English Muffins: easier to make than you think

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I have a recipe for real, old-fashioned English muffins in my Peter Reinhart.  And some day, I totally plan to make them the way he says to (because he’s a genius).  Until then, I’m too darned lazy.  But I found this version by the Foodess (also a genius) that seems to be more up my alley in terms of ability and time.  It’s nice to finally have a decent English muffin in the morning, full of all those wee holes designed simply to hold melted butter and honey.  The Newfoundland version of the English muffin is just … WRONG.  It’s more like a hamburger bun or something.  It’s not right.

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Anyway.  Start with 1 1/2 cups milk, and plop that in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, and microwave for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 minutes, until the milk begins to simmer around the edges.

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While that’s on the go, cube up 1/4 cup cold butter.  The coldness of the butter will help to cool your milk down.

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Stir the butter into the milk and swirl it around until it’s all melted.  Leave the milk aside for a bit to cool down.

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Beat up 1 large egg and add to it 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Balkan style).

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When the milk mixture has cooled to just warm, you can mix the egg/yogurt in.

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In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 4 cups flour to 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt, and 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast.

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Put that sucker on low (use a shield around the top if you’ve got one), and slowly pour in your dairy mixture.  Keep going until it’s all in there, and then beat (again, on low) for another full minute.

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You can see that although the dough is still really sticky it’s starting to become stringy as well.  Gluten in action, folks.  SCIENCE.

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Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, cover the top with plastic wrap, and put it in a warm place for an hour to rise.

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When it’s ready to go, lightly flour a clean work surface.  Find yourself a 3″ biscuit cutter or use the opening to a large drinking glass (mine was about 2 1/2″).

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Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface and sprinkle the top of it with flour as well.  Use your floured hands to pat the dough down until it’s about 1/2″ thick.

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Using your cutter or glass, get busy cutting out little disks of dough.  Fold all your scraps together and repeat the process until you’ve used all your dough.  I ended up with 19 muffins in my batch.

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Use a floured spatula to transfer them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and set those somewhere warm to rise for another 20 minutes.

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Now, preheat your oven to 400°F and plop a large cast iron skillet (or two) on your elements.  Heat those up to medium heat and dust them lightly with corn flour.  Do not use a non-stick pan for this; it will not work.  If you don’t have an iron skillet, use a steel, non-non-stick pan instead.

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Plop some of your dough disks into the dusted, heated pan and let them cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes, or until the bottoms start to brown.

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Flip them over and do it again to the other side.  Keep dusting the pan with more flour as needed, and keep in mind that the flour may start to smoke after a while.  As your pan heats up you will find it takes a shorter amount of time for your muffins to brown so keep an eye on them.

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You can see how they are starting to rise up with the cooking and look more like real English muffins.  The reason you cook the tops and the bottoms is so that when the muffins are baking in the oven they don’t get all round and puffy like a dinner roll.

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Transfer the browned muffins back to the parchment-lined baking sheets.

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When you’re all ready to go and they’re all browned, pop them in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the muffins sound hollow when you tap on them.

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When you are ready to eat them, pierce the middle with a fork several times to break the muffin open.  If you cut them with a knife you won’t get the benefit of all the perfect little bubbles.

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Look at those perfect little bubbles.

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Then you can do whatever you’re going to do with them.  Toast them, use them as sandwich material (the Pie loves making his own version of the Egg McMuffin), eat them as a base for Eggs Benedict … whatever floats your boat.  They freeze well, too — just make sure to wrap them up really tightly.

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The Great Wedding Cupcake Experiment of 2009

The Pie and I were married on 22 August 2009.  We wanted to do our wedding on the cheap, because we are stone broke, and we also wanted to give our guests a little taste of our personality.  With that in mind, we turned down my parents’ repeated offers to make fruitcakes (‘but it’s a traditional Scottish wedding cake’) and decided to make cupcakes instead of buying a tiered and costly confection.

Which flavours were we to pick?  The choices were almost endless and we didn’t know where to begin.  My mother gave me Cupcake Heaven by Susannah Blake as a Christmas present, and we decided to start there.  With one exception, all the recipes we tried are from there.

I chose a panel of a dozen people at work to help us to test our cupcakes, and every one of them looked forward to Cupcake Friday.  By the time I was finished the experiment (which ran from the beginning of March to the end of June 2009), my panel had doubled in size and I was a very popular lady at work.

