English muffins are one of those items that I've always felt obligated at least to attempt, if not to master. Even so, I put it off for a while, mainly because English muffins have never been at the top of my "beloved baked goods" list. The vast majority of store-bought English muffins I've sampled always seem to have a certain unpleasant, overly yeasty aroma (I hate to say it, but I'm going to: they just smell funky) I never cottoned to. (And I feel the same about store-bought tortillas, but that's a post for another day).
Oh, sure, I'd eat them if we went out for eggs Benedict, and I'd buy them for tuna melts and the like, but I couldn't bring myself to cozy up to an English muffin with butter or cream cheese next to my breakfast coffee. But now that I've finally baked my own, I can see why so many people are crazy for nooks and crannies. Give me a pile of these pillow-soft scratch-made tasties any day!
For my first endeavor in the making of English muffins, I decided to use the recipe from Beranbaum's excellent, The Bread Bible. This is a wonderful book ~ one of those resources that both novices and old hands will find themselves pulling off their shelves over and over. If you don't already have this book, I suggest you get a copy for your personal baker's library. Take it out of the library first, if you'd like ~ I like to "test drive" my cookbooks this way before buying them.
The English Muffin recipe begins on page 167, and progresses over four pages. But don't let that intimidate you ~ the recipe is clear and fully explicated. This is not a challenging bread to bake.
Beranbaum's English Muffin recipe uses a sponge starter, which offers some flexibility in timing the process. You can ferment the sponge for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature, or 1 hour at room temperature, then 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. I've done this different ways, and it's turned out beautifully each time.
Once the flour mixture is added, there are other points in the process that allow for flexibility in the timing of this bread, so this is one of the more forgiving yeast bread recipes you'll come across.
No oven necessary to finish things off: English Muffins are griddled, not baked. I buttered my electric skillet lightly ~ about 1 teaspoon per side for 4 muffins ~ and the resulting degree of browning was perfect. And that small bit of butter contributes a heavenly aroma that filled the kitchen while these were on the griddle. That's right ~ these English muffins actually smell good. Delicious even!
The muffins are then cooled on a rack and fork split ~ the crumb inside was open and generously pocked with nooks just waiting to be puddled with melted butter. The next time I make these, I'll probably make a double batch, as these were gone way too quickly. If you're hesitant to try your hand at English muffins, go ahead and give these a go. You don't need any special equipment. I used a 3 1/2-inch ring cutter, but if you don't have one, you can use a round cookie cutter, a biscuit cutter, or even a clean tuna can with the top and bottom removed (be careful of sharp edges).