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?
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.
(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.