previous monthly muffins:
It’s been gray the whole past week, and rainy most nights…and I’ve been loving it all so much. Over the summer, I never wanted to stay inside, or it was too muggy for me to just sit around, even with the air conditioning running full blast. Now, though, I wake up at 7:00, brew myself a gargantuan pot of coffee (yes a whole pot just for me), and lounge around enjoying the nascent coziness of early autumn. The gray mornings are best for productivity, and I tell you I need a lot that (#gradschoollyfe.)
I’m drowning in developmental psychology and immigration policy…but it’s kind of nice. I like the quiet mornings, which turn into low-key days, when I can both relax and get things done.
Plus, I’m a nerd for learning. I love it, and like high-key love it. My book case is practically falling apart because I can’t help myself with getting new books, even if I barely have time or energy to read them. My professors probably don’t expect me to read everything they assign, much less twice with highlights and margin notes, but I do. I’m already vaguely familiar with most of the concepts we’re learning, whether I realize it or not, but something about seeing it all in print is empowering.
I say this as midterm season approaches and I watch my last breath pop like a bubble in a bathtub.
With work and school, I have less time for cooking than I had expected, and slightly less time for baking (plus money. why does making food cost money.) so I try to enjoy the few moments I do get in the kitchen.
Following the success of my English muffins (my stomach gave them two Oscars, and my mouth nominated them for six Emmys. they can’t believe it. they’re so grateful), I decided to start building up a repertoire of English muffin recipes.
I started with whole wheat: gray like an early autumn morning, hearty like October produce, and flavorful in all the best ways. At first, I just made a substitution: half whole wheat flour for half all-purpose. The dough is surprisingly easy to work with. Unfortunately, I realized that not only were the muffins dense, but the dough was a little firm (easy to work with as in not sticky, but stiff as in stubborn.) Trial after trial, each involving either a different ratio of whole wheat flour to all-purpose (it’s recommended that you always cut whole wheat with refined), or a smaller amount of flour, and I finally arrived here: fluffy, some might even say “plush,” whole-wheat English muffins with nooks and crannies big enough for you to fall into. If you’re butter, that is.
Every time I think of nooks and crannies, I want to say “crooks and nannies.” Words are funny, y’all.
The dough will be just a little bit sticky, but not so much that you can’t pick it up as one mass and handle it directly with your hands. I let the dough proof in a greased bowl the first time, then transfer it to a floured pastry board, and the flour helps the individual dough rounds come together without sticking everywhere, without adding so much extra flour that they dry out. With less flour, the dough rises a lot more during proofing and baking, the holes are larger, and the flavor shines through more.
whole-wheat english muffins (with vegan options)
makes one dozen (56 g/2 oz each, unbaked)
200 g/7 oz sourdough starter
150 g/5.3 oz milk, buttermilk, or water
28 g/1 oz softened butter or oil (canola, etc.)
20 g/0.7 oz molasses or brown sugar
180 g/6.3 oz whole wheat flour
100 g/3.5 oz all-purpose flour
hefty pinch of salt
with baker’s yeast instead of starter
7 g/0.25 oz (1 packet) active dry yeast
250 g/8.8 oz milk, buttermilk, or water
28 g/1 oz softened butter or oil (canola, etc.)
20 g/0.7 oz molasses or brown sugar
180 g/6.3 oz whole wheat flour
200 g/7 oz all-purpose flour
hefty pinch of salt
for prepping, frying, and baking
vegetable oil, ~1 Tbsp
cornstarch, ~1/4 c
butter (substitute canola oil for vegan), ~1 Tbsp
make the dough
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
Using a spoon or rubber spatula, quickly mix together ingredients just until the dough starts to form and there isn’t a lot of loose flour or water/liquid.
Using the dough hook of an electric or stand mixer, beat the dough for ~5 minutes, until smooth, cohesive, and pulling away from the sides of the bowl. It should stick a little bit when you touch it, but not come apart too much. Add more flour if it’s too loose, wet, or sticky.
Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, turn over once, cover, and let proof at least 1 hour, or until doubled. If you want to divide the dough more precisely when shaping the muffins, put the empty, greased bowl onto a scale, zero/tare it out, and add the dough so you know exactly how much you have. I end up with ~670 g/24 oz.
