Strictly speaking, these are made with the discarded part of your sourdough starter, which some careless people throw away. Because the starter has been lingering, unloved, in the fridge for a week or so, it has lost a bit of its ‘oomph’, so might struggle to provide a satisfactory rise for a loaf of bread (not that it’s ever stopped me in the past when I’ve forgotten to feed my starter). However, it is also brilliant for giving a tangy je ne sais quoi to English muffins, crumpets, flatbreads, and all manner of cakes and American-style muffins (more of which in the weeks to come).
If you don’t have sourdough starter, you can easily make these muffins with rapid-action dried yeast – directions are given in the recipe below. The flavour and texture will be slightly different, but they will still be delicious, and far superior to the muffins you buy in the supermarket.
When the muffins are freshly baked and soft, they can just be stuffed with whatever sandwich goodies rock your own particular muffin boat. Beyond that, they are crying out to be split and toasted, and slathered with butter and jam/marmite/peanut butter/cream cheese/any combo of the above, for a quick breakfast. They also freeze beautifully.
The dough is incredibly forgiving – I let mine have its first rise and was planning to shape the muffins and leave them to prove overnight in the fridge, but I forgot about them until I was going to bed, so I just left the bulk dough in the fridge overnight and hoped for the best. The next morning, it was incredibly airy and bouncy, so I just shaped the muffins, left them at room temperature for an hour to reinflate, then baked them once they’d puffed up to roughly twice their size. (When I say ‘baked’, they are actually cooked over a hot griddle or dry frying pan). It occurs to me that once you have shaped the muffins, you could actually leave them in the fridge for a couple of days and bake them a few at a time, as you want them – particularly as it only takes a few minutes and doesn’t even involve switching on the oven.
Sourdough English muffins
375g plain or strong white flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
100g sourdough starter* (the part you are about to discard when you refresh your starter is fine)
250ml milk (any fat content is fine – I used semi-skimmed)
A little semolina or polenta/cornmeal
*If you do not have sourdough starter, use a 7g sachet of rapid-action dried yeast, and add an additional 50g flour and 50ml water to the recipe.
You will need a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper, a large frying pan (or flat griddle if you happen to have one) and a 8cm pastry cutter
Put all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, then pour in the milk and add the sourdough starter.
Using a blunt table knife, stir until all of the ingredients have combined and the dough has come together.
Tip the dough onto a floured worktop, scraping out any bits of dough that are left in the bowl. Knead for a few minutes until smooth, adding more flour if the dough is sticky.
Wash and dry the bowl and pour a few drops of oil into the bottom (no more than half a teaspoon). Return the dough to the bowl and turn it over in the oil, so that the whole ball of dough is very lightly coated – this will stop it cementing itself to the bowl.
Now you have three choices:
Choice 1: prove, shape and bake
Cover the bowl and leave at room temperature until the dough has approximately doubled in size.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is about 1.5cm thick and cut out rounds with an 8cm pastry cutter. Scatter some semolina or polenta onto the lined baking tray and transfer the rounds of dough to the tray. Scrunch together and re-roll the remaining dough and cut more rounds until all the dough has been used – you should end up with 11 or 12 (you may have to just roll the final one into a ball and flatten it with your hand into a round shape). Scatter a little more polenta or semolia over the tops of the muffins. Cover the tray with a tea towel and leave to rise for one to two hours at room temperature. The muffins should have noticeably risen (don’t worry if they start to slightly topple over).
Heat a frying pan over a low to medium heat and cook the muffins gently, three to four at a time, depending on the size of your pan, for five minutes on each side. If you start to smell them burning, turn the heat down. The muffins should be a deep brown and have puffed up to approximately twice their original size.
Choice 2: Prove dough overnight, shape and bake in the morning
Cover the bowl and leave at room temperature for about 40 minutes, then transfer to the fridge overnight. The following morning, remove the dough from the fridge and proceed as above.
Choice 3: shape, prove the muffins overnight, bake in the morning
Cover the bowl and leave the dough to rise at room temperature until it has roughly doubled in size, then roll out the muffins and transfer to the lined tray, as detailed above. Cover the tray with cling film that has been lightly brushed with oil, leave at room temperature for half an hour, then transfer the tray to the fridge and leave overnight. The muffins should be ready to ‘bake’ the following morning. If you think they need to rise a little more, just leave them at room temperature for an hour or so before baking, then proceed as above.