Sometimes the best things in life happen by complete accident.
Take my discovery of this amazing recipe for “English Muffin Bread” that’s “baked” in your microwave in mere minutes. I kid you not.
A month ago, Rebecca from New Hampshire, emailed me out of the blue, frantically searching for this recipe by cookbook author Lora Brody. She’d made it before, loved it, but couldn’t for the life of her lay her hands on it again at the moment. So, she did what we all do: She Google’d it. The search engine returned a link to where she could find it: FoodGal.com. Trouble is I not only didn’t have that recipe on my blog, but I’d never even heard of it. Go figure.
After she and I exchanged perplexed emails, Rebecca eventually found the recipe again in Brody’s cookbook, “The New England Table” (Chronicle Books), and sent me a copy. It’s adapted from a James Beard recipe.
And it’s a marvel.
I’ve made English muffins from scratch before. They’re glorious when they’re home-made, but they are quite laborious.
This English muffin loaf is far, far easier. Sure, you still have to let the dough rise. But since it’s a loaf, you don’t have to shape individual rounds to griddle them. You also don’t have to turn on the stove and heat up the house in the summer if you want fresh bread. Is that a godsend or what?
A simple dough of all-purpose and whole wheat flour is stirred together with a little cornmeal, sugar, salt and yeast. Allow it to proof for an hour. Then, you punch it down before stirring in a pinch of baking soda mixed with warm water. Let it rise again for half an hour, then it’s ready to go into your microwave for all of six and a half minutes.
When it emerges, it may look pale and undone, but cut a slice and toast it to be rewarded. It’s bread with crisp parts, chewy parts and airy parts — a cornucopia of pleasing textures.
It doesn’t have the developed flavor of English muffins made with a starter. But I decided to experiment with a second batch by allowing the dough to rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, I allowed it to come to room temperature for about two hours, before punching it down, then adding the baking soda mixture. Because the dough was so cold, you may have to nuke it for just a few second longer in the microwave.
And the taste in this version? When toasted with butter, it did have a slightly more fermented bread flavor.
So, if you have the extra time, I recommend letting the dough rest overnight in the fridge. If not, go with the standard method for a still very satisfying result.
From now on, if anyone ever Googles the recipe, it really will be found on my blog.
English Muffin Bread
(Makes 1 loaf)
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup (2.5 ounces) whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) buttermilk, heated to 110 degrees
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Combine 1 cup of the all-purpose flour with the whole wheat flour, cornmeal, sugar, yeast, and salt in a medium mixing bowl and whisk lightly until combined. Slowly add the warm buttermilk while stirring with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup of all-purpose flour and continue beating by hand until the batter is stiff and just slightly sticky.
Scrape the dough into another oiled, medium sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. With a wooden spoon, stir down the batter to release the gas and deflate the dough. Dissolve the baking soda in 1 tablespoon of warm water and add this solution to the batter. Use the wooden spoon to mix until distributed evenly. Butter a 6-cup microwave-safe loaf pan and put the batter in the pan. Cover it with plastic wrap and set aside again in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
Place the loaf pan in the microwave and cook the dough on full power (high) for 6 ½ minutes. The bread will still be doughy, full of holes, and raw looking; this is fine. Cool the dough in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.
To serve, cut as many slices as desired and toast them until crisp and golden brown.
Note: Brody says that powdered buttermilk may be substituted. Add the powder with the other dry ingredients in the first step. Then add warmed water in place of milk.
Note: For a more developed flavor, follow the recipe through the step of scraping the dough into another oiled, medium sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, allow the dough to come to room temperature for about 2 hours before stirring in the baking soda-water mixture. Then, follow the remaining steps in the recipe. If the dough is still a little cool before going into the microwave, you might have to add a few more seconds of cooking time.
Adapted from a recipe by Lora Brody in “The New England Table”
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