New World Sourdough: English Muffins + Bonus Pan de Coco

New World Sourdough is a 2020 cookbook by Bryan Ford. I will not be reproducing Ford’s recipes in my blog. Read his blog, buy his book, support his work.

All men have secrets and here is mine, so let it be known: I don’t really eat a lot of bread. Don’t get me wrong–I love eating bread, I’m excited to try making new breads, and I find a beautiful bake satisfying. Before I started baking it myself, however, I bought a loaf twice a year, tops. To deal with the rapid influx of bread in my home, I share my bakes with friends and group events, usually through a “hey, do you want this?” method.

Lately I’ve become more proactive, as the pandemic has re-instituted the barter system. So far I have exchanged bread for masks, wine, graphic design work, and pet-sitting. I now have a to-bake list for potential barter partners to select from; this week’s English muffins were requested in exchange for a DIY dollhouse kitchen.

Floury Language

The first thing that I noticed about this recipe is the high number of flours prescribed. In addition to the flour in the starter, these muffins take bread, all purpose, whole-wheat, semolina, and spelt flours (plus cornmeal). I have tinkered with flour types in bread recipes, and every little difference can make a little difference. Ford must have been on real quest for special flavor when he landed on this combination.

Counter with containers of cornmeal, semolina flour, bread flour, whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, a jar of sourdough starter, and spelt flour.
I imagine Artisan Bryan in a white lab coat, working in a castle while lightning strikes, laughing maniacally as he concocted the perfect formula.

With 65% hydration and a variety of hearty flours, this dough was a pleasure to knead. Thinking back, I’ve largely worked with high-hydration lean doughs and greasy enriched doughs. This low and lean mixture had me kneading with the confidence and contentment of a television baker.

Left: ball of kneaded dough on rubber mat with grey cat in background staring at dough. Top right: dough ingredients unmixed in bottom of clear tub. Bottom right: shaggy, lightly mixed dough on rubber mat.
The life cycle of dough.

I veered from the NWS path while shaping these bad boys. Ford instructs bakers to use a ring tool to cut the muffins out of the dough, as you would with a cookie (aka English biscuit) or biscuit (aka real biscuit). I questioned this method, wondering what I would do with the excess dough that would inevitably be left behind.

Rubber mat with ten piles or cuts of dough. Above is a baking sheet covered in cornmeal next to a cannister of cornmeal.
~92g each and not a gram went to waste. It’s a beautiful sight.

Taking to the internet, I watched a few shaping videos, and landed on this one to follow. Instead of flattened discs with cut edges, my shaped muffins were tight, rounded balls. I was worried that this would effect the final look–the classic, flat circle we know and love–but those dimensions are created in the cooking, not the shaping.

Baking sheet with ten balls of dough spaced out. All covered in a layer of cornmeal.
My kind of zen garden.

Magical Manufacture

To the untrained eye, English muffins are mystical. How are they cooked? Why are they so flat? Where do the nooks and crannies come from? Making them myself unmasked the magic but opened my eyes to the joy that is cooking English muffins.

The cooking process is unlike any bread I’ve made before. I heated my cast iron skillet and sprinkled a mixture of semolina and cornmeal on the dry metal, praying that this would work.

Top left: skillet with two rounded balls of dough on cornmeal. Bottom left: skillet with cornmeal and three half-cooked English muffins. the tops are flat and cooked. Right: Three partially cooked english muffins. THe tops are more well done.
Gravity, time, and heavy metal transform a ball of dough into the perfect breakfast sandwich bread.

Instead of a drawn-out, set it and forget it bake, these had to be made in small batches with several stages, each lasting only a few minutes. I used two timers: one for the skillet and one for the oven.

For simplicity (and because there are varying recommendations) I cooked them 5 minutes on each side in the skillet, followed by 5 minutes in the oven at 350°. The baking step is another tip from the video I watched, with the purpose of ensuring the dough is cooked through.

