Emergency English Muffins

Muffin doughSubtitle: what to do with your rising bread dough when the power goes out. 

I mentioned today to someone in exactly that position that you can rescue bread dough by cooking it on a stovetop.

When we lived in the woods in New England, our power lines were, shall we say, vulnerable to passing squirrels and dropping tree limbs. One nasty storm took away our power just as I was about to bake a risen loaf – yes, in the (electric) oven.

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? I had nothing to lose, I thought, so I’d at least try to cook the stuff on the propane stovetop. Let’s see, loaf is too big, make them smaller, about the size of … oh, muffins. Have to make sure they don’t stick, so they can be turned over. The heat will have to be lower than that for pancakes, they’re thicker.

The joke was on me: I learned that out of my power failure driven need I had re-discovered the classical method of making English Muffins. So I’ll begin with the “How do you rescue the bread dough” and then at the end I’ll write down my own list of ingredients for the muffins I make on purpose, whether the power is on or off.

Method for Emergency Muffins

  • Curse at the power failure. Find candles, light them, and mutter. Keep the matches handy, you’ll need ’em to light your burners.
  • Dump the dough out of its pan onto a floured surface. Knock it down, knead it yet one more time, and divide it into 6 to 8 pieces. Roll each piece into something vaguely spherical.
  • Set out a sheet of waxed paper, spread it with cornmeal. Now flatten each lump of dough on the cornmeal. Flatten it to about a half-inch thick – really mash it down. Sprinkle the tops with a bit more cornmeal. Let these rest 20 minutes or so, enough so that they’re puffy.
  • Light two gas burners (thank goodness for propane stoves!). Set a cast iron griddle over the burners – or if you don’t have a big griddle, use two cast iron skillets. Use medium to low heat, and let the cast iron get hot.
  • Sprinkle the cooking surface with a little cornmeal. With a thin spatula, transfer each dough round to the hot griddle. Let the dough cook 10-15 minutes. It will get crusty and brown, this is good. The thicker the muffins, the lower the heat should be.
  • When the bottoms are quite brown, turn the muffins and cook the other side 10-15 minutes.
  • To help in checking for doneness: the muffins should not be doughy on the inside, naturally a toothpick stuck in from the side should come out clean. If you’re used to thumping the underside of a cooked loaf, you can do that with the muffins, too. Remember that the sound will be higher since they are essentially tiny loaves.
  • Let them cool on a rack. They’ll taste their best when split and toasted, and served with butter and jam or honey.

My Ingredient List for Intentional Muffins

When I want to make English Muffins – and these are good enough not to wait for a power failure – I like to get up early and make them fresh for breakfast. Over-proofing – letting them rise until the yeast is all used up, and the dough falls back – contributes to the texture and flavor of the muffins.

  • 1 Tbsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp plus 1 c warm water
  • 1/2 c warmed milk
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 c flour
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • cornmeal as needed

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 2 Tbsp warm water, set aside, and let proof 5 minutes. Combine milk, remaining water, sugar & salt in mixing bowl, add the yeast mix, beat in the last 2 c flour. Cover and let rise until risen and collapsed back into bowl, about 1 1/2 hours. (To let it rise overnight, reduce the yeast used.)

When risen, beat in the butter and the remaining flour. Proceed as above.