Monthly Archives: January 2014

Downton Abbey’s crumpets have nothing on these English muffins

Here’s the thing. It’s January. It’s Ohio. It’s cold. And snowy. And windy.  All anyone can talk about is the weather. The truth is, we’re all pretty tired of talking about it. And hearing about it. In fact, the phrase “Stay warm” appeared on the meh list of the Jan. 26 New York Times magazine.

Staying warm is only one of my concerns. Staying sane is up there at the top of the list. Some people watch endless television. Some fire up their snow blowers (this is akin to those who mow incessantly in the summer.) I lean toward running but when the temps are below zero, even I have to forgo the roads for the treadmill.

So…what to do? Bake. Always. There is nothing — nothing — that warms the house — and heart — and satisfies hunger quite like homemade bread. And if the person with whom you live has the cold to end all colds, what better reason than to bake his absolute favorite — English muffins. Yep, they’re labor-intensive. Don’t believe the recipes that say they’re “easy.” They’re not. But hey, when the weather outside is frightful, what better time to tackle a challenge?
muffin 1

muffin 2

muffin 3

As usual, I had to adjust the recipe. I used more than half whole wheat flour because we were nearly out of white. I threw in some wheat germ and flax for extra flavor. Hours later — literally — we had rustic English muffins that, when split and toasted, have those perfect nooks and crannies   that cradle melted butter or nut butters and honey.
muffin 4

English Muffins
(I mixed the ingredients in a food processor, but you may use a dough hook on your mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon. These are cooked on a griddle/skillet on top of the stove or an electric skillet.)
1 tbsp. or 1 package active dry yeast

1/4 c. warm water (105-115 degrees F.)
1 c. warm milk (105-115 degrees F. — I used reconstituted powdered milk)
1 tbsp. sugar (I used agave, but you can also use honey)
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
2 3/4 to 3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (I used about half whole wheat flour)
Note: I also added a few tablespoons of wheat germ and flax seed)

1. In a large bowl, soften the yeast in the water.
2. Add the milk, sugar (or alternative), salt, oil, egg, and 1 c. of the flour to the yeast mixture. Mix in a food processor with the dough blade, or with a mixer/dough hook, or by hand for 2 minutes.
3. Gradually add more flour, 1/4 c. at a time, until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.
4. Knead, adding more flour, a little at a time, for 8-10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic, and blisters begin to develop on the surface.
5. Put the dough into an oiled bowl, turning to coat the entire ball of dough. Cover with a towel and let rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface. Using a rolling pin, roll to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Let the dough rest for two minutes so the muffins don’t shrink when cut.
7. With a 3-inch round cutter, cut the dough into rounds and place about one inch apart on baking sheets sprinkled lightly with cornmeal. Gather the dough scraps and knead into a smooth ball. Cover and let rise for 5 minutes to allow gluten to relax before re-rolling. Roll and cut as before.
8. Cover the muffins loosely with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
9. Heat a heavy griddle or skillet (or electric skillet) over medium heat until hot. (Saves time to have two skillets going at once.) Brush the cooking surface lightly with oil and reduce the heat to low.
10. Gently place the muffins on the griddle, cornmeal side down. Bake the muffins for 2 minutes on each side, then continue to bake for 10 minutes more, turning them every two minutes for a total of 14 minutes cooking time
11. Watch carefully so they do not burn!
12. Cool the muffins on a rack. If not eating immediately, store in a plastic bag and split with a fork before toasting.

Baking to beat the cold and stress

In many ways, yesterday was a typical January day in northwest Ohio. Sort of. There was nearly one foot of snow on the ground, and extremely high winds had created large drifts up the sides of houses and parked cars. Icy roads made driving dangerous.

Okay, so if you live in Minnesota or North Dakota, you might be yawning by now. But hey, this is Ohio. We get snow. Some years we get a lot. Some years we get none. This is one of those “a lot” years. Windchills of 40 below didn’t make it any more palatable.

So there we were. Stuck in the house. Even Bluffton University shut down for two days. So…what to do?

One of my favorite rooms in the house is the kitchen. It’s bright. It’s yellow. And it gives me a nice view of the back yard, and the little A-frame that my dad built 20 years ago. He insisted it would probably fall apart after two years.

Looking at the A-frame sparked a memory of Dad baking bread on cold winter days. So? I baked bread.

While that was rising, I figured I could log on to my work desktop and get some work done. But since I’m really good at procrastinating, I shoved that thought to the back of my brain, and instead baked cookies.
Not just any old cookies. It’s January. I hate January. In fact, my stress level rises just thinking about January. So…since whoever decided that dark chocolate and antioxidants are good antidotes to stress, I’ve resorted to the perfect cookie, Anti-Stress Cookies.

Chock full of ingredients like whole wheat flour, olive oil, dark chocolate chips, raisins, dried sour cherries, walnuts, oats, yogurt, brown sugar, butter, and whatever else you feel like adding.  I added 1/4 cup of flax seed this time. You can’t ruin them…unless you leave the room and forget they’re in the oven. Doesn’t matter. Surely, someone in your house likes dark cookies. If not, call my husband.


Anti-Stress Cookies
1½ c. white flour (or white whole wheat flour)
¾ c. whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¾ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. olive or canola oil
1 c. packed dark brown sugar (I actually use 3/4 c.)
1 large egg
2 egg whites
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ cup oats
1 ¼ cups Monukka raisins
1 ¼ cups dried cranberries or dried cherries
1 ¼ c. DARK chocolate chips (i.e. Ghirardelli)
1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter, oil and brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and egg whites  Add the molasses, yogurt, ginger and lemon zest and beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture to make a sticky batter (do not overmix). Fold in the oats, raisins, cranberries or cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts.
Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto prepared baking sheets. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the cookies until dark golden but still soft, 10 to 12 minutes; cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to one week. May also be frozen (I like my cookies hard!)

By the time I was done with all the baking, I’d warmed up the house, and the frigid temps outside didn’t seem nearly so daunting.