The word English is in quote marks as we here in the UK don’t call this style of muffins English muffins, just muffins. It is somewhat confusing, however, because US muffins – sweet and spilling over their paper cups – are much more prevalent here than the former. But you can’t spread Marmite over American-style muffins, which is the whole point of muffins in my opinion. American muffins = sugary afternoon indulgence; English muffins = tasty vehicle for Marmite and butter. You can happily have one or two of these savoury ones for a light supper with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, or perhaps top with ripe sliced avocadoes and chopped tomatoes, plus obligatory sriracha sauce. Then you can impatiently wait until the morning to split, toast and butter the leftovers, smearing with Marmite or jam as desired. And I desire. Muchly.
This recipe is a reworking of one found in Dan Lepard’s fantastic baking book, Short and Sweet: The Best of Homebaking (UK link). Loads of his recipes have caught my eye but I made this one on the actual day I bought the book. From a real live shop! I have simplified Dan’s method, ditched his vinegar and water, and added baking powder and wholemeal flour for additional oomph. Oh, and the cheese and pepper. His original recipe is not difficult if you want to give it a go. But he wants you to leave the muffins overnight – or longer! – before you actually cook them. I’ve done the waiting thing as well as this quicker way without any real difference. You may think differently though. There are still a few rises to wait out, so this is probably a weekend bake. You could also start this the night before and do the first rise in the refrigerator, as Dan suggests. They are worth the wait, regardless of approach.
There are a few other, somewhat similar, recipes I fancy trying, including this one from Alton Brown. It sounds more like the thin, holey English muffins of my childhood. But the looser, almost pancake-like batter made to achieve this type of muffin is perhaps not so amenable to titivation. And we know how I like to titivate! Otherwise known as mess with/screw up.
Dan’s recipe is a stiffer, cuttable dough – suitable for add-ins like cheese, and more like the kind we get in our UK grocery stores, but obviously better (or at least my family thought so). I like the reassurance of cutting the dough rather than the scarier thought of wrangling a loose and wayward batter into baking rings. But I will tackle that at some point. For now the more methodical, contemplative approach suits me. Either way, pass the Marmite!
Belatedly I am popping this over to April’s One Ingredient Challenge (Cheese) hosted by Nazima of Franglais Kitchen and Laura of How To Cook Good Food. Please go over and see the other cheesey offerings, and maybe even send over one of your own. They will have a roundup with images later in the month.
Cheddar and Black Pepper Muffins
Recipe adapted from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet: The Best of Homebaking (US link)
This Week in 2011: Tuna and Crème Fraiche Pizza
This Week in 2012: Forager’s Fritters
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Tom Odell, Supposed To Be. A word: stunning
These light but sturdy savoury muffins beg to be buttered and eaten right away. But any leftovers are delicious the next day, split and toasted as per bought muffins. They may look a faff to make, but they are not in the least bit difficult to prepare. You just need a bit of time and patience. You could even make a double batch to bake and freeze for eating in the future.
1 tsp sugar
100g low fat Greek yogurt OR buttermilk
1 tsp fine salt
1 medium egg, beaten
300g white bread flour (strong flour)
75g wholemeal bread flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ heaped tsp freshly milled black pepper
1 packet (7g) fast action yeast (the kind that doesn’t need reconstituting)
75g shredded mature (sharp) Cheddar cheese or other strong hard cheese
Polenta/cornmeal for dusting
Put the butter, sugar and milk in a large pan and heat gently just until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add in the yogurt, salt and egg. Mix until smooth. Add in the flours, baking powder, and yeast to the buttery mix and stir well. Decant the dough onto a floured surface and stretch to a rough rectangle. Sprinkle over the cheese and pepper; fold in half. Press all over with your hands and fold again from the opposite direction, pressing well. Do this another time or until you feel the cheese is distributed evenly. Surround the dough with your hands flat out and draw your hands together underneath the dough. This will help make it a rounded shape. Pop the dough into the cleaned pan, or into a large bowl.
Cover the bowl and leave in a warm, draught-free place for one hour. It probably won’t rise very much, so don’t worry. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead it for one minute, then shape it into a rectangle about the size of a sheet of notebook paper (A4). Draw up the bottom third to the middle, then bring down the top third over the whole. It will be a third of its original size now. Cover it with a tea towel and leave for another hour to gently rise.
After the second rise sprinkle polenta or cornmeal onto a tea towel covered baking tray, and very gently roll the dough out to about 1 ½ cm, keeping a rectangular shape if you can. Cut the dough into even squares, flip each onto the polenta so that both sides are dusted, then cover again for about 2 hours. The soon-to-be muffins will rise by about half.
When the dough has risen for the final time, heat the oven to 180C/350F. (Although you will start the muffins off in a hot pan, they will be completed in the oven.) Now get a heavy skillet – preferably cast iron – and heat over a medium flame. Carefully place up to four muffins in the hot pan and cover. This allows the moisture in the muffins to create steam, which will help the muffins puff up. Check the bottoms after 2-3 minutes and flip when a good dark gold, with the polenta browned. Do the same on the other side.
Put the bottom-warmed muffins on a baking tray and place in the oven for about 10 minutes – maybe a minute or so more, if needed. Carry on with the remaining muffins in the same way. Eat fresh from the oven, with next days’ leftovers split and toasted under the grill/broiler until browned.
Makes 8 small, fat muffins.