23 January 2021

English Muffins (recipe)

This isn't a cooking blog, but it is a "whatever I want to write" blog; so when people asked me for my English Muffin recipe, I thought that this would be the easiest way to share it.

When the quarantimes hit (the season of Covidtide?) last March, people took on various baking and cooking projects. While I didn't hop on the sourdough bandwagon (even though sourdough has been on my list of things I want to learn), I did take on a couple of projects that I had been wanting to try and now had the time. Croissants. English Muffins.  (Bagels are next on my list.)

A note about this recipe. My favourite English Muffins are sourdough, but they don't seem to be available in the grocery stores here in eastern Canada. As I mentioned above, I don't have a sourdough starter, but this recipe uses a pre-ferment to try and mimic the flavour and texture that I like. If you are used to English Muffins with a mild flavour and crumbly tender texture, this recipe may not be for you.

They take a bit of time (not active time, but waiting time) - if you scroll down to the bottom, I've included my usual timeline for making these.

Yield:  6


Pre-Ferment:     3/8 cup all-purpose flour
                        1/8 tsp active dry yeast
                        1/4 cup warm water

Muffins:             1/2 cup warm water
                        1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
                        1 teaspoon salt
                        1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


1.  Mix the pre-ferment ingredients and beat until smooth. Cover the bowl and let it sit on the counter for ~12 hours. It will be bubbly and you will smell the fermentation at this time.

2.  Begin to make the Muffins.  In a larger bowl, add the water, sprinkle the yeast over it, and let it soften for 5 minutes. Add the salt and the pre-ferment and stir - you won't be able to get it into a smooth mixture, so don't waste your time trying - it will all come together when you add the flour.

3.  Gradually stir in the flour - this is a fairly soft and wet dough. Knead for 5 minutes until it is smooth. You can add up to 2 tbsp of extra flour as you knead, but resist the urge to add more, as you want a very wet dough at the end. I find that the "slap it on the counter" method of kneading works better for wet doughs than the "flatten and fold" method of kneading. With just a couple of minutes of slapping it on the counter, you can feel the gluten bonds forming and the dough becoming smoother and less sticky without adding any extra flour. (If you aren't sure what I mean, here is a video of this technique - with this recipe, you will have less dough than in the video.)


4. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and put in the refrigerator to let it rise slowly for a minimum of 12 hours (I usually leave it for 24 hours). It will have doubled in size. (That is a giant air bubble bulging out of mine!)


5.  Divide the dough in 6 (popping any large air bubbles as necessary) - I usually use a kitchen scale to make sure that the pieces are equal.

6.  Form the dough into tight balls, flatten them, and cover both sides in cornmeal. Place them on a cookie sheet cover with a tea towel, and let them proof on the counter for 2 hours.


7.  Heat a cast iron frying pan over medium-low heat. Place 3 muffins in the pan and cover. Cook for 7 minutes, then flip. They should be lightly browned and a bit puffy - adjust your heat as necessary. Cook for another 7 minutes on the other side.


8.  Cool on a rack, and repeat with the other 3 muffins.


9.  In order to get the craggy look, make sure that you split them with a fork rather than slicing them with a knife. They toast well, and freeze well too. This last picture is from my lunch today - an English Muffin that I made last weekend, taken from the freezer and toasted.


Because these take some time, you need to plan ahead. Here is the schedule I usually follow:
Day 1 (evening) - mix the pre-ferment)
Day 2 (morning) - mix the muffin dough
Day 3 (morning) - shape the muffins
Day 3 (noon) - cook the muffins

Happy baking!

1 January 2021

2020 in Books

I don't normally set myself reading goals, but a year ago I set myself two goals (and even created a spreadsheet to track my reading progress).

1)  Read 52 books (ie a book a week)

2)  Read more diversely.

In terms of the first goal - reading a book a week - well, 2020 was a complicated reading year for me.  I started out well, finishing 6 books in January and 4 books in February.  But then the pandemic hit and my ability to read and to focus on what I was reading ground to a halt.  Even my usual "guaranteed" reading time while exercising didn't happen as I found that I couldn't focus on anything more than YouTube videos while on the Elliptical.

I finished 2 books in March (both in the first half of March), one book in April, 2 in May, 1 in June, and 2 in July.  With my vacation in August, my reading started to pick up again, and I finished the year with a grand total of 33 books read (and for the sake of total transparency, one of those books was a DNF, but I exerted more time and energy on that book than I did on many that I did finish).  I also didn't count picture books in that total even though I read a number of those both for work and when visiting my sisters and their kids.  Even though I didn't reach my goal, I'm quite happy with the number, given the events of the year.

With regards to the second goal - I set this goal last December after some of the racism in the publishing industry was made public.  I decided that I wanted to intentionally read diverse authors and diverse experiences.  When I tally up my 2020 book list, 9/33 (27%) were written by Non-White authors, and 14/33 (42%) featured Non-White main characters.  I feel that these numbers are OK but not great.  I don't have my previous stats to know if this represents "more," but what I can do is to try and do better this year.

Some other fun stats:

7/33 (21%) were Non-Fiction; 26/32 (79%) were Fiction of one genre or another.

10/33 (30%) were by Canadian authors.  This number is lower than in other years.

3/33 (9%) were re-reads; 30/33 (91%) were first-time reads.

5/33 (15%) were by male authors; 28/33 (85%) were by female authors.

19/33 (58%) were paper books; 10/33 (30%) were e-books; 4/33 (12%) were audiobooks

The oldest book I read was first published in 1922; the newest books were published in 2020.


My favourite reads of the year (listed in the order I finished them):

  • Educated (Tara Westover) - a really engaging memoir - an interesting and unique story, well written.
  • The Flatshare (Beth O'Leary) - escapist fiction read at the peak of the spring lockdown
  • Glass Houses (Louise Penny) - I've been reading this series over the past few years and enjoying most of them, but this one left me feeling as shattered as the glass in the cafe window
  • Orange is the New Black (Piper Kerman) - I listened to this as an audiobook on my Ontario road trip, and I looked forward to getting into my car so I could keep listening
  • Brother (David Chariandy) - we read this as a church book study and I was blown away by the writing, the vividness of the setting, and the engaging story. (I read it straight through in an afternoon as I couldn't put it down.)


My most memorable read of the year, but not in a good way:

  • Second Sleep (Robert Harris) - I need to preface this by saying that I don't do scary.  I was really enjoying this book - the world building, and trying to figure it out - but then the ending of it blindsided me with the terror of it.  Even though I finished it in early January, this book haunted me for a good 6 months or more.  Even now when I think of it, it fills me with a sense of dread.'


The one DNF:

  •  The Lost Queen (Signe Pike) - I loved the premise of it, but after slogging through a couple hundred pages, I realized that I didn't really like any of the characters, I didn't care about what happened to them, and the anachronisms were really annoying me.


For 2021:

  • I want to aim for 52 books again this year
  • I want to continue to increase the diversity of my reading.  I think that I am going to adjust my spreadsheet columns this year to have a column that tracks Non-White vs. White authors and a column to track LGBTQ+ authors.
  • This year I am also going to (try to remember to) include picture books on my spreadsheet - not because I want to bulk out my list with "easy" reads, but because I wish that I could remember all of the picture books I read this year (there were some good ones).


 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

(In terms of the content - the covers are all quite lovely)