Muffins

Muffins

Bread muffins are quintessentially and traditionally British and have a very particular appearance – golden brown on their flat tops and bottoms, with a broad band of pale softness around the middle.  Recipes can be found at least as far as the mid 18th century, but there seems to be a lack of anything older. I suspect the reason for this is that muffins were traditionally made by bakers as opposed to the home cook, and therefore had no place in domestic cookery books. So – a professional baker might well have been the original source of Hannah Glasse’s muffin recipe.

Heroines of Cookery: Hannah Glasse (1708 – 1770)

Hannah Glasse is best known for her cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, first published in 1747 and constantly in print for almost 100 years – although her authorship was allegedly only definitively established in the 1930s. She wrote in a very no-nonsense manner, advocated the use of fresh, seasonal, inexpensive ingredients and made her opinions regarding pretentious and wasteful foreign cooks known in no uncertain terms:

“So much is the blind folly of this age, that they would rather be imposed on by a French booby than give encouragement to a good English cook.”

The Art of Cookery covers all aspects of food preparation in a straightforward and concise manner. Impressively, Hannah also includes chapters on preserving meats, bottling and pickling, tips on how to buy fresh produce at market and also includes a seasonal calendar of fruits and vegetables. Free digital copies of her famous book are available here and here.

I think Hannah must have been quite a character. Her recipe is entitled “To make muffins and oat cakes” – but in enthusing about the proper way to make muffins, she wanders off at a tangent and gets so distracted, that the oat cakes are never mentioned again. She even goes so far as to include instructions for building the cooking surface upon which you are supposed to do your muffin cooking. On one point, however, she is most clear: knives should not be used on muffins. Toast them whole and then tear them apart by hand, and be rewarded with pillowy-soft, honeycombed centre, but…

“…don’t touch them with a knife, either to spread or cut them open, if you do they will be as heavy as lead…”

 

Muffins

Makes 12-15 small muffins

420ml whole milk
50g butter
1 tsp salt
2 tbs granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 tbs potato flour [1]
400g strong white bread flour
1 sachet instant yeast
rice flour, for shaping (optional)[2]
semolina, for cooking (optional)

  • Cut the butter into small dice and add to the milk. Heat gently (microwave/saucepan) until the milk is warmed and the butter melted.
  • Put all ingredients except the semolina and the rice flour in the bowl of your stand mixer and knead slowly to combine. Continue kneading for 5 minutes.
  • If the dough is looking stretchy and shiny, then cover and leave to rise for 1 hour. If not, add more(3-4 tbs) flour and knead for another 5 minutes. Cover and leave to rise.
  • Tip out the dough and knock it back (i.e. pat it down to deflate).
  • Divide dough into 80-100g pieces and shape the dough into balls.
  • Heat your pan over a low heat. Do not add any grease or oil.
  •  When the whole pan is of an even heat, scatter semolina into the bottom of the pan if liked.
  • Use a fish slice/spatula to move the muffins into the pan turning them over as you do so.
  • Cook gently until the undersides are nicely browned – between 5-8 minutes – then use your spatula to turn over the muffins.
  • Cook the second side for a slightly shorter time. If you’ve made a test muffin, you can pull it apart to check the insides are fully cooked.
  • The semolina helps keep the muffins from sticking to the pan, but it does get very browned, so wipe the pan clean after every batch and add fresh semolina before the next batch.

[1] Available at health food stores, Holland & Barrett, Oriental food shops.
[2] I got this tip from Elizabeth David’s book English Bread and Yeast Cookery. The rice flour dries the surface of the muffins without making them sticky or leaving clumps, so the excess is easy to brush off. If unavailable, substitute with cornflour or just use regular flour.

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