Why are homemade English muffins necessary to your life? Eaten for breakfast, slathered in melted butter and honey, they are sublime. And have you ever put your grilled hamburger on one? Beyond good. If you go to the trouble to make these yourself you must fork-split them, which means going around the circumference of the muffin plunging the tines of a fork towards the center until the muffin breaks open. The irregularity of the cut is what creates all the famous nooks and crannies for capturing precious juices.
Makes 8-10 (or 20 minis)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoons sugar
1 package active dry yeast (do not use quick action)
1/2 cup warm water
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 ½ teaspoons coarse sea salt
3 cups unbleached flour
Cornmeal, for sprinkling
Warm the buttermilk in a small saucepan, then remove from the heat. Mix in the sugar until it dissolves. Let cool. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand until bubby and creamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the warm buttermilk, yeast mixture, butter, and salt. Stir in 2 cups flour with a wooden spoon and beat until smooth (alternatively, beat in a standing mixer). Continue adding the flour, ½ cup at a time, to make a smooth soft dough that is just slightly sticky. Knead the dough for a minute. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. A chilled dough is easier to handle. Alternatively, cover and let rise in refrigerate overnight.
Punch down the dough. Using a pastry cutter or knife, divide the dough into 8 or 10 pieces; roll into balls. Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Set the dough balls on the pan and press each round with the heel of your hand to slightly flatten. Flip rounds over so each side has a bit of cornmeal sticking to dough. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise for ½ hour. Muffins can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to three days.
Preheat oven to 250. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the dough rounds and cook slowly until lightly browned, turning once, about 20 minutes. When muffins are finished cooking in the frying pans, with a spatula place them back into their baking sheets. Bake in oven for another 10 minutes to finish cooking. Let cool. (The muffins will keep in an airtight container for 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
To serve, split the muffins with a fork and toast both sides.