My adventures in baking English muffins haven't been entirely successful. The first batch had great texture but not enough of that sourdough flavour. The next tasted much better but almost no nooks and crannies (not to mention they were a lot more work than the first batch). So this time, I decided to do some research to figure out what exactly leads to that hole-y texture in a perfect english muffin.
In my reading around various food blogs and english muffin recipes, I found that it seems a wetter dough will lead to holier bread. For example, the infamous No-Knead Bread that made its rounds a few years ago is characterized by an extremely wet dough which you couldn't knead if you wanted to, which results in lots and lots of big holes! (I know, the level of detail in my "research" is astounding) In fact, a few recipes recommended using more of a batter than a dough along with some egg rings to shape the english muffins while cooking. This seemed a little too complicated for me, especially since I don't have egg rings and I wasn't exactly keen on the idea of making my own using cans of tuna as some people recommended.
Also, while I enjoyed the flavour that came from the sponge, or biga in Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe I realized that for the most part I'm just not willing to wait four hours waiting for a sponge to develop. I needed a faster way. The recipe that I used seemed to be a good compromise. It results in a stickier dough with buttermilk rather than a starter to get some tangy flavour into the english muffins. Compromise!
And the results? Pretty freaking good. The sourdough was a great way to add flavour without waiting hours or using a sourdough starter. The texture wasn't quiiiite perfect, but definitely enough nooks and crannies for my satisfaction. I'll probably experiment a bit with the moisture level in the dough next time, but this is a great base recipe that will definitely be used again.
Buttermilk English Muffins
Adapted from The Merlin Menu
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour*
1/2 tsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter (room temperature)
1 cup buttermilk** (slightly heated)
cornmeal for sprinkling
*I used about a cup of whole wheat flour because I was running out of white and it turned out pretty well, but for comparison purposes I'd probably make them using all white flour next time
**If you don't have buttermilk, you can combine 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and enough milk to make a cup, Leave at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before using.
1. In a bowl, add heated buttermilk, butter, sugar and yeast. Stir and let sit for 20 minutes or until the mixture puffs up.
2. Add flour and mix a wooden spoon until well incorporated and a sticky ball of dough is formed. Add more flour in 1/4 cup increments if necessary, but you want a pretty sticky dough.
3. Scrape dough out onto a floured board or surface. Sprinkle with flour and knead BRIEFLY. Apparently the more you knead, the finer the "crumb" will be which means less nooks and crannies!
4. Drop dough into a greased bowl, turn over, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm area for at least one hour (you can use a slightly warmed oven if you can't find a warm spot in your house - just turn it to maybe 250-300 degrees Farenheit for about 30 seconds and turn off)
5. After it's risen, scrape out onto the same floured surface, do NOT punch down. Knead once or twice and shape or roll into rectangle about one inch thick.
6. Using a biscuit cutter or cup, shape into rounds.
7. Spread cornmeal over parchment paper or a silpat. Place the cut and shaped circles of dough onto the cornmeal. Dust the tops liberally with cornmeal also. Top with plastic wrap, and let rise for another hour.
8. Heat a dry griddle or skillet to medium heat, carefully place a few dough rounds onto the skillet and brown on each side, about 5 - 9 minutes per side.
9. Remove from the skillet and let cool for about 20 minutes before devouring.