Sheryl Canter

Recipe for Authentic English Muffins with Natural Nooks and Crannies

I was surfing around the Web last week and came across a picture of English muffins cooking in a cast iron skillet. I’m always interested in recipes that make special use of cast iron, and I didn’t realize until I saw this picture that English muffins were made in a skillet. I like English muffins and I’m getting a little tired of popovers for breakfast, so I thought I’d look up the recipe.

Well, it turns out there are a million different recipes for English muffins, and they vary widely. Some are rolled out and cut like biscuits into circles. Some use a wet batter that is poured into crumpet rings. Some are baked in an oven rather than cooked on a skillet – either partially or completely. Some are cooked in a covered skillet (news flash: that is baking, not skillet cooking).

Judging from reviewer comments, most of the recipes lacked the large holes and sourdough flavor characteristic of English muffins. A few tried to correct this problem by the addition of vinegar for the sour flavor, and baking soda just before cooking to create holes. That sounded like artifice to me so I continued my research, and eventually discovered the authentic source of that characteristic taste and texture. I tested my theory with a recipe of my own creation, and the result was fantastic. Here is my recipe – with pictures!

Homemade English muffin with natural nooks and crannies.

Homemade English muffin with natural nooks and crannies.
Homemade English muffin, nooks and crannies filled with butter.

Homemade English muffin, nooks and crannies filled with butter.


 

Authentic Technique for Authentic Flavor

English muffins – a yeast bread – are a 19th century American invention. They’re probably called “English muffins” because the recipe is based on classic English crumpets, which have a very similar recipe. English muffins are an Americanized crumpet.

It occurred to me that the best place to look for authentic recipes for English muffins was in cookbooks from the time when they were invented – or at least not long after. I found a great site with links to dozens of cookbooks from 1900-1910, and it was here I found the secret. The 1901 edition of the Settlement Cookbook contains this instruction in its English muffin recipe:

Beat thoroughly, cover, and let rise overnight.

When I saw that, I thought I must have read it wrong. That would cause overproofing. Do they mean, cover and put in the refrigerator? No, that can’t be right. They didn’t have refrigerators in 1901. I looked through several more old cookbooks and saw the same instruction: mix the batter the night before, let it rise overnight, and cook in the morning for breakfast. One recipe even said explicitly to let the batter rise long enough to “collapse in on itself”.

If you’ve ever made bread you’ve heard the warnings about “overproofing”, letting the dough rise so high that it collapses. Bread recipes always warn to never allow this to happen. They say to let the dough rise to double in bulk but no more, or taste and texture are ruined. Would you like to know in what way overproofing ruins taste and texture? It creates a sourdough taste because the yeast eats all the sugar, and it weakens the structure, causing large holes to form. Sounds suspiciously like an English muffin!

The characteristic taste and texture of English muffins appears to be a happy accident, an invention of housewives trying to manage their time by making batter for breakfast bread the night before. It overproofed, but the result was tasty so they went with it.

Neither Molded Nor Rolled

Drop globs of dough in corn meal to form the muffins.

Drop globs of dough in corn meal to form the muffins.

I read dozens of recipes for English muffins and crumpets, comparing the ingredients and – most importantly – the ratio of liquid to flour. In some the dough has the consistency of regular bread dough, and is rolled and cut into biscuits. Others are too liquid to hold together without support, and the dough – batter, really – is spooned into crumpet rings. But I wasn’t looking to make rolls with a bread-like texture, nor was I looking to make crumpets.

I settled on something in between: a gooey batter that wasn’t liquid, but also wasn’t firm enough to roll out. In my first effort I spooned the batter into crumpet rings, but I didn’t like the result. The shape wasn’t quite right. (Also, I set the temperature of the skillet too high so the outside was overcooked.)

When the ring experiment failed, I went back to the internet for a little more research and came across a recipe I hadn’t seen before. Like the old cookbooks, it said to make the batter the night before, let it proof overnight, then cook it in the morning. I knew this part was right.

The recipe produced dough with the same gooey consistency as my recipe, with an interesting twist: a no-ring, no-roll muffin-forming technique. The muffins were formed by dropping globs of batter into a bowl of cornmeal. Great idea! The photographs showed a final result that looked how English muffins are supposed to look. I didn’t use the ingredients listed in this recipe, but I used the technique and the results were perfect.


