HYDE PARK, N.Y. - What makes a homemade English muffin better than store-bought?
Quality. It only takes one bite to realize that packaged varieties are very different from those made from scratch. Apart from being preservative-free, homemade English muffins come hot off the griddle "baked" to perfection, light and crispy on the outside, soft and chewy in the middle.
Once you taste the difference, you won't settle for anything less.
English muffins are flat, yeast-raised breads prepared on the stovetop. There is no comparison to the cake-like American muffins that are leavened with baking soda or baking powder, loaded with sugar and garnishes, and baked in the oven.
Interestingly, if you look for an "English muffin" in Britain, you won't find one by that name. The actual term hails from the muffins made by an English immigrant, Samuel Bath Thomas, who founded what became the family business, the S.B. Thomas Co. of New York.
Using his mother's recipe, Samuel prepared the first American English muffin at his bakery in 1880. Today, assorted manufacturers offer a variety of flavors, from sourdough to whole wheat to cinnamon raisin.
While English muffins are at their best toasted and buttered liberally, they also provide an excellent base for sandwiches and the classic Eggs Benedict. Savory spreads like mayonnaise and herbed cream cheese nestle into the muffins' nooks and crannies just as well as butter and jam do.
Use a muffin to build a hot, open-faced sandwich or a triple-decker piled high with meat, cheese and vegetables. English muffins are simple to prepare, and their delicate flavor will add character to any sandwich or brunch menu.
"There is one rule to remember when preparing English muffins," says Marc Haymon, lecturing instructor in baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America. "In order to take full advantage of their light and spongy texture, it is essential to tear them apart with your fingers or the tines of a fork."
This recipe is from The Culinary Institute of America's "Breakfasts and Brunches" cookbook (Lebhar-Friedman, 2005, $35).
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup water, warmed to 110 F
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup cornmeal, or as needed
Oil or solid vegetable shortening, as needed
Place the yeast and warm water in the bowl of a mixer and stir to completely dissolve. Let the yeast proof until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, butter, sugar and salt to the yeast mixture. Mix the ingredients on low speed using the dough hook until well blended, about 2 minutes.
Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until the dough is smooth, another 5 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Fold the dough gently over on itself in three or four places and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape into rounds and place on sheet pans that have been heavily dusted with cornmeal. Turn each muffin over to coat both sides with cornmeal. Cover and let rise until they have risen slightly, about 30 minutes.
Preheat a griddle over medium heat and brush lightly with oil or shortening. Cook the English muffins until lightly brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn the muffins over and cook until golden brown, another 5 minutes.
Split the muffins by pulling them apart with a table fork. Toast them just before serving.
Makes 12 muffins.
Nutrition information per muffin: 110 cal., 3 g pro., 18 g carbo., 2.5 g fat, 200 mg sodium, 5 mg chol., less than 1 g fiber.
This recipe, along with more than 175 others, is explained and illustrated in The Culinary Institute of America's "Breakfasts and Brunches" cookbook (Lebhar-Friedman, 2005, $35), available at bookstores nationwide or at"