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TODAY

Thursday, July 18

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Have you ever seen fresh English muffins for sale in a bakery? Me either. I've smelled the Bay's muffins from their factory on the Near West Side, but I haven't ever had the pleasure of eating one piping hot, out of the oven.

Of course until last night, when I tried baking them for the first time.

Making your own English muffins might remind you of a simpler time, when a family had a single cast iron pan for generations and food was cooked over an open fire. Or it might remind you of why you buy English muffins at Jewel at two for $4 with your Preferred Card because making them yourself takes a measly 4 hours. (Don't be scared by that though - like most bread baking, the actual time spent actively doing something is about 45 minutes.)

When made at home, English muffins are much puffier than their store-bought counterparts. When given the proper chance to rise, you'll get a muffin that approaches two inches in height, and is quite soft.

If you've been scared off of baking bread before, this is a good recipe to start. Since you're making a lot of muffins, if you mess up the first few, by the time you get to the last batch you'll probably have the process down pat. This dough is pretty rich, and thus kneading it and working with it is simple. It's more forgiving if you add too much of one thing or too little of another. Also, with a fair amount of sugar, milk and warmth, you shouldn't have problems getting the yeast to perform.

(Note: If you like that tart and tangy taste of Bay's, you can easily make Sourdough English Muffins. You'll just need to plan a few days ahead to make the sourdough starter.)

Ingredients:

- 1 pkg yeast
- 1.5 cups milk
- 2 tbl. sugar
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 c. shortening
- 5 c. white flour (roughly)

Instructions:

1. Soften the yeast in 1/2 c. water that is hot from the tap (about 110F)

2. Scald the milk by heating it in a pan until it's quite hot but not boiling.

3. Mix the milk, salt, shortening and sugar. Let it cool to lukewarm.

4. Add two cups of flour and stir.

5. Add the yeast, and stir. Continue adding small amounts of flour until you have a dough that's hard to turn with a spoon.

6. Begin kneading the dough, adding flour if it sticks to your hand or the cutting board. Knead for 8-10 minutes. The end product should be satiny-smooth and soft.

7. Grease a bowl and place the dough in it and let it rise until doubled, about one hour. Place a cloth or piece of plastic wrap over the dough as it is rising to prevent it from getting dried out.

7.5 (This recipe makes about 20 English muffins, which have to be eaten in about 24 hours. If that's too many for you, cut the dough in half at this point. Place one half in a bread pan, let it rise again until doubled and then bake at 375 for 40 minutes and you'll have a delicious white bread. For muffins, continue reading.)

8. After it is done rising, punch the dough down and let it rest for 10 minutes. Roll it out into a flat plain surface so that it's reasonably thin, about 1/2 inch. Take a saucer (or empty can or any other round thing) and cut out into circular shapes. Set these aside and let them rise for roughly 1 hour.

9. Take a cast iron pan and oil it. Set the heat to medium high and let the pan get good and toasty.

10. Add the muffins, turning frequently to prevent them from burning. They're done when they look done. (Yes, it's that simple.)

I have tested these muffins with butter, almond butter, and peanut butter, all in the name of ummm, science. While toasting is required, I'll say they were delightful with any of the above ingredients. If I had to make a recommendation though, butter is where it's at.

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