English Muffins with Simple Strawberry Jam • Wren • When My Mother Comes to Visit…

English muffin

When my mother comes to visit…

… she rouses in the wee hours of the morning, brewing coffee, making oatmeal, preparing the kitchen for the pitter patter of hungry, cranky, little (and big) bodies.

… all day long she runs up and downstairs — seriously, she’s forgotten how to sit down — fetching clothes, doing laundry, making dinner.

… somehow she finds time to make me an Earl Grey tea latte — so good! — every morning, to make dinner every evening, and to bake a cake with Ella somewhere in between, this time a storybook recipe called “happy winter chocolate cake,” which, as many of you might suspect by now, is dry and disgusting.

… she, perhaps still seeing me as a three-year-old needing positive reinforcement, oohs and ahhs over every little thing I make, even a batch of completely inedible lemon ice cream. She tries not to wince as she forces a few bites down but finally agrees that cloying lemon ice cream and repulsive happy winter chocolate cake belong in the garbage together.

… she brings me fun gadgets like English muffin rings, because she knows I’ve been on a little English muffin-making kick recently.

… she also brings recipes. Her track record for selecting winners is astonishingly good.

… and when she sees how happy the sight of eight beautiful English muffins puffed in cornmeal-crusted rings makes me, she thinks about what might make me even happier, perhaps something sweet to spread across those nooks and crannies. She opens the fridge — remember, she can’t sit down for one second — to see what I’ve got on hand and 45 minutes later, she pours homemade strawberry jam, so fresh and bright, perfectly sweet and lemony, gelled to just the right consistency into an old bonne maman jam jar.

… and because some things are too good to resist, my mother finally finds a reason to join us all at the table.

Ben and I are convinced the house is going to fall to pieces when my mother heads home this weekend. My friends, on Friday we welcomed Wren Cobbett Stafford to the family. Ella and Graham aren’t quite sure what to make of their little sister, but they are surviving at the moment. I have been terribly unresponsive to comments this past week, but hope to catch up soon. I hope you all are well. Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

wren

halved English muffin

English muffin rings

English muffin dough, rising

rings in cast iron skillet

dough in rings

Don’t let the dough rise quite this high…flipping the muffins will be a little tricky if you do.
dough rising in cast iron skillets

English muffins

English muffins, in pans

strawberries

strawberries and sugar

strawberry jam

English muffin, toasted with strawberry jam

English Muffins

Recipe Adapted from Williams Sonoma Bread (I can’t find a direct link to this book…will update this once I do — mom says it’s a good one.)

Note: You mix this dough the night before cooking or the day of cooking. I have provided instructions for both ways below, but when I made these, I mixed the dough at night after dinner. Because of this, I didn’t bother warming the water or milk or blooming the yeast. I simply whisked all of the dry ingredients — flour, instant yeast, salt and sugar — in a large bowl, then added cold water, cold milk and the oil. After whisking this up, I stored the dough in the fridge overnight. The following morning, I let the bread rise at room temperature for about an hour before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Also, you do not need to have muffin rings to make this recipe, but if you are not opposed to collecting gadgets, they are kind of fun to have on hand. I made this recipe from the WSJ a few weekends ago, and I did not use rings, and the muffins puffed on the griddle beautifully. The WSJ recipe was very good as well — the muffins were delectable, truly, and the process was a little less fussy than this one — but I think this recipe is a little better…you get a few more of those nooks and crannies.

Also, Williams Sonoma offers these instructions for fashioning the rings from aluminum foil: Fold a 7×12-inch sheet of aluminum foil in half lengthwise and then into thirds, forming six layers in all. Bend the strips into circles 3.5 inches in diameter and secure with tape at the top.

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast (see note above if using instant yeast)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (6 oz. | 180 ml) lukewarm water (110ºF | 43ºC)
3 cups (15 oz. | 470 g) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (6 oz. | 180 ml) lukewarm milk (110ºF | 43ºC)
2 tablespoons corn oil (I used canola)

cornmeal for coating muffin rings and skillets

1. If you are baking these muffins the day you mix the batter: dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and let stand until bubbles begin to rise, about five minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, salt and sugar together in large bowl. Stir in the lukewarm milk, oil and water-yeast mixture, and beat until smooth making an almost pourable batter (mine wasn’t quite pourable). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, 60 to 70 minutes.

If you are mixing the dough the night before you bake the muffins: whisk all of the dry ingredients — flour, instant yeast, salt and sugar — in a large bowl. Add cold water, cold milk and the oil. Whisk until combined and store in the fridge overnight. The following morning, let the bread rise at room temperature for about an hour (or until doubled) before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. Note: if you are using active dry yeast, let it bloom in warm water as described in step 1.

