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Muffin genealogy

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

February 22, 2014

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I grew up with the English muffin; I know its habits. It comes from the grocery store, lives in the fridge, and has a thing for the toaster. It's quirky: brown spotted, fork split, craggy faced. I didn't pry.

Then I tried to make one. Turns out the muffin has a background, a heritage, a past.

I mixed a bread dough enriched with butter and milk. I patted it flat, punched out rounds, then read: griddle. Who knew?

Anyone who's made an English muffin, I suppose. Or who's studied its lineage. The English muffin is a direct descendant of the crumpet, a yeast-raised, griddle-crisped pancake. Turns out the English muffin is, well, English.

As I worked, I watched the muffin strike its classic pose: brown sides, perforated perimeter, craggy center. It was good to see my old friend, anew.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

Twitter @leaheskin

English muffins

Prep: 30 minutes

Wait: 90 minutes

Makes: About 1 dozen (double-sided) muffins

1/2 cup warm water

2 teaspoons honey

2 ¼ teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast

1 cup warm milk

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus a little

Salted butter, for griddle

1

Proof: In a large mixing bowl, stir together warm water and honey. Sprinkle in yeast. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

2

Mix: Stir in milk, butter and whole wheat flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm spot, 1 hour. This wet dough (called a sponge) will bubble and, when poked, look something like a sponge.

3

Rest: Whisk together salt and 1 cup all-purpose flour; stir in. Turn out and knead, adding a little flour if needed to achieve a soft but cooperative dough, 1 minute. Pat dough into a ¾-inch thick circle, about 10 inches across. Dust lightly with flour. Cover with plastic and let rest, 30 minutes.

4

Cut: Punch out 3-inch circles with a cookie cutter or drinking glass (re-pat scraps once).

5

Crisp: Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium. Brush with salted butter. Griddle muffins until light brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

6

Bake: Slip griddled muffins onto a baking sheet and slide into a 300 degree oven. Bake until cooked through, about 8 minutes.

7

Toast: Poke a fork around the perimeter of each muffin and pry open. (The fork method assures the most butter-catching crannies. Don't use a knife!) Toast. Butter. Munch.