The Recipe

Let the formed muffins rise for about 30 minutes before cooking.

Let the formed muffins rise for about 30 minutes before cooking.
Turn over the muffins when the first side is browned - 10 to 20 minutes.

Turn over the muffins when the first side is browned – 10 to 20 minutes.
Let the muffins cool completely so they're not doughy inside.

Let the muffins cool completely so they’re not doughy inside.
Split muffins for toasting by pulling apart with your fingers.

Split muffins for toasting by pulling apart with your fingers.

This recipe makes six muffins. You can halve it or double it if you want a different quantity.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp sugar or honey
  • 1 packet (2¼ tsp) dry yeast
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt

Heat the milk to simmering, then drop in the butter and the sugar or honey. Stir so they melt and combine, and let the mixture cool. When it’s lukewarm, sprinkle in the yeast, stir, and let it sit for 10 minutes until bubbly. Don’t use an aluminum bowl because that can interfere with the yeast. Glass is best.

While that’s happening, measure out the flour and salt and mix together well. When the yeast mixture is bubbly, add the flour and beat vigorously for a couple minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter (not in the refrigerator) overnight. It will overproof – rise and collapse. This is what creates the English muffin’s characteristic sourdough taste and large bubbles.

In the morning, scrape the sides of the bowl with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and remix a little. Then use a spatula and spoon to drop muffin-size globs into a small bowl of cornmeal, as pictured in the previous section. Don’t try to handle the dough – it’s too sticky. Lift each muffin glob from the cornmeal with a slotted spatula, shake off the excess, and place in an ungreased skillet.

When the skillet is full, cover it (with a glass top, if you have one), and let the muffins rise for 30 minutes. They won’t rise much at this point because all the sugar has been eaten by the yeast, but they’ll puff up a little more when they start to cook. Remove the lid before cooking!

Set your stove’s burner to medium-low. If it’s electric, let the burner preheat. If you have an electric skillet, you’ll have to let the muffins rise somewhere else so you can preheat it. I’ve read that electric skillets should be set to 300°F, but I don’t have one so I can’t verify that. I used a cast iron pan and set the burner to medium-low.

Warning: don’t set the temperature too high. The muffins have to cook slowly or the inside will be doughy while the outside is burned. Don’t crank up the heat because it’s not sizzling. It’s not supposed to sizzle. Just because it’s not making any noise doesn’t mean it’s not doing anything. It’s cooking.

The muffins can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per side, depending on how high you set the skillet temperature. Turn them over when the first side is browned.

When the second side is browned, remove the muffins to a cooling rack and let them cool completely. If you don’t let them cool, they will be doughy inside. Also, they taste best if they are fully cooled and then toasted. Split them for toasting by pulling them apart with your fingers, rather than cutting with a knife. This maximizes the nooks and crannies that are so great for holding butter and jam.

English muffins are a quick and easy breakfast because they were designed to be quick and easy. The batter is made the night before, and no rolling is required. You mix everything together, go to sleep, then cook them up in the morning. Overproofing is what gives the characteristic taste and texture – no vinegar or baking soda required!

44 Comments

  1. Hans says:

    Thanks, I got some promising ideas from this. But I tried your recipe with limited success – too stiff a dough with too bready a texture. I think because you listed flour by volume. I have seen a cup of flour go anywhere from 4 oz to 5.5 oz, which is a hydration range of 80% to 110% for this recipe.

    Do you have a scale to weigh how much flour you use, or any more tips on finding the ideal consistency?

  2. When I made it, the dough was quite wet – too sticky to knead or handle with your hands. I didn’t weigh the flour, sorry. When I bake I usually adjust the amount of flour on the fly because I know what the consistency should feel like. I do this with everything I bake – muffins, biscuits, etc.

  3. ramon says:

    i think you use the wrong flour, instead try whole wheat flour; it need more humidity.

  4. sarah jane says:

    I love anything that can ferment a little bit on my counter overnight, especially Belgian waffles! So I am eternally grateful for this recipe- off to try it right now!

    Do you think one could use soured milk or buttermilk with good results?

