My best piece of advice if you’re wondering how to make English muffins at home is this: First, consider a different path. I don’t want to lie to you. Making English muffins is kind of a hassle, even if homemade versions are worlds better than almost anything you can buy at the store.
What I suggest instead is making a very nice English-muffin-inspired breakfast loaf. It’s a yeast bread that’s mixed by hand or machine, scraped into a cornmeal-dusted pan, given one single rise, and baked. It’s so, so easy—and relatively quick—and results in an open-textured bread that toasts like a dream and works wonders on an egg sandwich.
If I haven’t swayed you to take the easy route, you’re in for a bit of a project that may involve moving dough in and out of the fridge at just the right time, waiting three days or longer for your first bite of muffin, and/or sweeping cornmeal off the counter again. But you do have options. I griddled my way through a multitude of muffins and dug up a couple of really superior English muffin recipes—ones that shed a lot of that unnecessary fuss (no, you do not need muffin rings). These are not difficult recipes, but they are particular. One of them is pretty classic; the second, a little extra. But before we get into those recipes, let’s talk about what classic even means when it comes to an English muffin.
In America the term English muffin refers to an individually sized yeast-risen bread that’s usually griddled on both sides. It’s most famous for the interior texture, which resembles the holey crumb of a crumpet or pikelet (two other English entries into the griddle bread canon, often erroneously cited as antecedents to English muffins—stay tuned for further details). Those in the know call this texture “the nooks and crannies.”
It’s likely that I will now use the phrase “nooks and crannies” so many times that the words will lose all meaning to you. Please allow me then to provide the definitions here for your reference:
Nook: noun, an interior angle formed by two meeting walls
Cranny: noun, a small break or slit
How these two words came to be associated with bread is anyone’s guess. They refer to the pattern of air pockets formed throughout the dough while the muffins rise and while they cook. Cut the muffins through the equator—but NEVER with a knife, more on that down below—and you’ll reveal a bread-y landscape of peaks and valleys, a.k.a. nooks and crannies. These pockets form the ideal holding cells for a melting pat of butter or a schmear of jam. Or, if you want to go savory, a swipe of mayo. Or watch them from the sidelines of a toaster as a bubbling slice of cheese collapses into every crater.
A brief history of the English muffin
There’s a general misconception whispered around certain brunch tables that English muffins were invented in America—a sliver of misinformation not shared by Brits. The unfounded theory goes like this: Samuel Bath Thomas, an Englishman, came to America and, finding no breakfast breads suitable for his lifestyle, made a bastardized crumpet and sold it to unknowing Americans as an “English muffin.”
This much is true: Samuel Bath Thomas, founder of Thomas’ English Muffins, was a real person, and he did immigrate to America from England in 1874. Four years later he made and sold a certain breakfast bread—one that would soon inspire great fervor and devotion—from the comforts of his own New York City bakery. Whether or not he did it because he took one bite of a waffle or pancake and thought he could do better is apocryphal at best, and at worst, made up entirely by me at this very moment.
To dig a little deeper into the origin of English muffins, I reached out to Annie Gray, a British food historian and television personality. “God, no, what a terrible piece of mythmaking,” she quickly uttered, clearly gobsmacked by the suggestion that muffins (the English kind) were invented in America. English muffin recipes—known in England simply as muffin recipes whereas American-style muffins there are often branded as such—first appeared in print around 1747. That’s 130 years before Thomas made his journey across the pond and means muffins may even predate both crumpets and pikelets.
Gray does concede one point though: an American English muffin might be superior to a British muffin. In England “a muffin is griddle-cooked, yeast-risen, and basically a bit of a crap bread roll,” Gray says. I made a version of these from a British cookbook and she’s not wrong. On the outside they looked like double-size versions of the English muffins many Americans would recognize, with a griddled top and bottom and ballooning matte sides. The interior wasn’t bad, but I’d liken it more to a homemade hamburger bun or cottony dinner roll than what I consider an English muffin to be.
Where you will find that hallmark nooks-and-crannies texture is in English crumpets and pikelets. Where those breads differ is in their cooking methods. If you’re a betting person, you may wager that Thomas figured out a way to combine crumpet texture with muffin method and an all new form was born. But that’s hearsay and it doesn’t really matter anyway because one other major thing I learned on my way to making perfect “American” English muffins at home is this: no two recipes are alike.
A tale of two muffins
I made countless English muffin recipes while reporting this story. Beyond ingredient ratios—and even beyond the ingredients themselves—every one seemed to have a different method for mixing, or for forming the muffins, or for cooking them. Some resulted in batters thin enough to scoop and pour onto the griddle. Others turned out dough so firm the rolls were easily formed by hand.
The best English muffins came from dough that worked up somewhere in between. Make no mistake, English muffin dough is not a particularly easy dough to handle. And that’s one reason recipes vary so wildly: Writers have come up with all kinds of ways to deal with the sticky, wet dough.
Epi contributor and cookbook author Claire Saffitz has developed more than one English muffin recipe. She created her first English muffin when she was an editor at Bon Appétit. The second one appears in her 2020 cookbook, Dessert Person. For me, that second version ticked all the boxes for a classic American-style English muffin: airy interior with a slightly chewy crumb, and crisp surface dusted with crunchy granules of cornmeal.
The cornmeal is a regular player in English muffin making—it prevents the wet dough from sticking to any resting place and gives the cooked surface a hallmark sandy finish. Saffitz says any type of cornmeal works—so use whatever you keep on hand—but you should note that the more coarse it is, the more crunch it will provide to the muffins’ surface in the end. If you don’t keep cornmeal around but do happen to have semolina, it’s a good alternative.
