Saturday, October 31, 2015

Whole Wheat English Muffins

For someone who adores baking bread and making homemade versions of things you'd normally get at the grocery store, homemade English muffins should have been a no-brainer. And yet somehow, it took a couple of years and the accumulation of three recipes before I got around to it. Yes, I was busy being educated and whatever, but I never let that stop me before. A couple of weeks ago, though, I finally got the bug and spent a nice weekend morning making the most delicious English muffins I had ever had, by several orders of magnitude. The kicker is that for some reason, I was surprised. I knew they'd be good, better than store-bought, but they were so good. I didn't even toast them after I split them, but ate three in rapid succession with just a smear of butter. My plans for a fancy English muffin egg sandwich went right out the window. Why would anyone ruin this heavenly perfection with eggs and bacon? (You know I'm serious when I say that bacon would not be an improvement).

I decided to use a whole wheat recipe I found over at the New York Times Cooking section, since I had recently bought some white whole wheat flour and was eager to see if I liked its milder wheat flavor (regular whole wheat flour is a bit much for me). Fortunately, NYT Cooking recently enabled comments, so I was able to avoid what would have been gargantuan English muffins (I know, a near-tragedy) and was also advised to cook them a bit longer than the recipe specified. In my version, I've tried to reflect these changes and clarify where I could. I also doubled the recipe because 8 muffins is not enough, not when reheated-from-frozen ones taste freshly baked. Enjoy.

Whole Wheat English Muffins
Yield: About 16 muffins
Adapted from Melissa Clark at NYT Cooking

Ingredients
4 tsp (1 tbsp + 1 tsp) active dry yeast
4 tbsp butter, melted, plus about that much for the skillet
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup warm milk1
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt
2 cups whole wheat flour2
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
Cornmeal, for dusting

  1. In a small bowl or liquid measure, combine the yeast and 2/3 cup of warm water. Let stand 5-10 minutes, until yeast has dissolved and is foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, yogurt, milk, honey, salt, and yeast mixture.
  3. Add both flours and baking soda and mix until well combined. It will look more like batter than dough at this point. Set aside, covered with a towel or some plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1-1.5 hours, until doubled. The batter will start to more closely resemble a loose, sticky dough as it rises.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and dust two large baking sheets with cornmeal.
  5. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet (I love cast iron here) over medium heat, until the butter has been melted for a couple of minutes.
  6. Plop rounded 1/4-cupsful of the batter/dough into the skillet and gently tease into into a roughly circular shape with a relatively flat top3. Make sure you leave them a little room, which will help you when flipping.
  7. Cover the skillet with a lid or baking sheet (honestly, by the last couple of batches, I didn't even bother with this step and didn't notice a difference), and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the muffins are browned on the bottom.
  8. Flip and cook another 2-4 minutes, until browned on the other side, then transfer to the prepared baking sheets. If you notice that the muffins start browning too quickly, as I did, turn down the heat a bit4.
  9. Repeat this process with more butter (as needed) and more dough, until you have a full sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until the muffins are totally cooked through (I found 10 minutes to be just right, and split the fattest one to check if it was cooked through).
  10. At this point, you can must eat one right away, or you can let them cool completely and freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, they can be transferred to a ziploc bag. To eat, reheat in the oven (if frozen), then fork split and toast (or not). Spread with some butter and enjoy.

Notes:
  1. I normally brazenly ignore instructions like this. However, it's important to keep the milk warm so it doesn't force the butter to congeal. Ideally, the yogurt would be at room temperature, but they cancel each other out well enough that the butter stays liquid.
  2. I used white whole wheat flour here, since I had read it has a milder wheat flavor. They were delicious, but I'm sure they'd be great with regular WW flour, too. I wouldn't, however, recommend using all WW flour here, because it tends to be denser than AP flour.
  3. Note the qualifiers here. They're going to be lumpy and weirdly shaped, but no one is going to care because they will be too busy weeping at their flavor.
  4. Even if they look burnt (see my photo...), they don't really have a burnt taste. In fact, they're quite delicious. I suspect mine may have browned quickly because cast iron retains heat so well. If you're using stainless steel, nonstick, or aluminum, this may not be an issue.

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