Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cooking School: Sourdough English Muffins

Bette's Oceanview Diner is one of my favorite places in Berkeley, California. They have a cute, bustling diner feel - rare to find on this coast - and fantastic food. Their basic pancakes and scones are really excellent and their specials are equally delicious. It's hard to pick a favorite, but the enormous Dutch Bunny - a 12 inch puffed apple pancake - is definitely a consistent favorite. Even if you need 4 people to eat one. It also opens quite early, which would have swayed my opinion of it even it I didn't love the food because I'm a morning person and it sometimes seemed like things in Berkeley didn't open for breakfast until after 10am. Getting up early also prevented me from having to wait in a long line just to get in the door. When I was flipping through the Bette's Diner Pancake Handbook , I decided that based on their excellent recipe track record, their recipe for sourdough english muffins would be a good place to start to make an attempt at a non-pancake breakfast favorite I've wanted to try for some time.I was surprised at how easy these were. Once my starter was fed, I mixed up the dough and let it sit, covered, overnight. You don’t have to worry about overdeveloping the sourdough flavor because the baking soda will neutralize some of it, leaving just the right amount of sourness in your muffins.
The major change that I made in this recipe, aside from using some whole wheat flour, was to replace the milk the original called for with water. I wanted to ensure that I got the rather coarse, open texture I like in english muffins. I could only find a small biscuit cutter, so I had to use 2-inch rather than a 3-inch round. If you use a larger one, you may need to cook yours for an extra minute or two per side and you will probably get fewer than the 20 or so that I got.They tasted fantastic. They were a bit doughy when hot off the grill, but like most yeast breads, their texture stabilized once they were allowed to cool for a few minutes (they cooled quickly). Honestly, they were some of the most flavorful english muffins I've ever had - chewy, slightly sour and full of holes to catch jam and butter.

Sourdough English Muffins
(adapted from The Pancake Handbook)
½ cup sourdough starter, fed
3 cups flour
1 cup water
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar

Combine starter with 2 cups of flour and 1 cup of water. Stir thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and let sit out overnight (about 7-10 hours).
In the morning, add the baking soda, salt, sugar to the dough and gradually add the remaining 1 cup of flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough looses its stickyness. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll until about ½ inch thick. Use a lightly floured biscuit cutter and cut the dough into as many rounds as possible. Place rounds on an ungreased baking sheet, covered with cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with cornmeal and leave them to rise, covered with a clean dishtowel, for about 45 minutes.
Heat a lightly oiled or nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot, then reduce the temperature to medium/medium high.
Cook the muffins for about 5 minutes on each side, turning only once. The muffins will reach a light or medium brown (turn town the temperature slightly if they cook too quickly) on both the top and the bottom when they are cooked through. Before the first flip, the sides of the muffin will start to look dry, like the edges of a pancake, when it it ready to be turned. You can peek at the underside, too.
Cool completely before storing.