I had intended to try my hand at some "rough" puff pastry this week, armed with the advice of experts and some excellent pictures of the process. But then I snagged a modest pastry marble on ebay (for less, with postage, than one $42 pound of puff pastry from Williams-Sonoma) and decided to wait for its arrival.
I was nonetheless in the mood for baking. I was feeling the need for something toasted and buttered to have with my tea, after hurrying home from the bus stop in the chill and rain. My thoughts turned to crumpets, pikelets and English muffins. Each of these, in my mind, is a different sort of cross between a yeast pancake and unsweet tea bun. They are all especially well suited to the toast and butter treatment, and equally appealling for breakfast or with a cup of tea. Plus, each is a great vehicle for the delivery of homemade jam. and I do have a bit of that around the place. I am not opposed to the sweet American muffin, it just is different sort of thing entirely.
I turned to Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery for some thoughts and recipes. Crumpets and (English type) muffins had a chapter on their own, featuring a lot of interesting historical chat about these things, and recipes from various places and times. The nuances and differences among these traditional breads is apparently a matter of a heated debate, which Ms. David did not settle. I did discover that the store-bought pikelets, muffins, and crumpets which I had previously admired were universally considered "travesties" of the genuine article.
This made me a little nervous. Assuming that I picked a choice recipe, how would I know I'd done it properly, if the result was unlike anything I knew? Never fear. Not only did E.D. say which recipe for muffins was likely to be the most successful for the home baker, she included a description of how it ought to look when done, and how to toast it. I was all set.
I based my muffins on Ms.David's version of one given by Walter Banfield, in Manna, circa 1937.In common with a number of other period recipes, this one points to warming the flour, as the key to proper texture, as well as a clever dusting with rice flour, which helps somehow, as well. To make 8 extremely substantial muffins, you need:
1 lb of all purpose flour (I used King Arthur, and it was a bit over 3 cups)
a very scant tsp instant yeast (notquick rising, instant)
1 tbsp coarse salt
2 tbsps light olive oil
1 3/4 cups of mixed milk and water
1/2 tsp sugar
potato starch or rice flour or cornstarch
This is what you do. Put the flour in an oven proof bowl and heat it in a 285F oven for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the milk, water and oil. Heat it in it's pyrex pitcher in the microwave to blood temperature. Take the bowl out of the oven, and with a wooden spoon, stir in the yeast, salt and sugar. Add the liquid and mix, starting with the spoon, and finishing with your hands to combine. Knead a few times, cover with a cloth, and let it rise for 50 minutes in a 70F temp area.
Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Dust your hands with the rice flour, and form each into a flattish round. Set on a surface dusted with rice flour, cover, and let rise a half hour more. Don't let it rise much longer than this. We are told that the texture will be off, if we do.
Prepare a griddle, heating it over a medium low flame. I used my cast iron one, which covers 2 of my gas burners, and will cook 8 muffins at once. Transfer the muffins carefully, with a spatula, and cook slowly for 15 minutes per side. I did this, and they looked right, but felt undercooked to me, even allowing for additional cooking while cooling off. As I had already increased the cooking time, and the outsides were quite biscuity looking enough, I popped them in the oven, at 350F, for 10 minutes more. This appears to have done the trick, without marring the characteristic muffin look.
Muffins should be a "good biscuit color on the top and bottom" with a "broad white band round the waist", 1 1/2" to 2" thick, lightly crusted on the outside, and "honey
combed" with holes inside. And so they were. According to one of Ms. David's sources, they should not be split before toasting. Rather, they should be "opened slightly at their joint all the way round", toasted, and then split and buttered. I will try this method, since our modern thick-slice toasters, designed for bagels and what have you, will permit it. But I may go back to fork splitting first, if I find I prefer it to this recommended toasting routine.
As I said, this makes a substantial muffin. This is not a light snack. I may be hunting up a crumpet recipe to try next, for something a little less likely to leave me unable to eat for the rest of the day. ...and I have a hearty appetite.
We are warned that muffins can dry out fast, so I will freeze some. I fear have a hankering for an old fashioned
"covered muffin dish," though.
I am off to the grocery store, where I am going to get some cranberries and walnuts for my other baking project, shuna's cranberry bread. Then I will surely have everything I need for breakfast and tea, for some time.