  5. Missy says:

    Thanks for the recipe. If you make the dough without the salt then let it rest for 15 minutes and then stir the salt in and proof overnight, the dough will be easier to handle.

  6. Darci says:

    I make these at least once a week. I sub half whole wheat flour. I sometimes sub half a cup of water for half the milk and then the sourdough taste isn’t as strong. I use a spoon to cut the dough into equal sized portions while still in the rising bowl. I cut the cornmeal with flour and use my fingers to even each muffin out and make it round while still in the cornmeal. I use a cast iron pan and preheated electric burner set on 2 and skip the rising step. They rise beautifully while cooking, take about 35 minutes to finish and aren’t doughy which is good because I can never wait for them to cool. I love that they are authentic and so easy. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Thanks for your feedback, Darci! 🙂

  8. Geoffrey Wendel says:

    Thank you for your cast iron posts….and especially for this recipe, which I just had the pleasure of following. When I actually get around to it, I will have to try cultivating a sourdough yeast from the wild and see how it works in comparison to the packet yeast.

  9. kitty says:

    Thanks for this recipe. I have been looking for an long rise English muffin recipe, since I love Jim Lahey no-knead bread book, My Bread. He also researched the old Italian bread making and came up with this sticky dough, overnight rising bread with awesome flavor.

    Again, thanks for doing the research.

  10. James says:

    Excellent recipe! Much easier than Alton Brown’s method of using liquid batter, and that one doesn’t turn out as good as these do.
    I subbed half of the flour with wheat flour, and added enough so it was the consistency in between biscuit dough and cupcake mix (dry enough to be a solid mass, but wet enough so it flows when you stop mixing it.
    Also, the flavor is amazing! They’re sour but without being overbearing.

  11. Tin says:

    Hi Darci – Thanks for the commient. To clarify, is it 1 cup of all purpose flour and 1 cup of wheat?

    Sheryl – Thanks for the post!!! So happy to have found this.

  12. Breanna says:

    Thank you very much! I am on my 4th attempt at English muffins and they taste “good” but not quite English muffin. :). I really appreciate you posting what you have figured out. I love old recipes!!!

  13. I always failed trying to cook actual English muffins. But fortunately I found your blog and this recipe. Last Friday I tried and finally I managed to do them. Thank you a lot! My family enjoyed it a lot!

  14. Bridget cave says:

    I tried these today, my first attempt at English muffins. They turned out delicious! I followed the recipe exactly, tho I did add some flour with the cornmeal. Thanks!

  15. Jonathan Kandell says:

    I’m sure you also realize the 1901 recipe would not involve commercial dried yeast but a natural “sourdough”. These tend to be able to handle long fermentation better than store yeast, and are not that hard to make. Just mix rye and water and substitute half new rye and water each day for a week till it’s bubbly.

  16. sarah says:

    thank you for posting this recipe.
    the directions for the english muffin dough say to let it rest overnight. what is the maximum amount of time i can let the dough rest before it goes bad?

    thanks for your help!

  17. pat says:

    I had high hopes when I started reading the description of the English muffins that this could be what I have been searching for.
    My Mother used to make hobo biscuits and unfortunately by the time I got around to talking with her about the recipe her mind wasn’t very sharp and now she is gone and taken the recipe with her.

    It was a batter, but thicker than pancake and she would fry them in a skillet with just a little oil. They puffed up a little so there was leavening but I know she didn’t use yeast and let them rise. They weren’t sweet and I would just put butter on them. If you split one in half it had nooks and crannies like an English muffin.

    The story she always told about the origin of the hobo biscuit came from her childhood in southern Indiana in the 30’s. Hobos would knock on the kitchen door and ask the homemaker if they had ingredients to make their breakfast, dinner, supper – whichever. They might get flour from one house, and baking powder from the next and lard from another. The hobo camps didn’t have ovens but they did have fires and skillets so they would mix up the ingredients and fry their biscuits.

    I long to have some hobo biscuits. I have searched the internet but the only thing I can find is using canned biscuit dough. I don’t know where to start to try and recreate the recipe.

