Epicurus said: “My heart is full of fun when I have bread and water.”
That’s exactly how we have felt over the past few weeks on 196 flavors. Epicurus is our master! After all, he is the philosopher for whom pleasure is considered to be the most important asset of human existence! What is more pleasant than eating good bread anyway?
The smell of hot fresh bread is still among us. Mike recently turned his kitchen into a full-blown boulangerie with his French baguettes and I have been making batches of focaccia, ciabatta as well as challah. I think we have a serious addiction here!
It was during a lunch in the kitchen of my very good and oh so British friend Nicky, that I came up with the idea of preparing this very British recipe that is English muffin… not to be confused with the American muffin that is closer to the madeleine.
Muffin is an old bread from the tenth century. In the Victorian era, it was eaten by the servants. It was not until the eighteenth century, in the rich
In the early nineteenth century, it was not uncommon to see delivery guys, the “Muffin Men”, selling hot muffins door-to-door. This is where the famous nursery rhyme The Muffin Man came from.
At that time, muffins were already based on leavened dough and cooked on a hot iron plate, but some recipes included eggs and butter, which is not common today.
The person responsible for the introduction of English muffins in the US is none other than the famous Samuel Bath Thomas who, in 1871, left Great Britain for New York where he opened a commercial bakery. He chose Chelsea, an affordable location near the Hudson River, close enough to the companies on Broadway.
Samuel Bath Thomas knew he had his hands on a historic and valuable recipe that he first wanted to introduce to the New Yorkers. He used a secret process for baking the muffins on a plate. That way, they were crispy on the outside and soft inside. He opened his first bakery, “Nooks & crannies” in 1880 which only catered to the hospitality industry with a tagline that said “direct delivery to hotels and restaurants, via carriage.”
The reputation of Thomas’ muffins spread throughout the Bronx and Queens. This encouraged him to open a second bakery at 337 West 20th Street. At the time, it was mostly a residential block and did not seem the obvious place to start a bakery. But the brick and sandstone building, dating back to the 1850s, had housed a foundry in its lower floors before. This foundry already had ovens built in the basement, which made it an ideal location in the eyes of Samuel Bath Thomas to more easily open his bakery. He restored the building and installed a huge brick oven in the basement under the garden. He baked muffins there until his death in 1919.
One day, this building was renovated and converted for residential use and the brick oven in the garden was walled up and forgotten.
You’re probably wondering why am telling you about this address and this oven? What’s so special about this oven? But the story continues…
In 2006, the New York Times published a story about the discovery made by two residents of 337 West 20th Street, Mike Kinnane and Kerry McInerney. They took a look behind the wall of their basement and spotted a huge old brick oven, which measured 15×20 feet. This oven was none other than the illustrious Thomas Baker’s “nooks and crannies”!
Baking muffins must be done on a griddle or a pan. If you do not have one, an electric griddle will do.
The inside of a muffin is very airy. Cutting a muffin in half with a knife is a sacrilege! Indeed, in order not to destroy its airy cells, you are supposed to cut a muffin with a fork!
My son, Ruben, lives in Hong Kong and I prepared my muffins during his recent visit to Paris for spring break. Eggs Benedict were on the brunch menu, a dish consisting of two halves of muffin, covered with a slice of bacon, a poached egg, and topped with hollandaise sauce. A typical American recipe that has a story of its own and will probably be featured soon on 196 flavors!
We absolutely loved those muffins… So much that we had to have more the next day!
- 4 cups flour (slightly more while kneading if necessary)
- 2½ tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- ⅓ cup butter
- 1¼ cup warm milk
- 1 cup fine semolina
- Combine yeast, sugar and warm milk and let stand 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flour and butter with the dough hook. Add the yeast-milk mixture.
- Knead for 5 minutes and add a little flour as necessary until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Stir in salt and knead again for 3 minutes, until obtaining a smooth dough.
- Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rise for 1 hour in a warm place, away from drafts. The dough should at least double in volume.
- Cut the dough into 20 pieces and form balls. Flatten each ball in a circle, to a thickness of about 1/2 inch and a diameter of about 3 inches.
- Place the muffins on parchment paper sprinkled with fine semolina. Also sprinkle the top of each muffin with fine semolina.
- Cover with a cloth and let rise again for 1 hour in a warm place, away from drafts.
- Heat the muffins on an ungreased pan or griddle at low heat for about 4 minutes per side.