Baking requires having enough quiet, or at least some point in the day that’s still. When done in haste or if distracted, something invariably goes awry. This simple loaf of English Muffin Bread is my atonement for a recent baking mishap, where I was in a hurry and left out an ingredient, making all the difference between something edible and something not.
Tucked in a brief chapter on batter breads, this recipe is from James Beard’s comfy book, Beard on Bread. It’s based on English muffin batter, and requires the uncommon step of stirring in a baking soda solution after the first rise. It gives the resulting loaf a coarse, open texture. Once the bread is done, it’s good sliced into thick shingles, and topped with a lavish amount of butter and a drizzle of honey. Sliced more thinly, it pairs well with smoked salmon, like a poor man’s brioche. Either way, to avoid it seeming underdone, do toast it before serving.
It’s nice to know that this batter can be made entirely by hand, as instructed in the original recipe. Here, though, I’ve chosen to use an electric mixer to help me build elasticity into the mass of sticky dough. I’ve substituted whole wheat pastry flour for 1/2 cup of the white, all-purpose variety because I usually can’t bear not to. We’re in the less than 10% of American households without one but, if you really must hurry, there’s a microwave version.
English Muffin Bread
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup warm water (100° – 115°F)
2½ cups all-purpose flour (2 cups a.p. + ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoons salt
⅞ cup warm milk
¼ teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water
– Combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a large mixing bowl, stir to dissolve, and let mixture sit until it becomes foamy on top. Mix flour and salt together in a separate bowl.
– Add the flour and salt mixture and warm milk in alternate portions while stirring vigorously (or mixing with paddle attachment) to form a loose dough. Beat the dough very hard until it shows some elasticity and looks almost ready to leave the sides of the bowl. It will remain loose and sticky. When it has an almost gummy quality, cover and let rise in a warm place for about 1¼ to 1½ hours, until doubled in bulk. Stir down with a wooden spoon, add the dissolved soda, and beat vigorously again for about 1 minute to distribute the soda thoroughly, or the bread will be streaky.
– Butter a 9-inch loaf pan, make sure to cover all sides well (or line with parchment paper). Fill pan with dough, using a rubber spatula to scrape it from the bowl. Let rise again in a warm place for about 1 to 1¼ hours.
– Heat the oven at 375°F. Place the bread in the oven and bake until it is golden on top and shrinks slightly for the sides of the pan, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling. If necessary, loosen loaf from the edges of the pan with a knife. Cut in ½ inch slices for toasting.
Adapted from “Beard on Bread” by James Beard.
Submitted to YeastSpotting.