Whenever I have felt just a mite constricted about being known as a “gluten-free blogger,” instead of someone who loves food and the chance to write about it, I have tended to say, Yeah, like all people want is a gluten-free English muffin recipe. The rest doesn’t matter.
I don’t know why I always chose this example. Maybe it’s because I grew up eating Thomas English muffins, the flat discs that came in the little trough of a package wrapped in plastic. I’m not sure I had ever eaten a good English muffin before. I liked the packaged ones — melting butter topped with a spoonful of raspberry jam, a steaming mug of black tea to the side — but I didn’t miss them much. Life’s just fine without an English muffin, thank you.
But these past few months, I’ve had some baking revelations. Some scientific ones — the ratios and flours that work best in our kitchens — arose from the urgency of finishing the book. But more, I’ve had a softening. I have found myself, quite often, standing before the counter in front of the bay window, sifting flours, drizzling in oils, and preparing sheet pans with parchment paper.
I spend too much time in front of the computer by the nature of my work. Baking helps my cramped fingers unfurl, like flowers moving toward the emerging sun. When flour and softened butter are clumped in the palm of my hand, I feel at ease. I’m not worried about the work yet to be done. I’m just moving toward the next step in the recipe.
Plus, the kitchen always smells good — brown sugar and vanilla, poppy seeds, roasted bananas — and now Little Bean toddles towards me, trying to discover the source of the scent with her nose.
I really do love baking, and it’s time to take it up again. Yesterday, the wind lashed the windows wet with rain and the trees blew side to side so violently that the kid looked up in amazement as we sat on the porch. It’s growing dark by 6:30 now. Time for hot chocolate. Time to pull out the muffin tins.
Hell with the fact that gluten-free baked goods are different than gluten ones. (Not always worse. Sometimes, they are better.) I’m not looking to reach some Platonic ideal anymore.
I’m just baking.
So when I found this lovely, lovely post by Sara at Culinerapy, all about her husband Paul and how much she loves him, and how much he loved the English muffins she made from scratch? I wrote her a note to say how grateful I was to have read her sharing. And then I pulled the flour bin down from the top shelf and started making English muffins.
And now I want to share them with you. I’m happy to be a gluten-free blogger. I am. I’m saying yes to it.
Here they are — imperfect and homey, flecked with yellow cornmeal, a touch easy to burn, sure to delight — English muffins from scratch, gluten-free.
Gluten-Free English Muffins, adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
You may be aware that dozens of intrepid food bloggers have been systematically baking their way through Peter Reinhart’s master tome, in what they are calling The BBA Challenge. For months I watched their attempts and successes with a distant interest, enjoying the pictures but not thinking I would join in.
But after I read Sara’s post, I knew I had to make these English muffins. Our friend Lara loaned me her copy of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and I dove in. I must have looked pretty funny, this gluten-free girl studying a bread book. But this is how I have begun to bake foods I’m starting to love. I study the best bakers and what they do.
This recipe yields English muffins different than the ones you’ll see in the BBA Challenge. These may not puff up quite as much as the homemade gluten ones do. They don’t have quite the same spectacular nooks and crannies of the traditional ones. Nothing gluten-free will ever be exactly the same as the gluten ones. But that’s okay. That’s what I have learned. I don’t want to copy. I want these to be my own.
For the past two months, we’ve been eating these English muffins for breakfast. They’re easy to toss together. They’re fun to watch toast in the skillet. And they hold melting butter wonderfully well.
When Sharon visited last month, we ate English muffins with poached eggs. The girl loves her gluten. But these? “These are really, really good,” she said, in between bites and the silence of chewing.
That’s all I really want when I bake gluten-free — to make good food that makes people happy.
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup corn flour (this is cornmeal ground into a flour, NOT cornstarch)
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
3/4 teaspoon guar gum
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons canola oil
Mixing the dry ingredients. Sift each of the flours into the bowl of a stand mixer. (You can use your biceps and spatula, if you don’t have a stand mixer.) Add the gums, the sugar, salt, and yeast. Mix well.
Adding the wet ingredients. With the mixer running on low speed, pour in 3/4 cup of the buttermilk, butter, and egg. The dough should be smooth and just a touch sticky. If it feels stiff, add the remaining buttermilk. Keep running the mixer for a few minutes, to allow the dough to form more fully. (But remember, no need to knead!)
Letting it rise. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Settle it in a warm place in your kitchen. (If you have trouble getting doughs to rise, try putting the bowl on a wire rack, which sits on top of a large bowl of hot water. You can replace the cooled water with hot water every 1/2 hour or so, if you wish.) Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel. Allow the dough to ferment for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Shaping the muffins. Line a sheet tray with a silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle cornmeal on it, liberally. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. While it may not be entirely possible to shape them into boules, the way a gluten dough does so easily, you can roll the balls around a bit until they feel smooth. Put the balls of dough on the cornmeal-covered sheet tray. Cover them with a clean dishtowel in a warm spot for another 60 minutes, until the pieces have swelled a bit.
Cooking the muffins. Preheat the oven to 350°. Put a large skillet over medium heat (a cast-iron skillet is ideal). Add just a touch of canola oil. Carefully transfer 3 of the dough balls to the skillet with a metal spatula and cook until they are golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes on each side. (If you burn one, it’s not the end of the world. I did, at first.) Transfer them back to the sheet pan and cook the remaining three dough balls.
Bake the muffins in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes to make sure the middle is cooked. The finished English muffin should have a bit of a hollow thump when you tap the top. Take them out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack.
Here is the important part: you must allow the English muffins to cool for at least 30 minutes before you touch them. Otherwise, they will fall apart.
When you are ready to eat them, split them open with a fork, gently. This is what makes the nooks and crannies you associate with English muffins.
Makes 6 English muffins.