I have made a lot of bread in the past couple of years, so I’m not sure how it is that I had never heard of English Muffin Bread. But in the course of a couple of days, I stumbled upon not one but two recipes for it. I took it as a sign and in short order, I had made my first batch (trying the King Arthur version). And then I made another (using the second recipe I had visited earlier). And then I had to make one more, because I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I’d tried it and compared it to the first two. I could call it “research” but truth be told, I’m smitten with English Muffin Bread and I was in search of the perfect loaf.
The most delicious, best english muffin bread recipe, adapted from the great bread baker Bernard Clayton.
So now that I have made 3 batches from 3 different recipes, I have definitely settled on my favourite. It was my third attempt and it comes from the grandfather of bread baking – Bernard Clayton. I had recently found a 1st edition of his book “The New Complete Book of Breads” at an antique store and snapped it up. Interestingly, this first edition has an error in the recipe for English Muffin Bread. It fails to include the specifics for the baking soda, despite mentioning adding it in the instructions. I did manage to find the amounts on the internet though, so I was ready to go.
The first thing to know about this bread, is that she ain’t going to win any bread beauty contests. When you remove it from the pan, it will be flat, squatty, browned and wrinkled. It might even sink a bit in the middle as it cools. As you slice into it, you might find some brown-ish spots or streaks, caused by the chemical reaction of the baking soda. But take that slice and toast it, and add a generous spread of butter and you will soon forget all that! This bread toasts beautifully – crispy around the outside and tender in the middle. The nooks and crannies are perfect vehicles for little pools of melted butter. Almost crumpet-like. It’s excellent toasted or grilled (makes a killer grilled cheese) or try it toasted under a poached egg or with eggs benedict. This bread is great anywhere you might use a regular English Muffin.
This is also the perfect bread for non-bread bakers to try. This is a batter bread, so there is no kneading involved. You literally pour this batter into the pans. It will take you about 3 hours from start to finish, but only about about 10 minutes of hands-on time.
The only small issue I had with the original Clayton recipe was the shortness of the loaves. I wanted more with each slice and was tired of losing them in my toaster and resorting to all manner of devices to fish them out. So while it felt a little wrong to mess with a Bernard Clayton recipe, I did scale it up by half, to make a bit higher loaves. It worked perfectly. I kept the original ratios intact, so the scaled version was identical in taste and texture to the original, just higher and not nearly as prone to getting lost in my toaster.
- 1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.) dry active or instant yeast (not rapid rise)
- Pinch of sugar
- 3/4 cup warm water (105-115° F.)
- 2 1/4 cups warm milk (100° F.)
- 1 Tbsp. fine sea salt
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 1/2 Tbsp. water
- Cornmeal for dusting pans
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the warm water. Stir and let stand for 5 minutes. At the end of the 5 minutes, it should be foaming with bubbles (this is called "proofing" as it proves your yeast is active). If you have bubbles, you're good to go.
- Add the warm milk to the water and yeast mixture. Add the salt and mix in. With a large wooden spoon or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer running at low speed, add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring the flour in after each addition. Stir until smooth and well-blended, about 30 strokes by hand or about a minute on low with a stand mixer.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour. (I make this in a stand mixer. After mixing, I simply remove the paddle attachment and place plastic wrap over the top of the stand mixer bowl. Wash off the paddle attachment to use again later.
- Prepare two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans by spraying well with non-stick spray (or grease well). Sprinkle liberally with cornmeal on the bottom and sides of the pans. Set aside.
- At the end of the hour rise, the dough should have doubled in size and be quite bubbly.
- If making by hand, stir down the batter-like dough and add the dissolved baking soda. (This is responsible for the lovely bubble texture of the finished bread.) Be sure to stir the baking soda in well. If using a stand mixer, remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and return the paddle attachment to the mixer, then add in the dissolved baking soda and mix into the dough on low speed for about 30-45 seconds.
- Pour or spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pans, dividing the batter evenly between the two pans. A silicone bowl scraper works really well for this job. If necessary, use a spatula to push the batter into the corners of the pan. The pans will be about 1/2 full. *Tip: To clean your mixing bowl, fill it with cold water and let stand a bit. With the water still in it, use a cloth to wipe the dough off the bowl. Empty the bowl, then proceed to wash as usual.
- Spray a piece of plastic wrap with non-stick spray and place over the pans, sprayed side towards the dough. Place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise, for about 30 minutes - 1 hour, or until the dough rises to within 1/2-inch of the top of the pan, but not cresting the pan. Don't wander to far, as this may happen fairly quickly. You don't want the dough to rise above the edge of the pan. It's important that this bread doesn't over-rise to get the proper texture.
- When your pans are nearing ready, preheat your oven to 375° F. When the loaves are ready, you may sprinkle the top with additional cornmeal, if desired. Place in the oven and bake for 60-70 minutes. (I set my timer for 50 minutes and at that point I place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top of the loaves to prevent them from browning too much. I re-set the timer for another 10 minutes and check for done-ness at that point. I will often give them another 5 minutes, covered loosely again with foil, as you really can't hurt it. If under-baked, this bread may collapse in the middle, so I tend to go for the bit longer time. The loaves will be well-browned and have pulled away from the sides of the pan. when done.
- When done, remove from the oven and immediately remove the loaves from the pans. Set them to cool by laying them on their side on a wire rack (cooling on their sides prevents the centre of the loaf from sinking in). Allow to cool completely before slicing.
- This bread freezes well or store at room temperature in a ziploc bag for several days.
Adapted from Bernard Clayton’s “New Complete Book of Breads”