I lied. I promised an amazing morning recipe early this week and somehow I’m sitting here Thursday morning finally making it happen. My internet’s been down, so I’m sitting at the coffee shop right down the street where I used to camp out before I had internet in the first place. It’s kind of a nice change of scenery and pace from my living room (obviously). They make better coffee, there’s buzz, there’s bits of the paper strewn about, and pieces of conversation to eavesdrop in on. And this morning, there seems to be a steady stream of Phil Collins. Not sure what to say about that.
But I am sure what to say about breakfast these days. Since I’ve been commuting to Marin, I don’t have much time to have my typical breakfast of yogurt, granola, and honey. I can barely seem to get coffee and milk in my travel mug and get out the door on time. So I’ve started planning ahead a little with things I can grab and take with me. Homemade granola bars? Check. Bananas and those nice little pouches of peanut butter? Check. A damn fine English muffin. Check.
My mom actually says these are the best thing I’ve ever made. She doesn’t make those proclamations lightly. She made breakfast for her best friend Carol yesterday and toasted them with butter and fruity jam. And she’s already put in a request that I make a batch around the holidays so we have some around the house. I brought a bag to my “man friend”, Creg, and a few to some coworkers. The reaction’s always kind of funny: What?! You made your own English muffins? I didn’t know people did that. Well I’m here to report back that they do, and they’re shockingly simple, so you should too.
This was actually the first time that I’ve worked with yeast (I tend to be a quick-bread kind of gal), and I was (and still am) taken aback with how a simple ball of dough transforms itself into light and slightly chewy little disks with the requisite nooks and crannies. So cool.
The following recipe is slightly adapted from Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I actually found it online at this lovely blog. The key, as with most bread recipes that call for yeast, is a little patience and a side project. Break out that magazine you’ve been wanting to catch up on. Or the ironing or wii fit or…you know. You get the idea. And for me, my dough took longer to rise than the recipe dictated, so it took a little extra patience and some nail biting. But it all worked out in the end. It’s as simple as rising, quickly cooking on a griddle or skillet, and baking for a few minutes:
I wrote about the recipe and a great cafe in San Francisco that makes their own English muffins on Bay Area Bites this week, so if you’re interested in reading even more on the topic, feel free to head over there. Otherwise, here’s your ticket to brighter mornings.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Mix in the butter (or shortening) and 3/4 cup of milk (or buttermilk). If the dry ingredients are not yet fully incorporated, add enough of the remaining milk so a dough forms. Stop mixing right when this occurs: don’t over mix! Sprinkle flour on a dry surface and turn the dough out of the mixer, and knead by hand for about 9-10 minutes. The dough should be tacky (but not sticky), and register 77 to 81 F. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and roll the ball of dough around the bowl to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for at least an hour, or until the dough doubles in size. It helps to keep the dough (in terms of rising) in a relatively warm place–away from cold, drafty windows or open doors.
Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and shape into small balls. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet and spray lightly with oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal.
Move the dough balls to the baking sheet, spacing them evenly with enough room to rise and double in size. Mist them lightly with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal then cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise another hour, or until the rolls are nearly double in size. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Heat a flat griddle to medium (350 F) (you can also use a skillet on the stove top if you don’t have a griddle). Brush the griddle lightly with oil and gently transfer the dough balls to the griddle. Allow them to cook for 5-8 minutes or until the bottoms are a rich golden brown color. Be careful not to burn. Carefully flip and cook the other side for the same amount of time. They should flatten as they cook.
Remove the muffins from the skillet and transfer them to a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes.Transfer the baked muffins to a cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.