Note: Sourdough starter ferments more slowly and rises less than active dry baker’s yeast (but is more beneficial and nutritious), so I make the dough a day in advance and refrigerate overnight. When making yeasted dough, proofing times vary a lot, so rely on the size of the dough to know when it’s ready. You can even use a large measuring cup, so you can see how the capacity changes as the dough rises.
shape, fry, and bake
Flour a clean surface or marble pastry board and turn proofed dough out of its container.
Divide dough into 12 equal pieces (use a scale for more accuracy: 56 g/2 oz per muffin.) You can make any number of muffins and divide the dough however you want: 6 giant muffins, 18 small muffins, 10 medium-large, etc.
Flatten each piece lightly, fold the edges and corners into the center, form a ball, and roll into a sphere.
Dust a baking sheet with cornstarch and line muffins up, leaving 3-4 inches between each. Lightly flatten again with the palm of your hand.
Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise another 30 minutes in a warm spot.
While dough is rising again, preheat oven to 350 F/175 C.
When ready to fry and bake, heat a skillet. Butter/oil lightly once the skillet is hot, and let the butter/oil heat. You want to sear the muffins, not deep-fry (though if you want deep-fried English muffins, knock yourself out!)
In batches, fry the muffins until bronzed, 3 – 5 minutes, on each side. Once all muffins are fried, finish them in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until puffy.
Let cool, split with a fork, toast in halves, and enjoy!
I think I’m falling in love with English muffins,
I remember the good ol’ days of getting out of my car at 10:00 p.m. and watching my glasses fog up immediately. Those precious “is that sweat, rain, or the humidity?” moments. The 5:00 am sunrise and “will the sun ever set?” times.
But those are over now. My glasses don’t fog up anymore and I can walk around without fainting.
I’ve finally finished up all the frozen summer berries and started stocking up on pumpkin puree, sweet potatoes, and various apples in anticipation of autumn sweets, and let me tell you, I’m anticipating a lot of sweets.
About a year ago I started really exploring pie crust. I watched every YouTube video and read every recipe I could find. I tried every possible technique the Web would show me, and even did a bit of scientific experimentation, complete with sticky labels and test batches and all.
It was very official, y’all.
And then I took an autumn pie workshop at Scratch Bakery last October, and everything I thought I had figured out was flipped, turned right upside down on its very head. I stuck with the recipes from that workshop for months, until I took a pie class at work, and everything was made even simpler by the pastry chef. The first thing she taught us when we got to work on the dough was a universal ratio for the dough: 3 parts flour, 2 parts cold butter, 1 part ice water.
It was pie-vana. I had a pie-alization. The flaky, buttery dough, the rich summer berries, the dark almond-flavored cherries, they all came together to form one simple truth:
Pie is easy.
And now a full year later, making the dough is like second nature: I toss everything into a food processor, no gimmicks or silly tricks, squeeze it into a ball, and freeze it. And it turns out well every time!
Now that the crust is a breeze, I want to expand on my fillings. Last year, I made Spiced Chai Apple Streusel Pie and Boozy Pecan Rum Pie for the holidays. I’m already dreaming up new autumn and winter combinations for this year (Pear and Fennel, Chocolate Peppermint, or Limoncello Brûlée?)
I’ve also been playing around a little bit with free-form tarts (Italian: crostata; French: galette) and just filling them with a layer of fruit and spices. One evening, when I was really feeling the impending leaf-changing and air-crisping, I sliced up some apples (skins on because I can’t be bothered to peel them), and mixed up some sugar and spices. I threw in some dried rosemary and assembled the tart, then when it was in the oven, I placed some leftover rosemary sprigs (I had made focaccia that day, as well) on top for an extra flavor infusion, and voila!
rosemary spiced apple crostata (crostata di mele e rosmarino)
makes two 7″, or one 9-10″ crostata
200 – 300 g red apples
50 g granulated sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1-2 fresh rosemary sprigs (with or without leaves)
1 egg yolk, for washing
1 spoonful raw, turbinado, or demerara sugar, for coating
Core and slice the apples. You can peel them if you want, but they’re just as good with the skin on. Set the slices aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, and spices. Set aside.
