In 2001 I found directions for creating a sourdough starter from potato water and local, wild yeast. We were cruising in Alaska at the time, so I like to think my starter shared a history with the early sourdough prospectors. Sadly, after a few years, I had neglected it for too long and it developed a noxious smell as well as some interesting molds in pastel shades of green and pink. King Arthur Flour Co. supplied a replacement starter, which has been working happily for years in breads, rolls, muffins, pancakes and waffles. Well, happily until 2010.
My sourdough pot now sits, ignored, hidden way back on the lower shelf of the refrigerator, a victim of my faltering 2010 resolution to eat less and eat healthy. I feed the starter weekly and apologize for my neglect, but I just know it feels rejected.
This weekend I succumbed to temptation, but only a little. Produce from a recent grocery trip prompted wicked thoughts of eggs Benedict with asparagus, sort of a celebratory nod to an entire week of Seattle sunshine. Omigod, hollandaise sauce is such a decadent treat, it’s like tasting the flavors of Spring while basking in sunlight. Why does it have to be such an unhealthy fat calorie hit? I moved on. The fresh asparagus went into a healthy pasta primavera dish for dinner, but the English muffin idea lingered on. Don't you just love the idea of a yeast bread that cooks in a skillet instead of baking in the oven? It's always a winner onboard, so why not at home?
Of course my favorite EM recipe comes from a book, a book that lives on the boat, and a recipe not yet transferred to my computer. Okay, online searching comes to the rescue. I experimented using the recipe from Ruth Allman’s Alaska Sourdough and the method from the blog ChocolateandZucchini. What could be a better mix than Alaskan ingredients and French directions? (answer: adding some salt to the dough, but that will be corrected in my next batch)
The blog-recommended technique of oven baking following skillet browning is a winner; English muffins CAN then be enjoyed immediately, without toasting. Not a big thing, because we prefer toasted muffins, though this method helps to reduce the threat of overtoasting. I don't know about you, but in our kitchen or galley, overtoasted is the same as burnt, and one of us has definite opinions about that! Oh, yeah.
I fed the starter late Saturday morning, mixed and kneaded the dough that afternoon, let it rise and then held it in the fridge overnight. Early on Sunday morning -even before making the coffee- I let the dough came back to room temperature, rolled and shaped the muffins and let them get light and puffy. Waiting and watching dough rise is not a spectator event, so it was a good time to sip coffee and read the paper.
The cooking/baking went quickly and filled the kitchen with the heavenly, comforting aroma of fresh bread. Oh yum, we could hardly wait for them to cool to try our fork-splitting techniques and enjoy.
Spring Sourdough English Muffins
Batch one yielded 12 muffins of assorted sizes
2 cups Sourdough Starter (room temperature, fed and rested 6 to 8 hours before)
Flour – enough to make stiff batter (quantity depends upon how stiff the starter is when you begin - I used about 1 ¾ cups of AP flour)
coarse cornmeal, for sprinkling
1. Dissolve the dry yeast in a bit of water until it begins to bloom. Place starter in a glass or ceramic bowl and stir in the bloomed yeast, sugar, salt and cooking oil. Add flour, a little at a time, until the dough comes together into a ball. Knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes, or with the dough hook of a stand mixer for 8 minutes at a slow setting.
2. Place the kneaded dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl, cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap or a clean tea towel until it doubles in bulk. Time will vary according to kitchen temperature (this batch took about 2 hours). Put the bowl in the fridge overnight to bump up the flavor, it seems to increase the sour tang.
3. Bring the dough back to room temperature (about an hour) and turn it out gently on a silicon baking mat generously sprinkled with cornmeal. Roll out lightly to about ¾ inch thick - not too thin or they won’t get puffy. Cut the dough into 3 to 4 inch rounds (a biscuit cutter or an empty tuna can works just fine); move them apart and sprinkle the tops with more cornmeal. Cover them loosely again and let them rest at room temperature until puffy, but not too puffy.
4. Lightly grease an electric skillet or griddle to 350F. (Consider preheating the oven to 350F also, and having a baking sheet at the ready. I applaud the idea of cooking the muffins top and bottom in the skillet, and then transferring them onto a baking sheet to go into the oven, ensuring they’re cooked right through to the center.)
Use a thin spatula to carefully move each muffin from silicone pad to the skillet without deflating them - watch out, they really want to stick to your fingers if you try to help them off the spatula! Keep the muffins well-spaced in the pan; it makes for easier turning and prevents them from sticking together. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes on the first side, just until the bottom is lightly browned. The muffins will puff a bit more so turn them gently to avoid deflating, and cook 5 to 7 minutes on the other side until lightly browned. Avoid overbrowning since they will be toasted in a toaster before eating.
5. Transfer the cooked muffins to a nonstick baking sheet; place in the preheated oven and bake at 350F for about 6 minutes. Cool on a rack.
6. When you are ready to enjoy a muffin, insert the tines of a fork all around the rim edge and then gently pull the two halves apart. This gives you a bumpy surface that will toast crisply and offer ample nooks for butter to soak in. The muffins freeze well, but they don’t last very long around here so it’s not an issue.