With a blink of an eye, September is here and not slowing down. The chill of fall is settling in, leading to sniffling noses and acorn squashes. The weather creates a turbulent romance with knits and purls. The sun greets us in the mornings and we grab for that comfortable warmth that is our favorite sweater. Come the warmed afternoons, we hastily throw it off, annoyed that we ever made the mistake of dragging it with us. As the sun falls, we retreat back to our friend the sweater, pretending as if there was no afternoon discard in our past.
In some ways, bread-making comes to me in the same turbulent love. Homemade bread, warm and fresh, is an idea too lovely not to attempt. But as my yeast refuses to bubble, my dough is a sticky mess, my floor turns into the landing pad for far too much flour, annoyance rises. Why, why did I ever mess with flour and yeast? Oh, devilish ingredients, how you torment me. But then the bread rises again. And bakes up so beautifully. And bursts open with steamy warmth, as we slather it with butter and burn our tongues. Of course I love you, dear bread, of course.
When I almost forgot about September’s Secret Recipe Club, the search for a simple recipe from my assigned blog was key. Cooked, photographed, written about in the same day, ah the life of a procrastinator. Lite Bite challenged me – baking without eggs, cooking without meat, is not my focus. If my zucchini bread is vegan or if my pasta is meat-free, that’s fantastic. But that’s not my goal. So I think I mentally displaced the assignment until the deadline was looming.
And then I spotted whole wheat english muffins. The draw of fresh bread, plus the dead-simple list of ingredients had me hook, line and sinker. Her use of whole wheat flours across the site also pleased me, because my taste buds prefer whole wheat. But once I was elbow-deep in flour, I realized that the recipe, for an inexperienced bread-maker, was a bit vague. I winged it, crossed fingers and said prayers. In the long run, all worked out. My stubborn yeast bubbled and the mixture rose, my sticky dough absorbed up some extra flour, and my floor got a good sweep.
In return for some dough wrangling, petite, cranny-filled, crunchy english muffins graced my kitchen. To be honest, they completely changed my mind about english muffins. Growing up, they were the ugly duckling, boring breakfast my mother adored. Now, I cannot wait to butter them up and fill them with interesting breakfast foods.
whole wheat english muffins
Like many bread recipes, this guy can seem finicky. Don't be afraid of the dough - it's going to be sticky. The more you bake, the more comfortable you get. The sooner you will be able to tell when you've kneaded enough, or how thick you want to roll your dough to, or how long they really need to cook on that side. So get to baking!
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons oil [olive or vegetable]
- cornmeal [to dust the tray]
- In a small bowl, place warm water [I used the hottest water from my sink], yeast and sugar. Mix well to combine and let sit for 10 minutes. The mixture should bubble up and thicken. If it does not, your yeast has died and your muffins won't puff properly.
- In a larger bowl, add the flour and kosher salt and mix well. Create a small well in the flour and add the oil and the yeast mixture. With a spatula, stir the ingredients together. Once it is mostly combined, switch to your hands. With oiled hands, mix and knead for about 30 seconds. The batter will seem loose and be very sticky, this is ok. Cover with a cloth, place in a warm location [especially important if your home is cool] and let rise until doubled in size. This can take 1-2 hours.
- Once risen, liberally flour a large section of clean countertop. Flour your hands and plop the dough onto the surface. With some patience and a lot of flour, knead the dough for 3-5 minutes. It will slowly begin to form a smooth blob, and will only slightly stick to everything. Use a bench scraper occasionally to clean the sticky dough off of surfaces and combine with the main ball of dough.
- Reflour your surface and your rolling pin and roll out. The thinner and larger your dough gets, the more muffins you get. But you also lose a bit of the body. My final product is very crunchy, filled with crannies, but not as soft. A thicker muffin gives more soft bite to pair with the crunch. Your call.
- Cut the muffins out with a cookie cutter [or the mouth of a large mason jar, if you're me]. Gently combine and reroll the cut dough until it's all done. Place muffins on a tray that has been dusted with cornmeal and dust the tops with more cornmeal. Cover with a cloth and let rise 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Once risen, place a large skillet on the stove at medium heat. Dust the excess cornmeal off the muffins before placing into the dry pan [no oil!]. Don't crowd the pan. Let cook until brown on one side and flip. My muffins took about 10 minutes total, five minutes on each side.
- Let cool on a rack, use a fork to gently open - a natural line formed around the edges of all my muffins, a perfect fork guideline! Add some butter and toast in the [toaster] oven for one last crunchy blast of heat. Enjoy!
Note: not sure what “alive” yeast in water should look like? Here you go.