2. Place a griddle or two heavy frying pans (I used two cast iron skillets) in the oven. Turn the oven to its lowest setting and heat for five minutes. Turn the oven off. Remove griddle/pans from oven and sprinkle with cornmeal. Butter the inside of eight 3.5-inch muffin rings and dip in cornmeal to coat. Arrange the rings on the griddle or pans.

3. Stir the dough to deflate. Scoop about 1/4 cup dough into each ring. (Note: If you have extra dough, divide it evenly among the rings.) Place the griddle/pans back into the barely warm oven and let rise for 30 minutes or less. Remove the griddle/pans from the oven when the dough has risen to the rim of the rings — you don’t want the dough to be spilling over the rim of the rings as it is doing in the picture above. This creates issues when flipping.

4. Set the griddle/pans over medium-low heat. Cook slowly, loosening the muffins from the pan with a spatula after five minutes to prevent sticking, until the bottoms of the muffins are a very pale brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a spatula flip the muffin (ring still intact) and lightly brown on the second side for another 8 minutes.

5. Transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool. When ready to eat, split muffins in half with a fork, then toast them.

Simple Strawberry Jam

Guided by a recipe for “low-sugar” jam in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Note: Use this recipe as a guide. Strawberries vary dramatically in sweetness, and depending on ripeness, the level of pectin will vary, too. My mother added lemon to taste and followed Bittman’s plate-in-the-freezer trick for determining doneness.

Plate-in-the-freezer trick to determine in advance if your fruit will gel: Stick a plate in the freezer for 10 minutes. When it has cooked down to mush, place one teaspoonful on a cold plate. Place the plate in the fridge. Check it after 2 minutes. If the jam has gelled, you’re all set. Otherwise, continue cooking the jam for 5 to 10 minutes longer using this technique to check for doneness as you wish.

12 oz. strawberries (to yield about 3 cups once hulled and quartered), hulled and quartered
3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar (or more or less depending on sweetness)
freshly squeezed lemon juice (mom ended up using about 2 tablespoons)

1. Place the strawberries and 3/4 cup of the sugar in a small saucepan. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice. Turn the heat to medium high. Stick a plate in the freezer if you feel you are going to want to test the jam for doneness before it cools.

2. Cook, stirring frequently, breaking up the fruit with the back of a fork, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture liquifies. Taste and add more sugar if necessary.

3. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick, about 30 minutes (or more or less — Mom ended up cooking the jam for about 45 minutes). Use the plate-in-the-freezer trick if you wish to determine doneness. Taste and add more lemon juice or sugar if necessary. Cool and refrigerate.

English muffins, stacked

Comments

  1. Katie S says

    Congratulations on new addition to the family! What a beautiful baby!! I knew you were pregnant. I just KNEW it! If you ever announced it, I missed it. But I could also see that your posts had tapered off a little in the past couple of months. I immediately suspected pregnancy.

    BTW – muffins and jam look delicious. I wish my mom could cook like yours :-)

  2. says

    A big welcome to little Wren into the family. Such a little sweetie. As for commenting good heavens, I would think you have your hands full at the moment with your three little munchkins. And speaking of munching I need to make English Muffins as soon as possible.

  3. L. Fraser says

    Oh Alexandra, she is so beautiful! And such a wonderful name! Congratulations to you all! Love, Laurie

  4. cherie says

    congratulations on your beautiful new daughter – lovely name – lovely treats from a lovely mother!

  5. Wendy says

    Mazel tov! An Earl Grey latte toast to you and your family. Enjoy all the treats of May–berries, babies! I have two birthdays (and parties) to celebrate this week. May is a wonderful time for new arrivals!

  6. says

    I am so thrilled to hear about your new addition–she is so beautiful! Congratulations! And I am in LOVE with your mom! May I borrow her sometime? :)

  7. Katykat says

    Ali, this is why I love your blog so much. Not because you post awesome recipes that change my life, but you write such wonderful things that make my day. And I have been eating English muffins every morning for the past 5 years, so I wonder what it would do to actually make my OWN English muffins! I might die of happiness. Your mom is so wonderful! And Wren is a beautiful baby. I can’t wait to meet her!

  8. says

    Woo Hoo!!!! Congratulations Alexandra!!!!! Baby Wren is so adorable!!!!! As always, enjoying your blog. Earl Grey latte sounds pretty good. Now I know what the bag full of round cookie cutters I found at the thrift store are. I found 7 in a bag for $1.50. Have a Blessed day!!! ❤

  9. janning says

    Beautiful Wren!!!
    May she follow in her mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps with the talent and love to make beautiful food.

