Ok, so I think I've finally got it. Not that I was ever a huge fan of English muffins, but after so many mediocre breakfasts based on these often hockey-puck-like dough balls, I think I understand why they really should be popular... I mean, if they always were as they are now, why would anyone choose a muffin over a piece of nice whole grain toast?
So I went on a little odyssey and after a few tries, a few revisions, and a few really gooey results, I have achieved a good muffin, worthy of eggs benedict or the best butter and currant jelly you can find. With this recipe I ended up with a good tasting product with a respectable amount of the ubiquitous "nooks and crannies." This is a combination of a few different recipes collected from a few different books and blogs.
yield: 13 3" muffins
2 oz unsalted butter
1/2 Tablespoon sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound bread flour (approximately four cups)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoon baking powder dissolved in 1 Tablespoon of water
Cornmeal & butter or pan spray for the rings
Special equipment: 3" english muffin rings (tuna cans with the top and bottom cut out work too...if you happen to have that many tuna cans laying around)
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sugar and milk and warm over the flame until 110°F and the sugar is dissolved. Add the yeast, stir to dissolve, then allow to sit for five minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt. Pour in the liquid ingredients and add the egg. Using a dough hook, mix until homogenous, but you don't have to worry about too much gluten development. The dough will be very gloppy, like an extremely thick pancake batter. Cover the bowl and place in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about an hour and a half. If you are making these for a special breakfast, you can mix the ingredients and allow them to proof overnight in the refrigerator, letting the dough warm for about 45 minutes at room temperature before using.
Preheat a large skillet or griddle (stainless steel or cast iron is best here) over medium heat. Grease the muffin rings and place as many as you can fit comfortably on the surface and allow those to preheat too. Remember not to crowd them too much as you are going to have to flip these guys over. Sprinkle about 1/2 tablespoon of cornmeal into each ring to prevent the dough from sticking to the pan.
While the pan is heating, mix the baking powder with the water and immediately mix it into the dough. Do not worry about deflating the dough as it will recover over the heat. Scoop a shy 1/3 cup of dough into each ring, then, with wet fingers, pat the dough out to fill the circle (BE CAREFUL- the rings will be hot by this point!).
Allow to cook over medium-low heat for about seven minutes, then, using a towel or hot pad to protect your hands, try to pull the rings off the muffins. If the rings don't come off, don't worry, just leave them there. Carefully turn each muffin over and allow to cook for another seven to ten minutes. Remove to a cooling rack, remove any stubborn rings, and allow to cool completely before splitting with a fork, toasting lightly, and enjoying...