A crucial piece of machinery without which I would have gone MAD is the Kitchenaid stand mixer.  I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who does a lot of baking.  Also my camera, of course.  I took a lot of pictures during this period.  You can see the rest of them on my Flickr site here.

Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream Cupcakes

#1 Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream

These were extremely tasty but not particularly attractive, texture-wise.  Aesthetically they weren’t much to go on either.  The icing was also quite runny and very sticky, but also very good.  The sour cream mixed with the lemon and the icing sugar made a tangy topping.  The Committee thought it would make a good brunch baked good.

One thing to note about these is that I had to re-cup the cupcakes after they were baked, because the bottoms had burned a bit in my antiquated oven and I wanted to hide that.  Fun fact: if you re-cup a cupcake, the cupcake will not stick to the paper cup anymore, as you can see in the photograph.

 

#2 Carrot Cardamom

I really like the word ‘cardamom.’  These ones turned out exactly like the picture in the book, which was gratifying, and they had a much smoother texture than the Apple Cinnamon, which was reassuring.

I’m not a huge fan of walnuts, however; they have a bitter after taste that I am not fond of – I much prefer pecans.  The mascarpone icing, however, was incredible and there was an enormous amount of it.  If these cupcake experiments taught me anything (and to quote one of the Committee members), ‘there is no such thing as too much icing.’

Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

#3 Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

These little boogers were a spectacular failure on my part.  The recipe involved putting half the batter into the cup, then sprinkling it with grated marzipan, then putting the other half of the dough on top.  Silly me, I did all the bottom halves first, then all the marzipan, and by the time I got around to the tops, I had run out of batter.

In addition, I had to deal with runny icing and artificial cherries, and that’s never a good combination.  Let us not forget as well that I had to face the inevitable comments at work that these strongly resembled boobs.  So much for professionalism.

Overall, they were too sweet, and too much of a pain to make.  Vetoed.

… then something magic happened …

… my oven exploded!

I’m totally serious.  The Pie was making dinner one night and I heard this loud thrumming noise coming from the kitchen, accompanied by a yell that I should probably get in there.  I ran in and saw bright white light coming from the oven window – element was arcing and sending off sparks.  It was making the thrumming noise.  We turned off the oven and got the hell out of there.  Two days later my landlord bought us a new oven.  It’s so low tech that it has no interior light and you have to shine a flashlight in to see if your stuff is done, but it works really well, I will give it that.

The Perfect Cupcake was born.
Creamy Coconut Lime

#4 Creamy Coconut Lime

It was from this new oven that a new generation of cupcake was born.  I could now actually follow the recipe when it came to temperature and cooking time.  Nothing burned, or exploded.  It was inspiring, actually.  The first experiment to come out of the new oven, or ‘tailgate special’ as I like to refer to it, was this perfect confection.  It was unanimously voted by the Committee as the perfect cupcake for a wedding.  Nothing I made after this counted for much in their opinions.  I was, however, undaunted, and continued on with my experiments.  I couldn’t stop now – things were just getting good.

Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

#5 Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

In these, I substituted canned mandarin slices for regular orange segments.  Other than the fact that I am truly lazy and did not want to segment several oranges, the canned pieces meant that my cupcakes would be uniform and also that the quality of the fruit would be good.  Living in Newfoundland, especially during the winter, means that produce quality is always a guessing game.

These cakes were popular with those who liked poppyseeds.  I liked them, but the Pie was not a huge fan.

As you can see, I was really getting into my groove here.  My photographic cupcake record had turned more artistic now that my appliances were cooperating.

#6 Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal

These little beauties contained fresh Newfoundland blueberries stuck right into the batter, and were made with cornmeal, which made the batter a sunshiny yellow but which created a texture many were not expecting.

Blueberries directly in the batter!

I thought they were great but most people were unconvinced.  In any case, I had  a lot of fun with my new zester, creating and photographing my confections.

Martha Stewart eat your heart out:

Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal
Maple and Pecan Cupcakes

#7 Maple and Pecan

I had a lot of fun making these – and burned myself severely in the process.  They were one of my favourite cupcakes, taste-wise, but many people found the hard caramelized sugar too sharp or tough to bite into, the Pie included, so they were eventually scrapped.

Playing with melted sugar is a lot of fun.  If I ever made these again, however, I would let the sugar cool a bit more before pouring it, to keep the fluid from spreading too much – I think that was my major failing here.

Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

#8 Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

I ended up renaming these bad beauties Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, because that’s pretty much what they tasted like, and that’s pretty much all the ‘icing’ really was: hot whipping cream poured over dark and bittersweet chocolate and then whipped into a light foam.  They are truly divine.  The batter itself was a little bland, however, so I thought I could improve somewhat.

