The challenge was issued in the form of two muffins delivered from St. Helena in a cellophane bag. I was told they were English Muffins. Really good ones. I split and toasted one. Spread it with butter. Tasted it. These were no Thomas’ English Muffin. These were yeasty, soft yet chewy, golden brown, with the right amount of crustiness.
Michael Chiarello talked about them on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”. You can order them from The Model Bakery by mail. I wondered about having muffins mailed – would they be as good as the ones personally delivered straight from the bakery? Then I got an email: ‘Can u make those muffins? We love them so much. The chewy texture is amazing.’ and felt it was a sign…the gauntlet was thrown down to figure out the recipe.
I found recipe that looked plausible on the blogosphere at Brown Eyed Baker. I overcooked the first batch. Made some adjustments. Tasted batch number two. Adjusted again. And by batch three, we had the recipe that worked for me:
4-1/4 C Bread Flour (I use King Arthur Bread Flour) You might need about 1/4 to 1/8 C more depending
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1-1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon Dry Yeast (I use Fleishman’s in a jar)
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter
1 C Warm Milk (The dough will rise faster if the milk mixture is room temperature or a little above that.)
1 C Buttermilk
Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix together the melted butter, warm milk and buttermilk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and using the dough hook on the mixer or a wooden spoon, start mixing. Here’s what it looks like to start:If by hand, mix with spoon until the dough is a raggedy ball, dump the ball onto a floured kneading surface, and knead until smooth. Here’s what it looks like after you’ve kneaded it a little:If your dough does not look like this, you may need to add a bit more flour. The dough should be soft, but not overwhelmingly sticky.
Here’s what the dough should look after you’ve kneaded and mixed for about 5 minutes:
If you’ve been mixing in the mixer, dump the ball of dough out now and give it a few kneads. Form the dough into a ball
Place dough ball in an oiled bowl, turn the ball over in the bowl to cover the top of the ball with oil, cover the bowl in plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled in size.Punch down the dough now and divide the ball into 14-16 balls of equal size. Form them into little balls and place the balls with at least 1″ between them on a sheet covered with parchment and dusted with corn meal. Dust the tops with a bit of cornmeal as well.
And cover the sheet with plastic wrap for the dough to rise for about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I used canola) in a large flat bottomed pot on medium heat. Gently lift balls of dough and place them in the hot oil allowing about 1″ of space between each ball. (I use two pans at once to try to get all of the balls fried at once but you don’t have to.) Brown the bottoms at medium heat – don’t over brown like I did the first time by getting over eager and turning the heat up too high. The browning time on the first side should take at least 2-3 minutes. If it’s browning faster than that, turn the heat down. You are not only browning the dough bottoms, but cooking part of the muffin dough and giving it a bit more structure than uncooked risen dough so that when you flip the ball over, things stay risen and puffed.
With a spatula, gently flip the muffin over when it has browned, and brown side two for about 2-3 minutes. No smooshing the muffins with your spatula as tempting as that might look!
After browning both sides, put the muffins on a cookie sheet and immediately slide it into the 350 degree oven to bake another 6-7 minutes.
Serve them hot or warm with butter. Or after they’ve cooled, split them into two parts with a fork (slide the tines of a fork in the middle all around until you can pry the two halves apart), toast, and butter.
Loosen up your pants. These get addictive. Unchecked consumption can lead to an increase in the muffin top waistline. This is not a gluten free food.