NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

February 6, 2013

An English muffin fit for royalty

Can you keep a secret? No? Even better — because the secret to making English muffins is too good to keep to yourself.

Fans of “Downton Abbey” know all about secrets, of course, but here’s a curious one: In England, these breakfast standbys are known simply as, well, muffins. It’s only here in the United States that they gain the “English” adjective. Think of it as yet another adjustment Lady Grantham had to make.

Some bakers maintain that the basics of making English muffins hardly are secret: A sticky wet dough is cooked at high heat on a griddle, which quickly evaporates the water, leaving large air pockets.

They’re right, of course, yet it’s amazing how many variations exist. There are recipes with batter poured into rings, with dough rolled and cut like biscuits, with much kneading or little kneading.

This recipe borrows from several, resulting in muffins with the necessary sourdough tang and “holey” insides, and using a method that couldn’t be easier. These muffins are substantial — no floury clouds here — and toast up beautifully. Another bonus? The total cost of ingredients for a batch of six muffins is about $1.

Start by mixing the ingredients the night before, then letting the soft dough sit covered on the counter until morning. This “sponge,” which will swell and fall, gives the muffins their distinctive flavor. We recommend using as flavorful a honey as you have on hand.

The resulting dough will be too sticky to handle, but no need. Simply dip a serving spoon in water, then scoop one-sixth of the dough and drop it in a bowl of blended cornmeal and flour. Once flipped to coat, the dough then can be picked up, gently rounded and placed on a heated griddle.

After that, it’s a matter of watching so the muffins don’t cook too quickly; you want them to cook through without the bottoms scorching. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes on each side, so you can do other breakfast preparations while they bake. To make sure they’re baked through, finish them in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.

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