Roll dough out into a circle or a square a few millimeters thick. With a bench scraper or spatula, mark approximately halfway (both vertically and horizontally) between edges, then 2/3 of the way between the outer edge of the dough and your marking. You should now have slight marks/scores 1/6 of the way in from the edge of the dough, and halfway across. This is just a guide for how much of the dough to fill and how much to fold.
Spread about 2/3 of the spice mixture between the outer markings (so the middle 2/3 of the dough, leaving the outer 1/3 border empty.)
Layer the apples on top of the spices, and sprinkle the other 1/3 of the spices over the apples.
Fold the edges of the dough in, pinching them together where they overlap.
Freeze the tart for at least half an hour to let it chill.
Preheat your oven to 425 F/220 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Brush the edges of the tart with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the tart for 30 – 40 minutes until the crust is bronze and the filling is bubbly.
Remove and transfer to a wire rack with the parchment paper underneath the tart.
Cut and enjoy!
Tarts to you later,
When I moved home last summer, I decided I really wanted to start learning to cook. That is, actively learning all the techniques, collecting recipes, and becoming more acquainted with the kitchen, rather than just knowing how to use my oven.
And I really wanted to make bread.
I had actually been wanting to practice bread for years, ever since I resolved to cut back on buying or eating processed food. I love me some whole wheat sliced loaves but some day I’ll be making them with my own hands, rather than trying to guess what ingredients are on the label at the grocery store.
At first, it was all English muffins. Vegan, not vegan, whole wheat, whatever. I was going cray for English muffins. Eventually, I started playing around with focaccia, too. As long as I can remember, I’ve had a soft spot for focaccia, especially Panera panini made with the flatbread. From the moment I started baking it myself, though, I knew I would never stop. Bread is already the World’s Greatest Comfort Food (and also one of the oldest foods, as well), and focaccia, with its rosemary-olive oil crust and fluffy interior, is all the more belly-filling and heart-warming!
It’s also relatively simple to make, as far as breads go. I went through a couple different recipes, watched every YouTube video I could find, and came up with my own experiment to determine how best to make the flatbread. I tried different amounts of oil, different steps in making the dough, different amounts of flour and water, and different proofing times. Along the way, I found that the less flour you use, the better. Sometimes you can’t get away with not using flour: when you have to knead or shape the dough, for example. But in this case, using less flour than you’d expect results in a lighter and more flavorful bread. I end up making something closer to batter than dough.
The bread keeps for a few days just fine, but it’s so good you’ll have to hide the extra so you don’t eat too much in one sitting!
serves 6 – 8
100 g starter (or 7 g active dry yeast, plus an extra 50 g each of water and all-purpose flour; so 200 g water, 250 g flour)
150 g water
200 g all-purpose flour
40 g extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for seasoning
hefty pinch of salt (at least a tablespoon)
1 tsp sugar
seasonings and add-ons: coarse sea salt, fresh rosemary, garlic, olives
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl, combine starter/yeast, water, flour, olive oil, sugar, salt, and dried rosemary. Quickly whisk until just combined, then beat with a dough hook (either on the stand mixer or using a handheld electric mixer), for 5 minutes until uniform and the dough starts to pull away a little from the sides of the bowl.
It’ll be pretty wet and batter-y at this point, but don’t worry. Everything will be okay, I promise.
Grease a medium-large bowl with extra virgin olive oil, and, using a bowl scraper or spatula, scrape the dough into the oil bowl. Either flip the dough in the bowl, or lightly drizzle with olive oil.
Cover the bowl and let the dough proof, a few hours in a warm spot or overnight in the fridge, until doubled in size.
Oil and salt a large brownie pan with extra virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt, then scrape the dough into the pan. Spread the dough out until it covers the entire pan, then let rise, covered, in a warm spot for at least an hour. Don’t let it rise too much or it’ll lose elasticity. Two hours maximum.
Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C.
When ready to bake, stick garlic cloves and olives into the dough at random intervals, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh rosemary. Bake 20 – 30 minutes until golden brown and puffy.
Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving.
Buon appetito, i miei amici!