  10. says

    …Beautiful…just beautiful…your children are beautiful. you are incredible and your Mom is a magician ! thank you for sharing. blessings!

  11. says

    First, congratulations! Second, your timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was just staring at a quart of strawberries that were on the verge of going bad. I had no idea what I was going to do with them. The jam turned out delicious.

  12. Dorothea says

    Just this morning I thought that it was quiet on your Blog….now I understand! What a beautiful daughter, congratulations. Enjoy the time with your mother, she sounds awesome! Can’t believe you put up a new post so fast, good luck to you and your family.

  13. says

    Hello, beautiful Wren! So excited for the addition to the Stafford family. I can’t believe you are already posting and cooking – you amaze me. And I can’t wait to put my English muffin rings to work again.

  14. Anne says

    Ali!! Congratulations!! Wren is absolutely perfect. I am sure she already knows how lucky she is to join the amazing Cobbett/Stafford family. I am glad you are all doing well and your mom must be having so much fun. Aren’t grandma’s amazing?! Kath/Pete and little Ali (21 months) were just here to visit and we had a great time. My mom was in heaven. Oh, btw, Anna (Denis’s wife) is much more of a chef than I these days and she made me your Lemon Ricotta pound cake AND the traditional dumplings last week. Both amazing. Thank you for inspiring her :)
    Missu!! xoxo

  15. says

    Hi Alexendra, congratulations on the new addition, so precipus. Your mom sounds like a wonderful person to be there for you so it all runs smoothly. Those english muffins look good. I will definitely try them soon.

    Lise

  16. Lee Wheeler says

    Ali—-Bates notified us of the arrival of Wren—-she’s beautiful and congratulations to all. No need to reply. You’ve more than your hands full. Thank goodness for mum’s!! xxoo’s,

  17. sana says

    Hi Alexandra,
    Congratulations to you and your family. They are adorable kids.
    The strawberry jam looks so beautiful. For some reason mine is always darker. Maybe because I use brown sugar. I will try with sugar next time. Thanks!

  18. says

    Muffin rings! I have to get my hand on some of those. I am English Muffin obsessed and they are so expensive here in the stores, so I’ve always been interested in making my own! Do you know how well they freeze well for if I was to make a large batch?

    • says

      Pamela — They freeze great! I would split them with a fork before you freeze them and wrap each muffin in plastic wrap or foil before storing them all in a ziplock bag. That’s what I did. They toast up beautifully!

  19. Laurie Fraser says

    I just realized that Wren was born on May 17th?? My granddaughter turned 18 on that day! (I had to sneak another look at tiny Wren! :) )

  20. says

    Congratulations and thank you for all the great photos of the English Muffin making process! I’ve been wanting to make some myself but was a little intimidated by the instructions. I think maybe I can handle it now ;-)

  21. Mama Poule says

    Congratulations! May Wren grow happy and healthy!! And I agree that there is nothing better after giving birth than your Mom’s presence, cooking, help, and patience!
    And you are a total rock star for blogging a week after giving birth!

  22. says

    Ali! Wren! oh my goodness, she is beautiful. Sending so much love your way. I had no idea you were pregnant and I’m super impressed that you were able to keep up with blogging and that you’re blogging now. And these muffins, yum. I’m going to have to get my mom to practice making these a few times before she comes over to Zurich to help with our little bundle in August. xo

  23. Christine says

    I’m not familiar with the muffin rings….do you think you could use a canning jar ring/lid or are they too short?

  24. Nikki B says

    Looking for your Amazing quinoa salad recipe Ali and came upon this post…yum for the English muffins!! Must try:) and melted me with precious wren!! Oh and loved learning a bit more about your mama too. I could feel her energy thru your descriptions of her! Your blog is truly phenomenal lady…so many fabulously unique recipes…And with them come the neat little stories about the life that fills and surrounds your kitchen each day…could stay on here all night;) although my growling belly insists I stop at some point soon…

  25. says

    Would love your recipe for Earl grey latte! Can’t wait to see what you post next!! I have made so many of your recipes and loved each one of them!

    • says

      Tammy, thank you so much for your nice comment. I think I might have to do a post on the Earl Grey Tea latte. The only thing is that you kind of need some sort of milk frother. I have the aeroccino (nespresso). Do you have one or something like it? If you do, it’s easy: half a cup (a tea cup) of hot earl grey tea topped with about the same amount of frothed milk.

  26. says

    OMG!!! I have been craving for English muffins for years, as much a food heaven as Italy is, I have NEVER seen English muffins being sold here. I definitely must try this thank you for sharing the recipe!!!

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