Friday, May 21, 2010

graduating... to yeast bread

I've become a fairly proficient baker after three years of law school.

Between Property and the estate cakes, Torts and the various tortes, and all the other cookies and pastry I've tackled in an effort to avoid my reading, I've amassed a fairly sizable repertoire. A batch of cookies is the work of minutes. Scones are a no-brainer. And I can probably make shortbread in my sleep.

Yeast breads, however, are a whole different game. I have been reluctant to futz with yeast, mostly because the usual reason for futzing with yeast is a desire to bake bread, and I feel no need to bake bread because I live within walking distance of Clear Flour. (If the French buy their baguettes, I see no reason not to do the same.)

I wanted to do something to mark the end of law school, however, and so when we had that wet, blustery day earlier this week, I went through my recipe bookmarks and dug out a recipe for English muffins.

I'm no stranger to cooking English muffins. ONCE Brunch featured spectacular egg, cheese and bacon breakfast sandwiches on homemade English muffins, and I minded the griddle when we were turning out the last few batches. Cooking the muffins is the easy part, however. From what I could tell, it was a difficult dough - very wet and very sticky. Almost slimy, to be honest.

The British recipe I'd bookmarked didn't look too bad, though. I figured that even if they ended up a complete and total failure, all I'd lose would be some flour and yeast and a little vegetable oil. And so I roughed the conversions from metric to imperial, and got out a mixing bowl.

Three hours later, I had these on my kitchen counter:

Suffice to say, my fears were completely unfounded. English muffin dough is on the wet side, but the oil keeps it from being unmanageably sticky. Mixing it up wasn't much more involved than making fresh pasta, and griddling muffins is far, far quicker than stuffing ravioli.

And then I had this for afternoon tea:

I think I'm a yeast bread convert. I even have my eye on a sticky finger bun recipe to tackle next.

English Muffins 

Adapted from this recipe.

(Makes one dozen. Extras can be frozen.)

Get out a big bowl. Dump in three and a half cups of all-purpose or bread flour, two teaspoons of salt, and one and a half teaspoons active dried yeast. Pour in one-and-a-half cups of warm water and a tablespoon of mild vegetable oil (canola or sunflower.)

Stick a hand into the bowl and start mixing. You'll have a sticky mess at first, which will gradually coalesce into a slightly less sticky mess, and eventually you'll have a sticky ball of dough.

Turn out your sticky ball of dough on a clean countertop. Do not add extra flour. Knead for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until the dough still sticks somewhat to the countertop, but is fairly smooth and elastic.

Shape the dough into a round and put it back in the mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until it doubles in size (around an hour or so.)

Remove the plastic wrap, and deflate the dough by gently pressing on it. Divide the dough into a dozen pieces; shape each piece into a round.

Place the rounds on baking trays and leave in a warm place to rise. (You can cover them with damp tea-towels, but to be honest, I never seem to have enough clean tea-towels around, and it doesn't seem to matter too much.)

Once the rounds have risen, set a cast iron frying pan or griddle on the stove. Turn the heat to medium low, and add a tiny bit of vegetable oil, just enough to create a sheen in the pan.

Cook the muffins in batches. They will expand slightly, so don't overcrowd the pan.

The muffins need about five to six minutes on each side to turn golden brown. (You may need to adjust the temperature if they're cooking too quickly or slowly.) When cooked, they'll sound hollow if you tap them.

Transfer the cooked muffins to a cooling rack. Serve immediately, or allow to cool and keep in an airtight container.

To serve the muffins, split them in half by piercing them around their circumference with a fork, and then gently pulling apart the two halves. (Don't use a knife. It ruins the texture.) Toast if you like. Serve with plenty of butter and jam.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

Um, Virg would like to know if you'll be trying out this sticky bun recipe before Virg abandons New England.

adele said...

Virg - Presumably, yes. And I haven't forgotten your request for St Louis gooey butter cake.

Virgin In The Volcano said...

Ooh, butter cake!

Has your barbri class started yet? I'm waiting on a stress-surge to replenish my baked goods ;)

adele said...

Virg - Not yet, but I'm starting to get bored.

Leslie said...

Adele--My mom used to make our family white bread recipe (which makes like 8 loaves), and take a bunch of the dough and form it into English Muffin sized patties and griddle them--we called the Fat Babies. They don't split like English Muffins but hot off the griddle, with fresh jam, well, my favorite food on earth, maybe.

Bethany said...

This looks delicious. I'll have to try making it soon. Congratulations on the graduation!

adele said...

Leslie - That sounds wonderful. There's just something about the little scraps or leftovers from a main dish. (I like stray bits of pastry from making tart crust, sprinkled with sugar.)

Bethany - Thank you! They're fun to make.

Bobbie Sue said...

Would you like my recipe for Refrigerator Overnight Sticky Buns? And, I've also got a very good regular Sticky Bun recipe. glad you are trying yeast bread. Highly satisfactory, elemental even. Bobbie Sue

adele said...

Bobbie Sue - I'd be delighted to have either - or both - of your sticky bun recipes!

Lindsey @ pickyeatings said...

I know where you are coming from in terms of yeast breads, they can be incredibly daunting and unreliable. That being said, when you do find a good recipe, it's yours for life, and I have been dying to make my own English Muffins, but just have been too lazy to do so.

Cakelaw said...

Yummo! I have never tried making muffins. Yeast work is a doddle, provided it isn't too cold.

~~louise~~ said...

Now you've done it. I must learn how to work with yeast!

The aroma from those English Muffins is still whiffing me away! They look absolutely awesome, Adele. Kudos to you!!!

Now what's this leaving business? Must catch-up!!!

Have a GREAT weekend!!!

adele said...

Cakelaw - I was surprised, really. I thought it would be more finicky.

Louise - The muffins really were rather straightforward. Like scones, but with kneading. :)