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Saturday, June 25, 2016

The English Muffins

Greetings, dear readers. It's been a busy couple of days. Thursday was my husband's birthday and we celebrated with some good Benedictine beer and fried chicken from our favorite chicken joint. Simple celebrations are always the best.

On Tuesday, I broke new ground and made English muffins. I enjoy English muffins, but the ones from the store leave much to be desired. So, when I came across an easy English muffin recipe on Youtube, I knew I had to give it a try.

About a year and a half ago, I was given a small cup full of yeast by a family friend. I kept it in my fridge to keep it cool since the pantry in our kitchen where the baking goods are stored tends to get kinda hot in the summer and I didn't want any bugs or heat to get at the yeast and ruin it. I've been itching to make something with it to see if it's still good, so I figured English muffins were a good starter.

Activating the yeast

The dough before rising. It was sticky and wet

I first activated the yeast, then mixed the dough using my giant salad bowl as a mixing bowl and my sifter to get the bugs out of the flour (I honestly have no idea where those weevils are coming from. I vacuum out my pantry once a month and yet they still come!). After letting the dough rise, I made the mistake of not flouring the counter  enough so the dough was leaving a sticky mess. I added alot more flour and that solved the mess, but now it was too dry and I had to add a little water into the dough to moisten it a bit more. After separating and forming the muffins, I coated them in cornmeal and put them off to the side to proof. While the recipe called for using butter to fry the muffins, I used olive oil instead because it was healthier than butter. I fried up the English muffins in two batches, using my handy cast iron pan.

I set the dough to rise on top of the dresser in the bedroom, since that was the warmest place in the house. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pix of the dough after it was doubled.

Frying the English muffins

I put an egg yolk wash on top of the muffins to use up a leftover yolk. I don't think I should have done that cuz it made the English muffins look burned.

How did my muffins come out? Bad. I don't know where exactly I went wrong, but the resulting English muffins were dense and tough. My first reaction was to wonder if the yeast had gone bad, (especially since I couldn't obviously tell if the dough had doubled at all during its rising stages) but the second batch of English muffins were definitely fluffier than the first batch, so bad yeast may not have been the culprit. That being said, however, the yeast may not have activated well. I didn't cover the bowl when I was activating the yeast, since the recipe didn't make mention of it, though in some other videos I watched about making bread, I noticed that just about every other cook covered the bowl to let the yeast activate.The possibility of overworking the dough also occurred to me, though I doubt that because breads in general need alot of kneading to smooth them out.

All done

My husband suspects the dough's temperature at cooking time to be the ultimate culprit because after the muffins had finished proofing, I put the dough in the fridge because it was the late afternoon and it was getting to be kinda hot in the house. I put the dough in the fridge to keep it from going bad cuz I knew it was gonna be a few hours before the house was cool enough to cook in. At cooking time, I basically took the dough out of the fridge and put it in the pan without letting it warm up.

Batch 1: dense, felt underdone; note the lack of nooks and crannies classic of English muffins

Batch 2: A little better, but not by much. Some nooks and crannies present, but still pretty dense

In short, my English muffins came out bad, but there's too many variables to determine just where exactly I went wrong. That being said, I'm not discouraged. I will try making English muffins again, but this time, I'll be a bit more diligent in my work. Breadmaking is an art, and it's something that I'm learning to enjoy.

One thing that surprised me was just how long breadmaking takes. To activate the yeast takes about 15-20 minutes, and then once mixed with the flours and other ingredients, the dough needs to be put aside to rise for about 2 hours until its doubled in size. But, there's more! Once the dough is kneaded and shaped, the resulting loafs have to "proof" for about an hour to double in size. It literally took me all day to make the English muffins that I'd intended to have for breakfast. Oh well. Still, nothing beats fresh made bread, however it comes out.

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