Master Baker John Kirkland’s The Modern Baker and Confectioner, published in 1907, gives the definitive recipe: ‘Muffins are thick, extremely light fermented dough cakes, not holey or tough, three inches across and almost two inches thick.’ He recommends a soft dough made from not too strong flour, and three risings for lightness. Not actually baked, muffins are cooked on top of the stove using a griddle or heavy-based frying pan – but they’re too good a classic to miss! Toppings are optional, but as well as jam and honey, anchovy spread (Gentleman’s Relish) is excellent, with or without scrambled eggs.
|350g||strong white bread flour|
|100g||plain white flour|
|1 x 7g||sachet of easy-blend/easy-bake dried yeast|
|Rice flour or cornmeal, for dusting|
You will need 2 baking trays, a griddle or very heavy-based frying pan.
Mix the flours with the salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a free-standing food mixer. Make a well in the flour and pour in the lukewarm water and milk. Mix with your hand, or the dough hook attachment of the mixer on the slowest possible speed, to a very soft, slightly sticky dough. Work and knead the dough in the bowl until soft, elastic, smooth and no longer sticky – about 10 minutes, or 4 minutes using the mixer.
Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or a snap-on lid and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size – about 1 hour. Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface. Dip your hands in lukewarm water and knead it for 5 minutes (or knead in the mixer for 3 minutes). Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave as before for another 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into 8 pieces. John Kirkland says: ‘The usual method is to squeeze the dough through a ring made by the thumb and forefinger of one hand.’ Squeeze off this ball of dough and drop it on to a baking tray well dusted with rice flour or cornmeal. Sprinkle the dough with more rice flour or cornmeal. Once you have a tray of muffins, spaced well apart and liberally sprinkled with rice flour or cornmeal, cover them with another light baking tray or plastic kitchen tray and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. This gives the muffins their traditional flat tops.
Heat an ungreased griddle or frying pan until moderately hot. Put the muffins, a few at a time, on to the griddle, turning them upside down so that the side that was uppermost on the baking tray is now downwards on the griddle. Cook the muffins slowly allowing 10 to 12 minutes for each side, until a good golden brown. They are ready when the sides spring back when pressed.
As soon as they are cooked, remove them from the griddle and wrap them in a clean, dry cloth to keep warm while cooking the remainder. Once cold, the muffins freeze well.