  18. Jill says:

    Hi!
    I made these tonight and they turned out quite delicious. Used them for burger buns. I let the dough rise on the mantle over our wood stove for about 2 hours, then put them in a cast iron pan as directed. I did not wait to cook them, just set the pan on the wood stove, which the thermometer we have on its surface said a little above 300 degrees, and they rised quite a bit while they cooked slowly. Was lots of fun. I am usually afraid to substitute whole wheat flour because the dough won’t rise as well, although I prefer to cook with whole grains. If I do use part whole wheat flour next time then I would definitely leave dough to rise overnight.

  19. Krista Coté says:

    Pat- the hobo biscuits you describe sound like what we used to call sweet bannock. It is basically slightly sweet, not very rich biscuit dough using water instead of milk, and cooked slowly in a heavy skillet with a little butter or oil. You can cook vertually any bread dough in a skillet- when I make yeast bread my husbands favorite treat is fry bread- blobs of dough flattened and cooked covered on first side, uncovered on second side. There is no need to rise dough cooked in skillets in most cases it rises beautifully in the pan!

  20. tricia says:

    Made my first english muffins today. They were really good. I used Alton Browns recipe with one suggested addition of baking soda. Hubby was happy but both of us would love a sourdough flavor. I will try these tomorrow.

  21. Matt says:

    I tried these last night, but something went wrong. I don’t think the yeasties gave me a full rise and fall but I can’t tell. When I came out and looked in the bowl in the morning, I had bread dough.

  22. Ann says:

    This recipe and technique sound like the solution to frustration. I do have q question however, is there anyway this can be adapted to a bread loaf instead of the muffins? Pepperage Farm used to sell a loaf with the taste and texture of the muffin so it can be done; I would give a lot to know how.

  23. Jack Brown says:

    These are not authentic “English” English Muffins. In the UK they are called American Muffins to distinguish them from real English Muffins. These have been made in England for hundreds of years – long before American Muffins appeared. Legitimate English Muffins are made with a very sticky dough. Traditionally , to make it manageable the work surface is dusted with rice flour – which will not be absorbed by the dough. If rice flour is not available cornflour can be substituted. This causes a problem in the U.S.A. because cornflour is labelled corn starch. (Almost every culinary term seems to be different in the two countries!) It is definitely NOT the coarse cornmeal that coats American “English Muffins. “

  24. Carol says:

    These are wonderful. My dough was a bit stiff, but they were still wonderful. Smelled like English Muffins, Looked like English Muffins, AND tasted like english Muffins. I loved them. Will try with half whole wheat flour. Thanks for a GREAT recipe!!!

  25. annette says:

    followed recipe to the T.
    There can’t be 2 cups of flour (16oz) no way the dough looks and feels the same as the night before just a stiff lump of flour etc.
    yeast proofed perfectly

    I wish this would have worked

  26. Annette, I’m not able to completely parse your comment, but I gather the amount of flour did not work for you. As I clarified in the comments, it’s an estimate. I judge the amount of flour by how the dough feels. Many things can affect the amount of flour versus liquid when making bread, including humidity (whether it’s raining). You can’t give exact amounts in a bread recipe that always work in all conditions. Some amount of knowledge and experience is required when making bread.

  27. Ange says:

    Thank you! Been looking everywhere for this recipe. I do not buy store bought bread and have not found a recipe until this one that really tastes like an English muffin and not a biscuit! Happy family!

  28. Cindy says:

    Thrilled to have this recipe….tastes just like the brand I have bought for years.

    Thanks so much!

  29. Julie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I have made English Muffins before, making them again yesterday for my family. I knew it was missing the “tangy” flavor. All recipes found online explain this by saying that it’s not going to taste like storebought muffins due to not having preservatives & chemicals in them. My husband said “aren’t English Muffins a sourdough?”. I was considering making my Ciabatta bread dough, which uses an overnight starter dough, and then preparing it English Muffin style. Your blog post validates our thoughts! I will try your recipe. The technique is easy once you understand it. Similar to a wet biscuit dough that you drop onto a floured counter and pat with flour before cutting. Only for EM’s, we use cornmeal. Thanks again!

  30. Stephan says:

    I am currently researching english (or perhaps I should call them American) muffin recipes and fell upon your article. I can’t yet comment on the outcome of this recipe, but I do offer up a bit of advice to Annette (if she is still interested) or others thinking the same thought. Two cups of flour does not equate to 16 ounces. I too once held that belief. Two cups of water is the only thing that truly weighs 16 ounces. A measuring cup of flour typically weighs between 4.5 and 5 ounces depending primarily upon type of flour and ambient humidity.

