Saturday, October 10, 2009

For Ingrid: English Muffin Batter Bread ~ A Yeast Primer

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 water
Cornmeal 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!


  1. I'm not afraid of yeast, but my English Muffins were a disaster. This sounds like a much better idea!

  2. I love your post today Katy, just excellent.

  3. What a the rescue...grin! Love are great at explaining step by step. I sure am still learning all the nuances of batter, yeast, bread name it. I am afraid I am more of a 'if it works it works...if it doesn't then in the hands of others it goes'...kind of a cook/baker! You are teaching the right way...with patience. Hey, I've got an extra apron...come on over anytime gal!

  4. Trish, on my way....

    Coleen, I've had fun doing this. I'd actually like to volunteer to teach cooking to some of young people. There are many who do not have the faintest idea. I think I related a story to you not too long ago, where a girl woman, who was bagging my groceries at the supermarket, helped up a bottle of vanilla extract and asked me what it was and how was it used. I am alarmed for her and for any children she may bring to this life.

    Barbara, I've never made the kind of English muffin that you cut out and cook in a skillet. This is sooo much easier and I'm very happy with easy, grins. I have successfully made crumpets though and when I'm feeling very British, we have tea and jam and crumpets. Yes,we can be very silly here.

  5. Hi Katy, Excellent information with great pictures ! Since learning the secret to getting yeast to work right, I don't think I can ever be entirely happy with store bought bread again. With a little pre-planning ahead I don't see why it would be so impossible to bring something so beautiful to the table. This bread looks just PERFECT Katy.

    & Absolutely !...just a simple pat of butter is all it calls for : )

    I love your butter dish and serving plate by the way, so classic and beautiful, just like all the food you prepare !

  6. Great job Katy and the bread looks divine. I have multigrain bread dough rising..I love baking with yeast.

  7. That is SO great of you to be teaching about yeast doughs, which can be so temperamental. I've been pretty lucky with my yeast experiments. A couple times, the dough didn't rise very much, but luckily the finished product was edible. Only once did I mess things up by killing the yeast with too-hot water. Oopsies!

  8. This was so warm and heartening - I love English Muffin bread so am bookmarking this. Since we are in the midst of snow showers (I won't talk about it), there seems nothing to do - but bake bread!

  9. How cool, that all of that "glopping" dough turns into those gorgeous loaves! What a great recipe. I love fresh baked bread and really enjoy working with yeast (if I ever have time these days). This looks just wonderful.

  10. Great idea to teach about yeast dough, Katy...I used to make yeast breads, but have gotten lazy! Hopefully this will inspire me! :)
    Your bread looks fantastic, which has me craving a big piece right now!

  11. Katy, these yeast bread look fabulous, love two resting on the wire rack the most, just beautiful.

    Angie's Recipes

  12. This is a fabulous, fabulous post, Katy! I am going to try this soon. I love the fact you dont have to knead. Your loaves look perfect!

  13. Katy!!

    This is absolutely the best blog post EVER!! Could you even get a more perfect looking loaf of bread? INCREDIBLE! I must say thanks for sharing all the photos and instructions. It makes me think that I might be able to pull off homemade bread making! Happy Sunday. . . .

  14. I never thought to weigh the loaves to make them even. So simple. Where have I been? Your giving me a craving for homemade cinnamon rolls. Cant wait for the post. The bread also looks devine and I wish I had a piece to go with my morning breakfast.

  15. You have the instincts of a good teacher and I applaud you step by step post towards cinnamon rolls. I like this recipe for myself and I do a great deal of bread baking. Have a great day.

  16. As soon and I can get my hands on a normal bread pan I will make these! The loaf pans here are so odd..really long and bigger. Im trying to find a way to order some here without going this looks fantastic!!!

  17. Oh Katy your bread looks absolutely perfect! This is one of my favorites.

    It's so nice to have the step by step photos to go along with the instruction.

    BTW, your dishes are so lovely!

  18. What an excellent tutorial Katie!! I can see that you put a lot of care and love into your baking. English Muffin bread is real yumm! These loaves look wonderful!

  19. Your loaves look gorgeous, especially the tops. Just screaming for a little bit of soft butter - total yum!

  20. I love English muffins, but have never tried making them from scratch. I'll have to give these a try!

  21. I am afraid to say that I am going to follow along so I won't but this is a great idea and I am going to TRY to follow along. It is time that is holding me back but......I really want to do it.

    Thanks for doing this.

  22. such a sweet idea, thank you! bread has always intimidated me a bit as well, so i'm enjoying the steps. the bread looks outstanding!

  23. ooops, i posted under my husbands name, lol, that was me!

  24. Great idea Katy. I have gotten away from making yeast bread but I think you have inspired me to start again. I am getting the King Arthur catalog - you suggested it a while back as a source for good chocolate. Thanks!

  25. Oh Katy you are a doll for posting this! You have no idea how little confidence I have when working with yeast. I did it once and thought I conquered my fear but didn't. I need to try again. This recipe is perfect since there is no kneading and you have great step by step pictures. I am going to give this a shot sometime soon. Thank you so much!

  26. You're making me hungry ;)

    And your apple pie looks incredible

  27. what a great idea... I just made my first loaf of bread ever yesterday. It is on my bucket list to be a baker some day. i will follow this closely. Thanks for all the idiot proof details. Like you were writing just for me

  28. Nice idea, Katy, to do a play by play on making yeast breads. I remember the first time I tried making bread. I was brand new to cooking, period, and when I read in the directions to add yeast to warm water, I had no clue that somewhere in the recipe there were instructions on how MUCH yeast to add to how MUCH water. So I just willy-nilly dumped a bunch of yeast into a bunch of warm water :o! I'm sure we all have memories of trying to teach ourselves to do something we've never done before. The good news is, it only gets easier the more we do it.

  29. I can do this! Homemade bread here I come! :)

    My kids are gonna love YOU, Coleen, and me! I've been reading some cookbook sections on yeast and everyone's been asking me why and the night I was working on my butterhorn Babygirl was asking questions. They really are going to be so excited.

    Thank you, thank you!

  30. I should just do it, right? I think I can. I think I can.

  31. This bread looks wonderful, love all the nooks and crannies :)

  32. I love the picture walkthrough! It is helpful, you could have a cookbook Katy!


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