Sourdough English Muffins

Over the past year, my daughter Sarah and I have developed several wild yeast sourdough starters, from which we’ve created a variety of baked goods including waffles, breads, cinnamon rolls and cakes.

Yesterday, in the spirit of kitchen science, we experimented making English Muffins. We mixed our sourdough starter with goat milk, flour and sugar, then let it rest, covered, overnight. The next morning, we stirred in the remaining ingredients, kneaded for a couple minutes, let it rest, rolled and cut the muffins out and baked. It couldn’t have been easier.

When Sarah took her first bite of fresh-out-of-the-oven English Muffins she proclaimed, with surprise, “these are the best I’ve ever had, and Mommy, we have to make these from now on because the store ones taste like cardboard compared to these. These are heaven.”

Admittedly, I’ve spent most of her life indoctrinating her with “good food”, “bad food” concepts, but her discernment for great food is completely, naturally hard-wired into her. Tastebuds don’t lie.

They were light on the inside, with the requisite “craters”, that when split with a fork and lightly toasted, provided a perfect surface for butter and jam. They were chewy, but not dry. There was just enough, but not too much, sourdough “tang”.

Sarah’s little brother, Daniel, was our next tester, barely able to keep his hands from grabbing it out of my hands as I slathered it with butter and organic strawberry jam. Normally, he’ll lick off every speck of jam, before he’ll eat the bread. This time he dove right in. One wide-eyed bite into the muffin he asked, “Mommy, whatever is this heavenly concoction you have presented so magnificently to me?” Have I mentioned, he’s highly gifted in language, at the young age of 5?

So far, we were batting 3 out of 3. Sarah decided we needed the confirmation of a really tough food critique – Buddy, our blue and gold Macaw.

She settled him on the back of a kitchen chair, telling him, “Buddy, we have food for you”. It’s always a good idea to let Macaws know what’s going to change in their environment. They’re masters of tiny details. Hands that suddenly appear, thrusting unknowns at them, isn’t a way to make friends with them, no matter how long you’ve shared the same “habitat”. He responded with interest, cocking his head at Sarah. With a long one-eyed stare, he questioned her, “Food?”, just to make sure he’d heard her correctly. She answered “yes”, presenting him with his very own jam-smeared piece of English Muffin.

We stood, side-by-side, arms folded, watching intently for any signs of His Birdship’s approval or disapproval. Parrots are very straightforward, telling you like it is. Disapproval is fairly quick – usually demonstrated by food flung to the floor followed by an emphatic, “No!”.

He licked the jam, then the English Muffin. No flinging. This was a good sign. He muttered, “hmmmm…”, ripping off a large muffin chunk. A few seconds later, he took pause, throwing big, smacking air-kisses in our direction. This is preferred to having food flung our way.

Within 20-seconds of lipless-smacking, his pupils “pinned” (rapidly opening and closing), a sure-fire sign of excitement and enthusiasm! When he threw his big beautiful head up into the air screaming, “Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!”, we knew we had success!

One can certainly have a happy life without English Muffins. But there’s nothing quite like a perfectly toasted English Muffin piled high with ham hash, a soft-cooked egg, topped with streams of thick, creamy cheese sauce, and a few splashes of tobasco to get your morning started in the right direction. The ham is baking, as I type….. -Sharon

Sharon’s Sourdough English Muffins
(Modified recipe from the King Arthur 200th Anniversary Cookbook)

1 cup sourdough starter
1 ½ cups milk
5 1/2 to 6 cups flour
1 T sugar
1 T sea salt
1 tsp baking soda

To make sponge: In a ceramic or glass bowl, mix starter, milk and 5 cups of flour. Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit UNREFRIGERATED for 7-24 hours.

To make dough: Mix sugar, salt, baking soda and ½ cup flour, kneading into the sponge – it will be too thick to stir – no more than 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap, letting it rest for an hour. (There’s still ½-cup remaining flour. Some of it can be added in if this dough feels too sticky. You want a dough that resembles a good biscuit dough – not too sticky, not too dry.

Kneading & Shaping: Lightly flour your kneading board and hands – dough will be “soft”. Knead for only 2-3 minutes, just until the dough is smooth, no longer lumpy. Roll it out between ¼ and ½-inch thickness.

Cut out 3 to 4-inch diameter circles. Place on a cornmeal sprinkled cookie sheet, letting rest for at least 15-minutes, but 30 is better. Note: I didn’t use cornmeal as I don’t care for the flavor.

There are two cooking methods – either works well.

1. Stove top: Heat a lightly greased skillet, using a very low flame. I used ghee. Place cornmeal side down in the warmed skillet, cooking slowly for 10-minutes. Flip, cooking other side for another 10-minutes. Check for a light-brown color. Poke the sides to see if they’re cooked – not gooey.

2. Oven: Heat oven to 425-degrees. Place dough rounds on cornmeal dusted cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. Check bottom side for light brown coloration. Flip rounds over, cooking 6-8 minutes on the other side.

I tested both methods and preferred the oven method. The outside was more crispy, the inside more “fluffy” and light in texture, given the greater amount of heat that expanded the dough. Having said that, the skillet method resulted in English Muffins that were still superior to any store-bought. These would be great made in a skillet over campfire coals!