  31. JohnnyRocketFingers says:

    Gorgeous, quick, easy, worked first time. I couldn’t believe I’d found such an extensive article on the humble English muffin and one that justifiably lets me leave the proof overnight. Being British, male and impatient I guessed the conversions, the amounts and swapped some ingredients, still became the best thing yet to sit under my poached eggs and bacon. Thanks Sheryl!

  32. Hi Johnny – glad it worked for you! Re the “extensive article” part… I tend to get a bit obsessed with whatever is currently interesting me – I want to nail down every detail. I never mean to write long, but it always seems to end up that way. 🙂

  33. Lonnie Barnett says:

    Annette: if you used 16 oz of flour, by weight, you used almost four times as much flour as you needed. As someone else pointed out flour weighs between 4.5 and 5.5 ounces per cup. And that varies by lots of things; type of flour, humidity, sifting, scooping (packed is heavier), etc.

    As a rule of thumb, when a recipe calls for all purpose flour (most common) I use 4.5 ounces by weight per cup. I have not tried this recipe yet, but am looking forward to it.

  34. Sharon says:

    I have been looking for a sourdough recipe for English muffins. I am trying this tonight!

  35. Frank Ditzler says:

    Could milk kefir be used instead of the milk and yeast?

  36. Mouse says:

    I just made the batter up for these and set it to rise overnight. I may have used too much flour, as it’s sticky and I couldn’t really beat it,
    but I’m going for it anyway – I followed the recipe but should have maybe held back the last 1/2 cup flour… as you mentioned in several comments, flour mileage will vary. Anyway thank you. Will let you know how it turns out tomorrow!

  37. Mouse says:

    I just toasted the first one! It’s… pretty good, but I see I will have to tinker with the electric range to get just the right temperature, stupid electric range. I use bulk-bought yeast and think next time I will go with less yeast, it’s a bit yeasty for my taste, but the shape and texture are right spot on! Thanks so much for this. It’s a keeper.

  38. Woo hoo! Thanks for reporting back.

    You don’t need very much yeast because the rising time is so long. If I were to make it again, I’d use less yeast. (I’m eating paleo now, so bread is not in my universe. But to keep eating interesting, I’ve been inventing a lot of new recipes. I plan to post them soon.)

  39. Felipe says:

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  40. Noe says:

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  41. Erica says:

    Can you post a picture showing the consistency of your dough before you let it rest over night? I know you mentioned going by feel but I wasn’t sure how runny, and the way your final product looks is exactly what I have been wanting to achieve, all too often the recipes I’ve tried turn out bready without those yummy nooks and crannies 🙂

  42. dave r says:

    Thanks Sheryl! I was glad to find your blog and this recipie after much searching and trials. I love the overnight overproof, the cornmeal drop, the flavor and those nooks and crannies. A half teaspoon baking soda makes them puff up a bit more in the pan. But mine get a quite hard thick shell crust. I have tried the cast iron pan on the electric stove at settings of 2-3 and 1-2 which will cook them to a light brown in 10 minutes each side on the hotter setting and 15 minutes each side on the lower setting. Any suggestions?

  43. Paul says:

    If someone doesn’t like the hardness of the cornmeal shell, but still wants the nice brown crust, I suggest using semolina or farina (both essentially the same thing, malt-o-meal or cream of wheat) instead of cornmeal.

  44. Lynn says:

    This is for “pat” who posted in 2012 about his/her mother’s hobo biscuits:
    I agree with Krista that you should take a look at “bannocks,” but maybe avoid the sweet ones. There is a recipe on AllRecipes website called just “Bannock” by a submitter Carol. The ingredients are flour, salt, baking powder, butter, and water. The bannocks are cooked on a skillet The dough is a kneaded dough, instead of a poured batter. They seem more dense than what you describe. However, this might be a good start for your hunt!
    Also, here are a couple recipes for “Poor Man’s Bread,” found for an asker whose situation is similar to yours:
    hungrybrowser[dot]com[slash]phaedrus[slash]m0726M10[dot]htm
    I hope you look back and see this. Good luck in your hunt!

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