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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.