Positive Peer Pressure: Sourdough English Muffins

I’m usually game for a good challenge, and I have at least a small amount of pride in my baking ability. So when my neighbor Laura showed off the (totally beautiful and impressive) sourdough English muffins she had made, the first thing that ran through my mind was, “I haven’t made English muffins before… And I don’t know why!”

It turns out that, aside from the somewhat considerable amount of time needed to get from first mix to toasted-with-peanut-butter (or in my case with these, warm-with-cream-cheese-and-sauerkraut…), English muffins are pretty darn easy to make, and absolutely worth the investment of patience and effort. Plus, you get to sleep during the majority of the process — pretty sweet deal.

You start the night before by letting your sourdough go through its first rise/proof, that way it’s ready for you bright and early the next morning. There were a scant 4 ingredients for the sponge, and only four more to add to it the next morning.

My mornings are conveniently unstructured, so getting up a little earlier than usual to get these ready for my husband to have for breakfast wasn’t a big deal to me. As soon as you get up, roll the dough out and cut circles so they can start rising. I’m (still) without a basic round cookie-cutter, so I improvised with a pint glass. Totally did the trick. It’s a little smaller than the standard 3-inch cutter, so I ended up making about 22 muffins (compared to the 8-10 estimated by the recipe).

If you did, say, have a big-deal job downtown, right about now is when you’d want to jump in the shower and get dressed, because you have 45-60 minutes before these puppies are ready to be tossed on the griddle. This is where that patience I mentioned starts getting tested.

Like pancakes, get your pan nice and evenly warm, maybe add some oil if you’re so inclined, and load the little guys on. The recipe I was using was from Wild Yeast, a great blog devoted to all things bread-y and delicious; there, she suggests flipping the muffins frequently in the first few minutes so they brown evenly, and I can attest to this fact, having ignored about half of the second batch and learning the hard way not to repeat the offense. So — flip equally, and flip often until they’re on their way. Then you can feel free to let them do their thing. I loved seeing the little sourdough bubbles form on the edges. Fermentation in action!

Letting them cool was easily the hardest part. Kind of like ordering pizza and realizing that you were the first stop on the delivery route — just salivating over the obviously-too-hot-to-eat cheesy goodness in front of you, using all your willpower not to shove three slices in your mouth and effectively removing any tastebuds you could have used to actually enjoy your food. Yeah — it’s like that. Super hot and tantalizing.

Like all good things — cake pre-frosting, chocolate toffee cookies, and pizza — these benefit from a few minutes to cool down and let their flavors develop.

But maybe not too much — why bother putting them back in the toaster if you can have them hot the first time around? If you can separate the sides comfortably with your fingers, you’re probably good to go.

Peanut butter + English muffins is definitely a sufficient pair, but I opted for a more unusual choice of cream cheese… and then remembered that super-cool neighbor Laura mentioned having Swiss cheese with this homemade sauerkraut she also made and was gracious enough to share with me (the gears were turning) — why not try her sauerkraut on my cream cheese + English muffin?

*Tremendous*

Crunchy, creamy, colorful, slightly tangy and sweet from the cream cheese, with a hint of sweetness from the English muffin (my sourdough is decidedly sweeter than most). Not to mention the spring it put in my step for having such luck combining such unlikely breakfast fellows!

The total time I spent actively working on these probably wasn’t more than 45 minutes, including the 15 minutes each batch takes to cook on the griddle. In fact, if you timed it right and left yourself a little cushion room, I don’t see why anyone couldn’t make these work on any given weekday morning. But if that’s too tall of an order (especially if mornings aren’t your thing), add these to your list of weekend breakfast foods to make — it’ll be a fun change from the standard pancakes and french toast. And don’t be surprised if the bubbles aren’t Thomas-esque — the recipe seems to consistently produce more, but smaller air pockets.

Note: These have almost no shelf life, in my experience. They were great the first day, but hockey pucks by the next morning. Microwaving them seemed to work well for some, so give that a shot if you’re adamant about not finishing them on day one.

Sourdough English Muffins
from Wild Yeast

Yield: 8 – 10 muffins (or ~22 if making smaller-sized muffins)

Time:

  • Ferment sponge: 8 hours
  • Mix and shape final dough: 15 minutes
  • Proof: 45-60 minutes
  • Cook: 15 minutes (per batch)
  • Active baking time: 30-45 minutes, depending on how many batches you need to cook them all

Sponge Ingredients:

  • 110 g ripe 100% hydration sourdough starter
  • 160 g flour (I used Gold Medal Better For Baking flour)
  • 100 g whole wheat flour
  • 245 g milk (I used skim; amount is slightly reduced from original because 245g=1 cup of skim, which seemed about right)

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 115 g flour (1 C)
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1.5 t. agave nectar (I used honey)
  • all of the sponge
  • Cornmeal or semolina for dusting

Method:

  1. Mix the sponge ingredients in a medium bowl (a glass one would work well, so cling wrap adheres to it). Stir until just combined. Cover and let rest overnight (about 8 hours).
  2. Add the final dough ingredients and mix to roughly combine. Turn the dough out onto the counter and hand mix for about 7 or 8 minutes, or until the surface becomes quite smooth. The dough will be very soft, and sticky at first. Mine only came together with an additional 1/4 C or so of flour (1 C – 1 1/2 C total). Add as little as possible to get it to a workable consistency.
  3. Flour your hands and work surface, and roll or pat the dough out to one-half inch. Cut the dough into circles (use a 3-inch cutter if you have it, otherwise a glass rim is a good substitute) and place them on semolina- or cornmeal-dusted parchment paper.
  4. Cover and let proof for 45 – 60 minutes from the time you finish cutting the last round.
  5. Lightly oil a griddle and heat it over medium-low heat. Cook the muffins for a total of about 7 or 8 minutes on each side, until browned and the sides are firm, flipping frequently in the first few minutes to get both sides evenly started.
  6. Cool on a wire rack. Split the muffins with a fork and/or your fingers.

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