What Is It About Bread?

"Give us this day our daily bread." It’s one of the oldest prepared foods: a staple in Europe, then brought to the Americas. Whether it’s a bagel with a cup of coffee and the paper or a crusty baguette shared over a rich meal with family, bread brings people together. This is a tribute to my uncle Jeff, who gave me the confidence to start baking my own.

If bread is a metaphor for life, our basic necessity, then it makes sense to me to close out 2010 with my favorite loaf. Simple, toasty, salty, and sweet, the English muffin is probably my favorite “everyday” bread out there.

If you’re thinking “I can’t make stuff by hand”, put that mentality in your pocket my friend. This is simple and requires minimal ingredients. Baking from the basics (from scratch sounds intimidating) not only allows you to enjoy a fresh product that was made by your own hands, but it also reduces overall cost of purchase and eliminates the packaging that you’ll toss.

Put on some great music, clean a counter top, get out a medium size bowl, and get after it.

Step 1: Mix together in that medium bowl 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 tablespoon sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast. Stir in 1 tablespoon room temp butter and 3/4 cup room temp milk of choice (microwave it if you need to). Step 2: Clean the counter and sprinkle flour on it. Transfer the dough onto the counter and knead for 10 minutes. Turn your music up. Sprinkle in more flour to make it tacky...It will feel kind of like sticky-tack when it's right.

Step 3: Spray or oil a large bowl, put the dough inside, and roll the dough to coat it in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the warmest place in your house for 90 minutes or until it doubles in size. (It will take forever to rise if your house is at 68...try the inside the microwave, near the heater, get creative.)

Step 4: Wipe the counter with a damp cloth and move your dough onto it. Rip the dough into 6 or 8 equal pieces and shape them into balls.

Step 5: Dust a baking pan with cornmeal and space the dough on the pan. Spray the dough with oil and sprinkle the tops with cornmeal. Cover the pan with a towel and put them in a warm place to rise for another 60 minutes or until they swell up.

Step 6: Heat any old skillet on medium and pre-heat the oven to 350. Spray the pan and gently transfer the muffins to it. Fill the pan so that the pieces aren't touching. Keep the dough you aren't presently cooking covered with the towel, so they don't form a skin.

Step 7: Cook the muffins 5 minutes on each side or as long as you can without burning it, the bottoms will be a dark golden brown. The dough will flatten in the pan and spread slightly and the pieces will puff a bit. Don't turn them too soon or they'll fall when you flip it!

Step 8: When the dough can't be cooked any longer and both sides are dark brown, bake for 8 minutes in the oven to make sure the center is baked. Return to the uncooked pieces and cook&bake them like you did the first round. You're pretty much a professional.

Step 9: After baking in the oven, cool for about 30 minutes on a wire rack or any improv tool that allows air to hit the bottom so it doesn't get soggy.

Voila, you have made English Muffins. Get your coffee and make a breakfast sandwich for the New Year.

(Jeff, the most awesome man ever, about to bring us French Press in bed. Love abounds.)

Forks Over Knives

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