On the right is the counter with a baking pan. Is has several balls of dough covered in cornmeal and plastic wrap. Next to it on the counter is a small glass bowl filled with flour and a spoon. On the front left stove burner is a skillet with three dough balls and cornmeal. The dial is set to 3. Behind the top left burner are two digital timers reading 4:06 and 5:00. Next to the burners are two spatulas and a spoon rest. The oven is set to bake at 350°.
An assembly line of one.

English Revolution

The process was demystified, but I was nevertheless bewitched by the end result. I couldn’t believe how much these English muffins looked like English muffins.

Cooling rack with several English muffins.
Have you ever seen an English muffin that looked more like an English muffin?

Growing up, I figured nooks and crannies were a propriety invention of the Thomas corporation. Evidently, you just need two forks to bring them out.

English muffin split open on a blue plate.
Nooks and crannies all over the place.

They were a bit undercooked, but not terribly. They had plenty of time in the skillet, and in the future I would give them more time in the oven. (This may come into play whenever I make the NWS Cuban muffins.)

Despite the slightly underdone center, they had a good flavor and were perfect with butter or as a breakfast sandwich. For the record, I couldn’t tell if the small bits of semolina and spelt flour made any difference. This recipe make a lovely, wheaty bread.

Sandwich of egg and chese on english muffin on plate by coffee mug. All on a table near an open window.
I’m loving it.

After all was said and done, I reviewed additional English muffin recipes to see if others use a variety of flours (they don’t) or recommend baking after grilling (they do). I came upon the following line from the King Arthur Flour blog post on English muffins:

Text reads: See? Is that one good-looking homemade English muffin, or what? Move over, Thomas! Just like Jimi Hendrix did with Bob Dylan, we DIY-ers have got you covered.
There must be some way out of here.

I am happy to read any non-derogatory Bob Dylan reference, and I assume this refers to Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower.” But like what the battle outside raging will do to your windows, this simile is shaky.

Bonus Pan de Coco

This recipe left me with a lot of healthy, extra levain. For what isn’t the first time and won’t be the last, I thought, “Screw it. I’m making pan de coco.” I’ve made this blog-favorite bread a few times, with different levels of success, and I figured this would also be a good warm-up for the NWS version with chocolate.

Left: kneaded dough in green bowl. Right: dough filling green bowl after bulk fermentation.
Time smooths all doughs.

I didn’t have enough levain for a full loaf, so I cut the recipe in half. I was able to adequately fold it in the bowl, eliminating a messy kneading situation. This dough wouldn’t fill my smallest loaf pan, so I split the dough among three ramekins. These were also shaped by pulling them into tight rounds.

Left: three red ramekins on baking sheet, each containing a ball of dough that doesn't touch the sides. Right: same set up, but dough has expanded into the sides and puffed up.
The magic of yeast.

One theme to my baking is forgetting the last step right before it goes in the oven. In this case, after baking for 6 minutes I pulled them out and added coconut oil and shredded coconut (amidst a flurry of foul language). The coconut all burned off, but my feelings aren’t hurt. I’ve never had luck with the coconut topping, even when I added it at the right time.

Three small, round pan de coco loaves. They are topped with burnt coconut shreds. Sitting on a cooling rack in a baking pan on a table.
Gorgeous, independent ladies.

These were nicely baked through. As always, I love the pan de coco’s balance of sweet and savory. Thick enough to be excellent toasted with butter, and light enough to accompany any savory meal.

Pan de coco cut in half, showing inner crumb. On white cutting board.
Crumb de coco.

I never thought of making them before, but English muffins might be the perfect bread to keep around the house. They last several days, they can be eaten at any meal, they pair with sweet and savory, and they’re a lot of fun to make.

Cooling rack with nine English muffins on the left and three pan de coco buns on the right.
Right before the snapping and dance fighting begins.

Next week: masa focaccia


One thought on “New World Sourdough: English Muffins + Bonus Pan de Coco

  1. Pingback: New World Sourdough: Whole-Grain Pita Bread + Ligurian Focaccia and Discard Pretzels | Put It In Your Hat

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