In the world of breakfast breads, one day you’re in, and the next day, well, you’re out. But there’s one breakfast bread that has remained simply timeless — like a sturdy pair of jeans or a good ol’ plain white tee, it seemingly never goes out of style. No, I’m definitely not talking cronuts, nor its tastier trend predecessor, the Kouign Amann. That morning pastry? An English muffin, of course. I’m that girl who makes ‘em from scratch (it’s fun!), and I don’t even want to know how many English muffins I’ve eaten over the years. It’s high time that we, as a society, recognize this irresistibly fluffy and delicious breakfast sandwich vessel as the true hero that it is.
For some, the lightbulb has already gone off; in fact, an ode to English muffins may seem painfully obvious. But the camp of breakfast fans who have yet to hop on the English muffin trolley needs a little bit more convincing. Everyone is invited to step into my office, pull up a chair: Let me break down why English muffins are far better than any brioche toast or crusty bagel. And, if I’ve convinced you to stick around, open your eyes to the beauty of whipping up a fresh batch at home.
First things first, let’s go over the basics. An English muffin is not English, nor is it a muffin. Trust issues, I know! It was actually invented by a man named Samuel Bath Thomas in 1874 at a bread bakery in what is now the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City.
At the time, this creation was essentially a variation on a crumpet, a common English pastry that has earned its own status stateside. A crumpet is a moist, unsplit muffin that’s cooked on a griddle and served with butter. Thomas’ variation was referred to as a “toaster crumpet,” boasting a slightly flatter shape, plus a drier interior. And they could be easily split with a fork — yes, you’ve been doing it wrong! — revealing an airy, fluffy interior. Thomas’ English muffins were a quick hit, taking all of the city by storm. Ironically, you’ll see English muffins marketed as “American muffins” in the UK.
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“Nooks and crannies”: That’s probably the very first thing you think of when it comes to English muffins, invented to describe the delicate air pockets on the inside of the muffin. This phrase literally exists thanks to English muffins; it originated from a Thomas’ advertising campaign in the 1970s and 1980s that some of you may remember. Clever stuff, huh? Well, the folks at Thomas’ might be quick to share the glory of their English muffins, but the recipe for this iconic breakfast staple is kept extremely secret. In fact, it’s estimated that only 7 people know the original recipe.
While we might not know the exact, original recipe, we do know what sets an English muffin dough apart from other pastries. It is a yeasted dough with milk, and any in-the-know baker will tell you it’s an extremely moist dough. Those in the know will tell you that English muffin dough is probably the stickiest dough you may handle; you’ll need to oil your hands well, and use plenty of flour on your first few runs. The dough is always left to rise overnight in a refrigerator, which helps promote the creation of those nooks and crannies as well as create a slightly tangy, fermented flavor.
After one proof in the bowl, the dough is then shaped into flattened disks and left to rise. When the doughy mounds are placed on a sheet pan, they must be coated in cornmeal (make it rain!), which you’ll actually see on the exterior of English muffins. Cornmeal is too coarse to absorb, which helps the muffins maintain high moisture content. If flour were used, the muffin dough would absorb it, likely giving you a dense brick of bread instead.
The best English muffins are cooked on a hot griddle (some muffins are finished in the oven while others finish on the stove). Larger muffins are often finished in the oven just to make sure they’re fully cooked, but if they’re more compact, you can likely cook them entirely on the stove. The high heat from the stovetop causes the moisture in the dough to turn to steam, thus creating large, airy pockets of pillowy goodness.
It’s the only bread that’s equally soft and warm with a toothy crunch thanks to a golden-brown crust exterior. After they’ve cooked, they should be left to cool, before prying them open with a fork, toasted, and served with butter.
Lately, I want to shout my love for English muffins from the rooftops — I’m getting emotional just thinking about all the ways this bread has upgraded my breakfast, TBH. For one thing, English muffins are the perfect vessel for your breakfast sandwich. Really: They’re sturdy enough to hold whatever it is you’re packing in there (eggs, bacon, avocado, the works). Yet they’re still light and delicate, so it doesn’t feel like you have to tear through stale bread (not always the case with sprouted grain toast!).
Other breads are just jealous because muffins don’t even really need to be dressed up. While muffins make for an incredible loaded breakfast sandwich, they’re just as tasty eaten with a simple smear of butter, jam, and flaky salt. A slight tang paired with an irresistibly fluffy interior is a starchy experience that you won’t find in just any loaf of bread. Plus, you can enjoy ‘em sweet or savory in a multitude of ways for a near bakery experience at home. And with how well they hold up as a make-ahead breakfast, it’s like they’re magically designed for the freezer.
I know I’ve waxed poetic about pillowy DIY English muffins, but I can totally respect that life gets in the way sometimes — I’m known to reach for store-bought Thomas’ muffins occasionally. When you think about some of the other budget and nutritional pitfalls in the bread aisle, the English muffin is by far your best friend right now (I won’t be accepting ANY opposition at this time).
I don’t have an in with the folks at Thomas’ (working on it, though!), but I have made my fair share of homemade English muffins, and this variation is pretty darn close to the OG — those nooks and crannies are one of a kind.
I love a good slice of sourdough bread, and I have nothing against bagel zealots — a girl can dream about a buttery croissant every now and again, too. But it’s the little wins that are carrying me through 2021, and these English muffins deliver every. single. time. They’re extremely flavorful, versatile, and truly feel like a warm hug at 8 a.m. Put down your cereal bowl and get on board with a trend that’s going to be even bigger than 2020’s banana bread bonanza.
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