What do the English call English muffins?

Rise and shine, morning muffin

English muffins are the solution to an eternal dilemma: the desire for fresh, warm pastries for breakfast vs. the unwillingness to get up early for them.

They are ready to eat in twenty minutes (and thus made even faster than the bagel, my previous solution to the problem), can also be prepared by people like me, who generally prefer to leave the baking to the professionals and don't even need an oven because they not baked, but fried in the pan.

Their consistency and taste are somewhere between bread and pancakes: A good, home-baked muffin has a thin, crunchier crust, and a wonderfully fluffy-soft crumb with a characteristic, airy honeycomb structure that is baked for it, indecent amounts of it To absorb heat of melted butter.

Like the scone, another British lightning cake, they are only really good fresh - but then gorgeous. Outside of the Anglo-Saxon region, however, they have never really been able to assert themselves. But their inventors, the English, love them so ardently that one could speak of a kind of obsession.

Old British cookbooks go into countless details on correct preparation (just don't fry too hot!), Consumption (tear open by hand, do not cut!), To precise instructions on how to toast them ("Muffins should not be split and toasted. The correct way to serve them is to open them slightly at their joint all the way round, toast them back and front, tear them open and butter the insides liberally. Serve hot."(Marian MecNeill, The Book of Breakfast, 1932).

Elisabeth David dedicates an impressive 19 pages to the muffin (and his brother, the crumpet, more on this below) in her standard work "English Bread and Yeast Cookererie", and notes that the word was once synonymous with the German G'spusi: "Every unmarried gentleman, who choses to do so, selects a young lady to be his companion in the numerous amusements of the season ... when she acquiesces she is called a 'muffin'".

Until the early 20th century, the muffin was a tea and not a breakfast biscuit. In the afternoon, muffin men with a bell would march through the streets of London and sell their goods from door to door - relatives of the Viennese mug sellers and donut women:

"The muffin man carries his delicacies in a basket, well swathed in flannel, to retain the heat: 'People like them warm, sir', an old man told me, 'to satisfy them they're fresh, and they almost always are fresh (...) I only wish butter was a sight cheaper, and that would make the muffins go. Butter's half the battle. '" (Henry Mayhew, London Labor and the London Poor, 1853)

Let go overnight

As with all real classics, there are countless different recipes and variations for muffins. Since it first appeared in cookbooks at the end of the 18th century, it has changed countless times - there is not even a consensus as to whether it is best enjoyed freshly roasted or whether it should be specially toasted.

Flour, milk and yeast are included in most recipes, egg and butter in many, sugar or honey in some. What they all have in common is that the dough is soft - a spectrum ranges between almost liquid and already rollable - but not liquid (it is a "dough", not a "batter", for many an essential difference to a crumpet) (Footnote).

I used this (American!) Recipe for the most part because it is (almost) a no-knead recipe and thus takes a bit of time, but hardly any effort and certainly no mixer. The long, slow fermentation over night gives the dough a lot of flavor. The dough consistency is quite soft, which makes handling a little more difficult and the result sometimes doesn't look pretty - you save yourself kneading and get a particularly fluffy structure with beautiful, characteristic holes.

After a little experimentation, I prefer to bake my muffins without egg (or egg white), a common muffin ingredient - it makes them more crumbly and, in my opinion, pushes the muffin too far towards the pancake. I like to use honey instead of sugar for this: it gives the muffin a fine aroma that harmonizes wonderfully with fried bacon.

English muffins (enough for eight)

300 g of wheat flour with a lot of protein (about Tippo 00)
8 g of salt
8 g fresh yeast (Yeast)
220 ml of milk (roughly, it always depends a little on the flour)
50 g honey
Polenta, semolina or rice flour to sprinkle
A lot butter For painting
Egg, bacon, processed cheese (optional)

preparation

Mix the flour, salt, yeast, honey and milk in a bowl with a spoon until it forms a tough batter, about three to five minutes.

The dough should no longer be runny, but it should still be too wet to shape. The amount of milk or flour can vary, so in case of doubt use more or less than indicated above.

But don't worry: you can fry good muffins from dough that is too wet or too dry. One of the great things about the recipe is that it is quite forgiving.

Cover with cling film and let ferment for four to five hours at room temperature.

Sprinkle baking paper with plenty of semolina, polenta or rice flour. This helps that nothing sticks later and also ensures a nice change in consistency. If you don't have anything like that at home, you can also roast a handful of rice and grind it in a mortar (like here), it works wonderfully.

Divide the dough into eight roughly equal pieces and place on the sprinkled baking paper. As always with fairly moist dough, it helps to work with wet hands. Leave a little space so that the dough pieces do not get too intertwined. Sprinkle generously on top again, then cover with cling film and put in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, let a heavy cast iron pan get a little hot - it mustn't be too hot, otherwise the muffin will burn before it's done. Ideally, it can hold out on one side for seven minutes before it's the perfect color. I am using the lowest setting on the gas stove.

Place muffins in the pan and fry for about seven minutes. When they are tender brown, turn them over and cook for another five to seven minutes.

Lift out of the pan and ideally store upright in a bowl (do not lie down) so that both sides stay crispy.

If you are a traditional Briton, carefully divide the muffin horizontally with your fingers, do not butter both sides too tenderly, put them back on top of each other, let the butter melt briefly in the residual heat and enjoy it.

Everyone else can try it with bacon, egg and even processed cheese. (Tobias Müller, January 24th, 2021)

Footnote: The closest relative of the crumpet is perhaps the Ethiopian injera, a fermented pancake with a very similar honeycomb structure. However, it is made from millet and baked without additives such as sugar, milk, butter or egg.