Weekend project: Homemade English muffins

Weekend project: Homemade English muffins
A warm, freshly made English muffin has the subtle tang of yeast-risen dough and a golden-brown crust. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

A warm, freshly made English muffin has the subtle tang of yeast-risen dough and a golden-brown crust. Split it open and the crisp exterior gives way to the most delicate interior, light as air, yet slightly chewy, full of peaks and crevices — those magical "nooks and crannies," made even more magical when the muffin halves are toasted and all but drowned in butter or jam.

Sure, you can find the standard packaged varieties at your grocery store. Maybe you even know of a bakery that makes them from scratch. But have you ever tried to make them yourself? It's not as hard as you might think, and there is nothing like the flavor of a muffin fresh off the griddle.

After a bunch of trial and error, I came upon a recipe I now use at home. It's a basic yeast-risen dough, and while the recipe might seem a little odd at first, it's pretty easy. And it makes a great weekend project!

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Total time: 50 minutes, plus overnight proofing and rising times | Makes 1 dozen muffins

Note: This recipe calls for instant yeast, or rapid rise. The recipe calls for a stand mixer; the muffins can also be mixed by hand, though extra flour may be needed when kneading the dough in Step 2, resulting in muffins that are not as light as those mixed in a stand mixer.

4 cups (18 ounces) bread flour, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cornmeal, for dusting

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together 3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) of the bread flour, sugar and yeast.

2. Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, slowly beat in the melted butter, followed by the milk to form a soft dough. Switch to the dough hook attachment, and beat in the salt. Continue mixing the dough, adding additional bread flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth and just begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 7 minutes on medium-low speed (you may not need to add all of the flour). At this stage, the dough will be firm yet moist and somewhat sticky.

3. Turn the dough out into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (this slows the proofing process and allows the flavors to develop).

4. About 2 hours before cooking, remove the dough from the refrigerator, punch it down and set it aside to come to room temperature.

5. Place the cornmeal in a medium bowl. Using greased hands, divide the dough into 12 even portions, about 2 3/4 ounces each. Gently form each portion into a ball, and roll the balls in the cornmeal to lightly coat on all sides. Working with one ball at a time, flatten each ball into a disk about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and one-half-inch thick. (If the dough starts to spring back, set it aside and move on to the next ball to give the dough time to relax). Place the disks on a lightly greased parchment-lined baking sheet.

6. Place the sheet in a warm place until the disks are puffed and risen to about 1 1/2 times their original height (watch that the disks do not over-proof or they will flatten as they bake), 15 to 30 minutes.

7. Heat a griddle or a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat (don't heat the griddle too hot or the English muffins will brown before they are fully cooked on the inside). Very lightly grease the griddle, then gently place the muffins on the griddle, leaving a little space between each one so you have enough room to check them and flip them as needed.

8. Cook the muffins on one side for 5 to 8 minutes until set and lightly browned, and the muffins have risen. Using a metal spatula, gently flip each muffin to cook on the other side. Do not press the muffins down as you flip them or they will flatten; simply leave them to cook. Continue to cook the muffins until the other side is set and lightly browned, about 5 minutes more.

9. Cool the muffins on a rack before splitting and serving.

Each muffin: 230 calories; 7 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 5 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 11 mg cholesterol; 3 grams sugar; 258 mg sodium.

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