My dear bloggy friend Ingrid of 3B's...Baseball, Baking and Books recently sent me a charming email in response to a post I did for mall-style cinnamon rolls. In her note she said she mentioned was a timid about working with yeast but it was a dream of hers to be able to make cinnamon rolls for her family. Well, I have a huge soft spot for children, and an equally soft spot for bakers with cinnamon roll dreams. I wasn't sure what I could do to help, so I enlisted the advice and wisdom of a truly great baker, Coleen of Coleen's Recipes. Between us, we've decided to post several recipes that will lead up to cinnamon rolls in an effort to give Ingrid and other yeast-phobic cooks an opportunity to build up their skills and confidence in working with yeast. Just take a look at Coleen's sensational recipe, Fool-Proof Butter Horns, so beautifully presented and delicious that experienced and inexperienced alike would love to make this.
I posted this English Muffin Batter Bread among my very first posts on this blog. There is no kneading, no second rise, and the results exceed the effort expended. There is no teacher like experience, and it is only through experience that one gains the "feel" and "look" of dough. In the beginning I made bread that, if shellacked, would have made perfect doorstops. I've left out the sugar, the salt, put them in twice, over- and under-proofed the dough. You name it, I've probably done it. Despair and resignation may set in for that day, but before you know it, I am pulling out my bowls, measuring cups and flour again.
Let's post the recipe first.
English Muffin Batter Bread II
(King Arthur Flour website recipe)
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup waterCornmeal for sprinkling the inside your baking pans and tops of the uncooked loaves
Gather your gear and your ingredients. That way you'll know immediately if you're missing something you're going to need. Prepare two 8 1/2 inch x 4 1/2 inch baking pans by greasing well and then sprinkling a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal around the inside by shaking and rolling the pans . Usually I do this over the sink so that any stray cornmeal is easier to clean up. (I forgot to take a picture of this, and would have gone back and done it with a clean pan but I had already used up the last of my cornmeal.) Anyway, moving on.
Combine the milk and the water in a container large enough to hold the liquids and heat until very warm, 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit. An instant read thermometer, while not critical, is a good kitchen tool to have for this and can save you from killing the yeast because the liquid is too hot, or slowing down the yeast because it's too cool.
In a large bowl, sift together 3 cups of the flour, sugar, salt and soda. I know that most flour comes to us presifted, but I'm going to suggest you sift again. My flour says it's presifted and look at those little flour clumps. You do not want those in your batter. Add the yeast and give the dry ingredients a quick stir to quickly incorporate everything.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and give it a really good stir, scraping against the sides of the bowl with your spoon to press out any lumps.
The batter will smooth out and look like thick pancake batter. The bubbles tell me that my yeast is alive and working. There is a nice, yeasty aroma.
Mix in the remaining flour. Now this is where some experience is going to be helpful. There's 2 1/2 cups remaining, but I only sifted in two cups, stirred and took a look and feel at what I had. The dough, while it's supposed to be sticky, should not be wet. I added another 1/4 cup, stirred again, and it looked and felt right to me. The dough is heavy and sticky, craggy and raggedy in appearance, feels gloppy, but not wet. Depending on the humidity of your home or the amount of moisture when the wheat was harvested (and perhaps even the alignment of the moon?) you may need all or more flour.
Spoon (glop, actually) the dough into the two prepared pans. I happen to weigh my doughs and batters but if you have a good eye, use your personal judgment. Having equal amounts of dough and batter in your pans will help to ensure that your products will cook evenly and will make for a better appearance. This dough is sticky and elastic, you may have to pinch and stretch it into place a bit. The idea is not to have everything heaped to one side. Sprinkle tops with a little cornmeal.
There are any number of methods to proof dough. I personally use my oven and set a hot bowl of water underneath and leave the oven light on. I might replace the water once or twice during the proofing process just to ensure there's ample warm air. If your kitchen is particularly warm, you can tent tinfoil over the loaves or cover with a damp towel (I don't care for that method because your dough can stick to it and deflate when you remove the towel) . I'm not sure but I think I saw a tent-like gadget for sale that is used for proofing dough.
The directions say to let the dough rise for about 45 minutes or until it's just risen over the rims of the pans. I checked my dough after 35 minutes and it looked good. Too much longer and the dough might have overinflated and fallen.
I took the pans out of the oven (very important) and preheated my oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oven was preheated, I set the loaves back in the oven, with the racks set at midpoint. Bake for 25 minutes or until a light thump with your knuckle on the top of the loaf sounds hollow.
When baked, remove the loaves to a wire rack to finish cooling.
I let the first loaf cool down for maybe 15 minutes or so and then I can bear the temptation no longer. There really is nothing like the smell of yeast bread to make a home smell homey. As gently as I can, I cut a couple of slices off the loaf (being careful not to squish the loaf because it is fragile when it's hot like this) and eat it as is with a pat of butter. What can I say, I am a weak person, and patience is not one of my virtues.
And what happened to the cinnamon rolls, you ask? Well sit tight. There's more that's coming!