English muffins are griddle-baked yeast buns, cooked until golden brown on both the top and bottom, while the sides remain delicately pale and ideal for tearing open. Tearing open the muffin rather than using a knife was stressed by Hannah Glasse in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, published in 1747. In what is one of the earliest recipes for English muffins, she writes that when you halve a muffin with a knife instead of tearing it, it becomes as heavy as lead, and this is true. A muffin is indeed fluffier when torn open, but not as easy to serve with a poached or fried egg. It therefore depends on what I’m serving with them as to whether or not I will tear or cut through the pale, barely cooked belly of this bun.
Bake these muffins in a larger quantity and freeze them for easy breakfasts to come. It’s so rewarding to take them out of the freezer, let them thaw for 10 minutes and then just put them in the pan to warm. Or cut them – sorry Hannah – for fewer crumbs, and pop the halves into the toaster. They’re delicious toasted on the outside and soft as a cushion on the inside, covered with butter or jam.
English muffins are an integral part of the iconic Eggs Benedict, which consists of a base of toasted muffin halves, a poached egg, bacon or ham and Hollandaise sauce. But plain fried or scrambled eggs are perfect too – a toasted muffin makes any breakfast into a feast. It’s a joy on the plate and on the nose as it fills the house with that seductive smell of freshly toasted goods.
Add the yeast to the lukewarm milk and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready for use. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and put the lard or butter on top. Pour in half of the yeast mixture and start kneading. When the milk and lard or butter are completely absorbed, add the rest of the yeast mixture, along with the eggs. Knead for 5 minutes, then let the dough stand for a few minutes (at this point it will be very wet). Add the salt and knead for 10 minutes, scraping the dough off the dough hook and side of the bowl if needed, until the dough has come together in a smooth and elastic dough that is not too dry but also not terribly wet.
Cover the dough and set aside for 1 hour until it has doubled in quantity. Meanwhile, line two baking trays with baking paper and sprinkle with some semolina or polenta.
Gently roll out the dough on a floured work surface until it is
Cover the tray of muffins with a light cotton cloth and wrap it in a large plastic bag (I keep one especially for this purpose). Rest the dough for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Towards the end of the resting time,
Heat a griddle or cast-iron pan over low heat so that it does not become too hot. You can test the heat of the pan with an excess piece of dough.
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