plenty of time for them to cool completely before breaking them open with a fork and toasting them, otherwise they may be too moist.
You also can make the dough the morning before you plan to eat them, let it rise and fall during the day, then griddle the muffins before bedtime. Let them cool, then store in an airtight container.
In the morning, you'll have more time to make the hollandaise sauce for the eggs Benedict, or to set out the array of fruit preserves or to prep the breakfast omelets that you'll sandwich inside the toasted muffins.
The only secret is where you'll stash the last one for yourself.
Note: Using a full-flavored honey enhances these muffins. We like the buckwheat honey from local purveyors, Bare Honey. Instant yeast also is called rapid-rise.
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. instant yeast, or 1 packet
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cornmeal
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
In a small saucepan, heat the milk until just warm. Turn off heat and stir in the butter and honey until melted. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together yeast, flour and salt. Stir in milk mixture until combined, then stir vigorously for a minute, about 200 strokes. (You can rest after 100!) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free place overnight, or for 12 hours.
In the morning (or after 12 hours), mix the cornmeal and remaining flour in a small bowl.
Mark the surface of the dough into 6 pieces, like a pie. This is your guide for proportions.
Heat a heavy pancake griddle or cast-iron pan over medium heat until drops of water sizzle. (An infrared laser thermometer should read between 350 and 375 degrees.) You'll be turning down the heat to low once the muffins go on the griddle, but you want an initial burst of heat. (An electric skillet takes away much of the guesswork; set it to 350 degrees.)
Dip a serving spoon in water and scoop out one-sixth of the dough, deflating it as little as possible, and place it in the cornmeal mixture. Gently flip it over. Once coated, the dough can be picked up and patted into a rounder shape, if necessary. Place it on the griddle and repeat the process until all six muffins are shaped. Reduce the heat to low.
With a spatula, occasionally check under the muffins to see how quickly they're browning. It should take a full 10 minutes to reach a deep golden color. If they're browning too fast, reduce the heat. If they remain pale, boost the heat to medium. After 10 minutes, gently turn them over to cook the other side.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and move a rack to the center position.
After 10 more minutes, the muffins should be a golden brown on both sides. Place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to bake for another 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.