(RE)MODEL BAKERY’S ENGLISH MUFFIN

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Oh I don’t feel bad telling you this… I don’t.  In just 2 days, I will be packing my bikinis, loading up the sunscreens and dragging my waxed legs across the Pacific to the realm where no toxic fume blackens my lungs and shameless line-cutter haunts my footsteps!  Aloha~ HAWAII, here I come!  Gimme a hug gimme a hug please!  Oooh I can almost taste the air of freedom… where real earth should feel like… where I don’t fantasize plotting the murder of anyone… of every day… of every minute… (Hear that?  The dude who spitted next to my feet in the restaurant dies-dies-dies so gruesomely it sounds like an unicorn-pony lullaby…).  Where I can be the non-mental me again you see?!!  Oh please do it now!!  Eject me out of China right now!  Cannonball me outta here!

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Oh save those kitty-watery-eyes, because no amount of imagery of you cornered in a cubicle, licking a celery stick is gonna make me feel bad.  I deserve this… I earned this.  That being said however… I’m not at all inconsiderate because that’s just not me.  So here’s what I’ll do for you.  If you just follow the recent instructions here and here, plus what I’m about to share any moment now, I promise you that by the end of it, the idea of you laying on any beach half-naked in the shape of an inverted muffin, wouldn’t be the least bit fetching.  You can trust me on that.  So, as this logically progresses, you should’ve guessed that these aren’t your ordinary English muffins.  I discovered them at some point during my free book-browsing on Amazon, of Napa Valley’s The Model Bakery Cookbook and immediately, for someone who never agreed with the need to make English muffins at home, now must.

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Different from most English muffins out there for people who still plot potential visits to the beach, that are cooked on a “lightly oiled” griddle or baked in a mold which isn’t gonna help your situation, these little fat babies are supersized at 4″ wide and almost FRIED in CLARIFIED BUTTER!  You heard right.  Instead of the typical unpleasant, floury surface that feels sandy and dry-mouth-inducing, these English muffins have luscious. golden-browned and CRISPY crusts with cornmeal-crunches, and the scent of buttery indulgence inside out.  Despite a little hiccup on the way, some devious spirit tried to derail my brilliant BEACH-OFF rescue plan for you, swapping the entire stock of all-purpose flour from my local grocery store with whole wheat only (tsk..tsk..tsk..), please worry not.  The partial use of whole wheat flour was barely traceable and my English muffins still tasted 100% cellulite-promising… that it’s almost misleading to call them the old name.  I’d like to think of them as English Blob-ffin, or The Napa Fat Boy, or… The Zipper Ripper!  Whatever works for you to take your mind off swimsuits and Hawaii, eh?

I promised you didn’t I?  I can’t take you to Hawaii, so quit it and “take a napa”.

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Makes: 12 large English muffins

I substituted 1 cup of all-purpose flour from the original recipe with whole wheat (because I ran out of all-purpose), and noticed that I needed slightly bit more flour to obtain the texture of the dough as described from the book.  Could be because the whole wheat flour I used absorbs less water than all-purpose and therefore, more flour is needed.  You can of course just use all-purpose as it is the original recipe.

The key.  The KEY.  I made the mistake of NOT using enough clarified butter to fry these English muffins, and you shall not repeat mine.  Regardless of the size of the skillet you’re using, there should always be a thin layer of melted clarified butter, about 1/8″ (3 mm) deep, covering the entire skillet.  The doughs will absorb some of the butter as they cook and you should add more accordingly.  If I had more time before I leave, I’d do over but… well, maybe when I’m back I would…

Ingredients: adapted from The model Bakery Cookbook

  • Biga:
    • 1/2 cup (75 grams) of bread flour
    • 1/4 cup (60 grams) of water
    • 1/4 tsp of instant dry yeast
    • 2 tsp of dark honey
  • Dough:
    • 1 1/2 cup (315 grams) of water
    • 3/4 tsp of instant dry yeast
    • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 1/2 tsp of fine sea salt
    • 1 cup (145 grams) of whole wheat flour
    • 2 cups (291 grams) of all-purpose flour + 1/2 cup (73 grams) or more
  • Clarified butter:
    • 2 sticks (230 grams) of unsalted butter, cubed (this is more than you’ll need)
  • 1/4 cup of coarse cornmeal

To make the biga:  Start the day before.  Mix together bread flour, water, instant dry yeast and dark honey into a sticky, wet dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 24 hours, during which the dough will rise slightly but not a lot.

To make the clarified butter:  Cube and melt unsalted butter in a pot over medium heat until it starts to bubble and foam.  Keep cooking until the foam starts to clear up, and the butter turns from opaque and cloudy (not see-through) to almost clear and translucent, approx 5 min.  Strain the butter into a container through a very fine sieve.  Discard the milk solids caught by the sieve, and store the now-clarified butter in an air-tight container in the fridge until needed.

To make the dough/English muffins:  In a stand-mixer with paddle-attachment, mix the biga, water, instant dry yeast, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt until the biga is completely mixed/dissolved into the liquid.  Add the whole wheat flour and 2 cups of all-purpose flour (reserving 1/2 cup) and mix to form a dough that’s quite sticky and DOESN’T pull away cleanly from the bowl while mixing.  Stop and cover the dough with plastic wrap and let stand for 20 min.

After 20 min, uncover and mix in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour to make a “soft dough that barely cleans the mixer bowl”.  I used all of the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp, and the dough should slowly pull away cleanly from the mixer bowl on high speed, but sticks slightly on the sides and bottom of the bowl while mixing on low speed.  Switch paddle to a dough-hook, and continue to mix on medium-low speed for 8 ~ 10 min until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface.  The dough should stick slightly, but able to be lifted and pulled away from the counter without tearing apart.  Lightly oil a large bowl, shape the dough into a ball and turn inside the bowl to coat with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at a warm place to proof until doubled, 2 ~ 3 hours depending (or as the book also suggests, place in the fridge for 8 ~ 12 hours, and 1 more hour at room-temperature before the next step).

Once proofed, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal portions, and shape into 3 1/2″ (9 cm) flat rounds.  Lightly oil your hands if it sticks slightly.   Scatter coarse cornmeal evenly on a large sheet pan and arrange the doughs with 2″ (5 cm) space in between.  Scatter more cornmeal on top of the doughs, and turn to coat both sides evenly.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let proof again in a warm place, until they expand again by half (50%, not doubled).  When pressing your finger into the dough, the dent should NOT spring back up immediately, approx 1 ~ 1:30 hour.

Heat up a large heavy-bottom skillet (I used cast-iron) on medium heat and melt the clarified butter (should be enough to form a thin layer covering the ENTER skillet).  Use a flat and wide spatula, carefully transfer the doughs into the pan without touching each other.  Slowly brown the bottom of the dough without burning it.  The right amount of heat would take about 6 min to brown 1 side.  Flip the doughs and brown the other side, adding more clarified butter as you go, for another 6 min more.  The English muffins should puff up during cooking.

Place the English muffins on a paper-towel lined cooling rack.  They are not FULLY READY at this point and will take the residual heat for the center to be fully cooked, so let them rest for 20 min before eating.

Split it open with serrated knife and toast under broiler before serving.  A good smear of salted butter is all it needs.

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