Saffittz’s recipe is relatively straightforward, but does introduce some smart tricks. After the dough is mixed, she transfers it to a bowl that’s well-slicked with oil—so much so that there is no chance the dough will stick to the sides of the bowl. After the first rise the dough is transferred to a parchment-lined sheet pan. The parchment too is slicked with oil (a thin coat this time; cooking spray also works), which holds onto a liberal dusting of the aforementioned cornmeal.
Another smart Saffitz move is that she sticks the covered slab of dough into the fridge to rest overnight. That means the muffins are fully ready to be punched out, cooked, and eaten fresh in the morning—a time when you’re probably most interested in eating an English muffin. Chilled dough is universally easier to work with. It’s less sticky and holds shape more readily. Fair warning: The dough probably won’t rise much in the fridge, so don’t be too alarmed if it’s the same size when it comes out as it was when it went in.
In this recipe Saffitz suggests using a ring cutter to punch out rounds of the chilled dough. You’ll then press the scraps back together for a second round of cutting. The cold muffins are then placed on a cold griddle (or into a cold pan) and gently warmed until they puff and brown on one side. They’re then flipped to brown the second side.
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Cooking the muffins in a cold pan is another stroke of genius. Many English muffin recipes require the muffins be cooked in a hot pan on the first side, flipped to the second side, then transferred to the oven to finish cooking all the way through. Some muffins skip the oven, leaving the muffin middles intentionally doughy, expecting that your only path forward is to take the cooked muffins off the griddle, cool them completely, and then split and toast them.
Don’t get me wrong, a toasted English muffin is a great thing, but Saffitz says (and I agree) that “if you're making fresh English muffins, you shouldn't have to toast them— you should be able to eat a properly made anything fresh and warm. Toasting is just about reviving something.”
Her cold-pan, cold-dough method achieves a wonderfully cooked English muffin. But don’t be tempted to turn the heat up. The muffins need the low and slow heat to achieve cooked centers. On a gas stove, they’ll take about 10 minutes on the first side, seven on the second. If you’re cooking on electric, you may need to adjust timing until the surface is browned to your liking. And if you don’t eat all the muffins in one go, toast them, for sure.Claire Saffitz
Now, about that English muffin that I called a little bit extra. It comes from New World Sourdough by Bryan Ford. When I tell you that this muffin is great, it’s because the first time I made it (and I’ve made it twice since), I forgot to add the salt to the dough and it was still one of the best muffins I tasted. A rookie mistake, I know, and frankly, I was shocked that the muffin was still so fantastic, even before I slathered it liberally with salted butter to counter my omission.
These English muffins are not a mere dalliance. All in, they take about three days to make, and that’s if you already have sourdough starter on standby. The recipe also calls for five different types of flour: bread, whole wheat, all-purpose, semolina, and spelt, plus cornmeal for dusting. Ford says “the spelt flour adds a sweet nuttiness; the semolina adds a toasty flavor to the exterior during the cook; and the bread-and-all-purpose mixture is used to get the right balance on the interior to achieve the nooks and crannies we all desire.”
You’ll need to babysit these a bit. Remember: The timing listed in a sourdough recipe is mostly a suggestion. Actual timing will depend on the warmth of your kitchen, the temperature of the water you use, the power of your starter, and other factors.
Ford’s recipe also calls for cutting muffins out of the larger slab of dough using a ring cutter, but I actually found that, with his recipe, I liked forming the muffins by hand. That way you avoid scraps and can eek out 12 muffins instead of just 10.
The forming method I like here is actually the one Saffitz used in her original BA recipe (watch it here; if you want to be really exact, for 12 English muffins, each dough ball should weigh about 90 grams). This method works for Ford’s muffins because the dough is stiffer than the one Saffitz uses in the recipe I talked about above. The trade off is this: Saffitz’s muffins are quicker-rising and take less time and attention from start to finish. The wetter dough allows for the formation of those nooks and crannies using just store-bought yeast. Ford’s muffin dough is stiffer, but the longer rise required for sourdough fermentation allows those air pockets to form naturally. The fermentation and combination of flours also means they have really robust flavor. Which recipe you choose is entirely dependent on what you’re in the mood for. For what it’s worth, they’re both delicious.
The unmitigated rules of English muffin making
Whatever you do, there are a few universal tips that apply: First, English muffins are generally cooked on a dry griddle or in a dry skillet. Cast iron or carbon steel are recommended, but any heavy-bottomed skillet (which will help maintain a more even temperature) should work well. To really ensure the muffins cook evenly, rotate your pan while cooking—or slide the muffins around once the underside no longer sticks.
You don’t need to slick the pan with butter or oil since it’s very unlikely the muffins will stick once cooked. But if you want to up the ante, follow the lead of Model Bakery, where the muffins (which you can buy online) are cooked on a griddle in a pool of clarified butter—not a bad direction for flavor. In their cookbook, the butter is scaled back to a modest coating. Feel free to go your own way.
Next, it’s important to remember, never cut an English muffin in half with a knife. Instead, poke all around the perimeter with the tines of a fork until it splits apart. This will help expose those ragged nooks and crannies that you worked so hard to achieve rather than reveal the flat plain that results from a knife.
Third, you will probably get cornmeal everywhere. It falls off of the muffins as you transfer them from sheet pan to cooking surface, from cooking surface to cooling spot, and from cooling spot to plate. It’s the name of the game. But there will also be a good amount of cornmeal left on the pan where your muffins made their final rise. Don’t throw this out. Transfer it to a resealable container (but not to the original packaging, where it could introduce moisture to the untarnished cornmeal) and stash it in your fridge or freezer. Next time you make cornbread (or need to dust an English muffin holding zone) it will be there for you.
And if you’ve read through all of this and think you’d like to go for something a little more streamlined, scroll back up and read that first line again. I really do stand behind it.King Arthur Baking Company
Originally Appeared on Epicurious