Updated Feb 2017: new photos of the muffins
Perfect sliced, toasted and buttered, English muffins (well, “muffins” to those of us brought up in the UK!) are very simple to make and require very little attention. And as with most home-made breads, they taste so much better than any you can buy – and for a fraction of the cost.
The photos in this post are made using commercial yeast, but I often make a sourdough version: I have given the recipe for both sourdough and non-sourdough muffins.
You can also make a whole host of flavoured muffins, which might be moving away from the joy of the classic, but by no means dull, English breakfast muffin, but they are exciting to eat. Some of my favourites flavours are below the main recipe.
About the recipe
The recipe below is a variation on a handed down recipe, but then again muffin recipes are quite commonplace. I increase the butter content slightly and add an egg yolk, which gives a slightly richer muffin.
I use less yeast than a typical muffin recipe and I recommend the dough has an overnight chilling in the fridge for its first rise, thereby giving more depth of flavour.
It is all about slow, gentle rises!
A good bread needs as slow a rise as possible to really develop the flavour; quickly risen breads are rarely that great flavour-wise. But the good news is you can get on and do other things while the dough rises – and there is no urgency or clock-watching whatsoever while the dough is doing its thing.
Recipe: English breakfast muffins – makes about 10-12
- 380g strong white bread flour
- 20g caster sugar
- 4g easy-blend dried (instant) yeast*
- 8g fine salt
- 30g unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large free-range egg plus one large egg yolk, lightly beaten
- 200-220ml milk
- about a tablespoon of very fine semolina for dusting
* if going for a sourdough version, omit the yeast and instead use 100g of active sourdough starter. Reduce the flour to 330g, the milk to 150-170g and increase the butter to 50g. Being sourdough, the fermentation/rising times will be longer but that is great for flavour.
(1) Mix the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add the whole egg, the egg yolk and the melted butter along with most of the milk, stirring to get a very soft dough. Add more of the milk if you need it.
(2) Knead for 10-15 minutes on a surface that has been lightly floured or dusted with fine semolina until smooth and more elastic: popping the dough in a food mixer with the dough hook attachment makes this effortless!
(3) Put the dough in a bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave either at room temperature for a few hours until doubled in size or, for the very best flavour, leave in the fridge overnight. If making a sourdough version, leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours to start off its rise (bulk fermentation) and then chill: it make take up to 36 hours or so until increased in volume but sourdoughs in particular are never for rushing.
(4) Dust the work surface with semolina and turn the risen dough onto it. You don’t knead this dough to deflate it, which you would normally do for bread following its first rise: just roll out the aerated dough to about 2cm thick and cut out circles of dough using a plain cutter: I go for an 8cm cutter, but you can go smaller or larger.
Alternatively, cut the dough into 12 portions of about 70g each for the larger muffins, and lightly pat into the plain cutter, removing them as soon as they are shaped.
NB: you will get about 7 or 8 muffins out of the dough to begin with before needing to use the trimmings to make more. Lightly bring the trimmings together and re-roll: they might look a bit rougher than the first ones but they will turn out perfectly. If you find you can’t quite get clear enough cuts with the trimmings, instead take lumps of the dough trimmings and lightly pat inside the cutter to shape them.
(5) Place the cut out dough on a tray or a sheet of greaseproof that has been dusted with semolina. Give the dough circles a light dusting of semolina. Leave them, uncovered, for about an hour to puff back up again or a few hours if making sourdough muffins: they will rise up further when they are cooked.
(6) Heat a solid frying pan or a flat griddle pan on a low heat for about 5 minutes. Place the dough circles carefully on the pan, a little apart. For the larger ones, cook for 8 minutes on one side before turning them over and cooking for 8 minutes on the other. They should feel very light when they are done. You can cook them for a further couple of minutes per side if you think they need it. NB: the trick for perfect muffins is to let them cook slowly over the very low heat.
(7) Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack to cool. Split, toast and spread liberally with butter for the simplest joys!
As with the classic English muffins, any of these flavoured muffins is terrific when sliced, toasted and buttered.
Cheese & onion muffins:
Mix 50g finely grated Cheddar cheese with the flour. Then mix in a finely chopped medium onion that has been cooked until soft (or even caramelised) in a little oil or butter. Make, prove and cook the dough as above.
Tomato & basil muffins:
Mix a small handful of finely chopped fresh basil and about 30g finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes with the flour. Make, prove and cook the dough as above.
Chocolate & orange muffins:
Mix 30g cocoa powder, 50g chopped dark or milk chocolate and the finely grated zest of a large orange into the flour. Increase the milk content to about 220-240ml. Make, prove and cook the dough as above.