You can see at this time that spring was coming, and my seedlings were on the sprout.  But spring comes late to Newfoundland, and we had a while yet to wait.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

#9 Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

I can pretty much guarantee that I will never make these again.  I have never been so disappointed with myself.  I didn’t want to serve them to the Committee, and some Committee members refused to even finish them.  They were dry and tasteless and the crystallized ginger on top was too strong.  It was supposed to be stem ginger in syrup but this being Newfoundland I couldn’t find any.

EPIC FAIL.

I had to redeem myself.

Experiment #10
Marble Cupcakes

#10 Marble Cupcakes

When these were finished they looked nothing like the photograph but boy were they tasty.  Inside was a chocolate-vanilla swirl cake that really wasn’t visible unless there was no icing but which was nice and moist and light.

The icing was cream cheese mixed with cream and icing sugar.  You can’t really top that, but of course that would mean leaving out the caramel.

I used Smucker’s caramel ice cream topping, but had I been thinking I would have used real dulce de leche, because it would have held its shape better and not oozed everywhere.  These cupcakes certainly entailed sticky fingers.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

#11 Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

The Pie and I wanted to experiment with a few lower-fat options, and this was one of them, containing no butter at all, and of course using ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese for icing.

They turned out really well but weren’t quite what we were looking for.

Chocolate Fireworks

#12 Chocolate Fireworks

These were meant to be served with lit sparklers in them, but I wasn’t sure how I would get them into the office.

I settled for the little silver balls instead.  Did you know they are called ‘dragees’?

The icing was rather unimaginative and runny, but the batter had some orange in it that kept in moist and gave it a nice tart tang.

Raspberry Trifle

#13 Raspberry Trifle

Unlucky number 13.  We were drawing to the close of our experiment here, with only three more recipes to try, and I was pretty tired of making cupcakes at this time.  It seemed every week I was adding someone new to the Cupcake Committee email distribution list.

I made these while watching Detroit lose to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  I was cheering for the Red Wings (my beloved Senators didn’t even make the post-season) because I hate Crosby, but alas, I was out of luck.

This cake was really good, though, because it was chock-full of raspberries.  I thought the custardy topping could have had more flavour, but that might have had something to do with me failing at making custard.

Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

#14 Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

I left the picture of this one small because it’s blurry.  It was late, I was tired, and these were such a hassle that I forgot to take a picture until super late at night.

The recipe called for slicing off the top of the cupcake so the cream cheese topping would set, smooth and flat, like a real cheesecake.  I cut off the tops, which was a pain, considering I then had to re-cup the cakes, and then topped them.  And discovered that the topping wasn’t going to lie smooth and flat anyway.

There was some swearing.

In the end, these were one of my favourites: a fine vanilla cake with vanilla cream-cheesy ‘icing’ and sliced strawberries on top.  The fanning of the berry was my idea, as the berries I got weren’t of the quality that they would stand up on their own, like they were in the book.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

#15 Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

Another cheesecake-y recipe that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.  The Pie’s grandmother is a celiac, as is one of my former coworkers, and both of them were coming to the wedding.  I didn’t want them to feel excluded from the cake part of the festivities, so I experimented with a gluten-free recipe.

It was an all right cupcake, but it wasn’t light or fluffy, the potato flour I used made the texture a little grainy, and, all in all, it was rather bland.

Coconut Cream from the Barefoot Contessa

#16 Coconut Cream

This was my final cupcake, and it wasn’t really an experiment.

One of the people in the Cupcake Committee had been talking about the Barefoot Contessa’s Coconut and Cream cupcakes for a while so as a final treat I decided to make them.  You can get the recipe from the Food Network here.

The cupcakes were huge, and I knew I wasn’t going to make them for the wedding – they were pretty time-consuming.  But everyone on the Committee had been talking about that other coconut recipe for ages, so I thought I would end it with an echo of the earlier recipe.

They were fabulous and if you ate more than one you felt ill.  We had wayyy too many leftovers and I think we ate them for three weeks straight.  Or at least it felt like that.  They were good though.  I recommend giving them a shot.

And that’s it.  Sixteen cupcakes in seventeen weeks.

Which ones did we eventually choose: Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake, Fireworks (but with the icing from the Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse), and the Raspberry Trifle (but with a lemon cream cheese icing instead of the custard.  They were a hit.