Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Buttermilk English Love Muffins

I'd like to take this time to formally introduce you to my husband.

His name is Paul, and we were married four short months ago.

I suppose I haven't devoted a post to him because there's simply too much to say. Where do I begin, and how do I choose? I could write a book on every moment we've shared.

So I will accept the help of some photographs.

He makes me feel like this:

And this:

And generally, makes me laugh harder than is attractive or advised:

He sings bad 70's songs in the morning, belting louder to muffle my protestations. He plays a mean (MEAN) game of Scrabble, and can unclog any sink.

He likes every dog he meets, and they always like him back.

He says odd things to me to keep me on my toes, like quite seriously accusing me of sneezing on purpose. He writes notes that say things like, "I think in contractions, therefore I'm."

He remembers everything and reminds me of the things I forget, like the time we made love on a Sunday morning in Paris after getting engaged, and our apartment was suddenly filled with the voices of angels singing rapturously. It took us a while to realize it was coming from the church next door.

It helps that he's the best story teller ever.

He's an ideal partner for a trip to a museum, a trip to the doctor, a trip around the world. Even the grocery store is more fun with Paul there.

He's the kind of husband who will say to me, "Let's take five days off and go to Italy," and then will actually make it happen.

And he teaches me things. Like how to accept help when I need it. And how to splatter eggs with bacon fat when you fry them, like his dad used to do, and which results in the most magical pink yolks. And, in general, how to live a life full of love, adventure, laughter and spirit. He'll eat anything, try anything, go anywhere, talk to anyone. And now, he's taking me with him.

I am the luckiest woman in the world.

There's only so much I can do in return. I do my very best not to let my bitchy inner nag come out too often, but I know I'm not perfect. I laugh at his jokes when they're funny, and roll my eyes when they're not so he knows that I'm genuine. I try not to talk him out of things that don't make sense to me, because he's not me and I'm not him.

And I try to cook things that he'll like. Paul is a Boston boy and his palate shows it, preferring corned beef hash to my much-beloved California vegetables. (He can't tell you the difference between avocados, artichokes, and asparagus, but he's good enough to know that I love them.)

So here and there I throw the poor guy a bone, and make something a little more his style. The Bacon, Cheddar and Jalapeno Corn Muffins? Those were for Paul. So was the Polenta, Red Beans and Sausage, as well as the Beef Empanadas.

And nothing, nothing makes me happier than when I make something and he tells me that he likes it. He's not much of a fawner, so I remember each of those dishes, the Recipes That Paul Liked. And I had two of those successes this weekend, in the same meal. The first was for an eggs en cocotte dish I made, which I'll have to make again and will share with you soon. The other was for homemade Buttermilk English Muffins, which he told me he liked, twice.

So he really must have liked them.

This recipe is remarkably simple. I had tried it once before with my mom -- but I think our chattering got in the way of our measuring, because they didn't quite turn out right. But this time, they worked, and were immediately added to the Recipes That Paul Liked file, a file that I look forward to filling over the rest of our lives.

Paul puts up with a lot around here. He loses access to his own kitchen quite regularly. He eats vegetables -- sometimes several times a week. He allows me to be distracted and distant when I'm trying to figure out what to write about here. And, unfortunately, he's forced to listen to people tell him (sometimes condescendingly) that it must be nice to be married to such a good cook, when he's every bit the cook I am -- he just doesn't write a blog about it.

So putting a bun in the oven for him is the very least I can do to thank him.

Don't be intimidated by the length of this recipe.* I assure you, the steps are actually quite simple, and I've included a few helpful links so that even if you've never baked bread before in your life, you can make these.

I love the heck out of my 70's song-singing, Scrabble-winning, vegetable-hating husband. Words are never enough. And these muffins, as good as they are, are a silly way to thank him. I suppose all I can do is spend the rest of my life laughing at his jokes, holding his hand, and sneezing on purpose.


Adapted from Peter Reinhart

(*I am terrified by making anything that requires rising. Bread scares me. So if I can make these, so can you. Take a deep breath, and just follow the instructions.)

2 ¼ unbleached bread flour
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ to 1 cup milk or buttermilk, room temperature
Cornmeal for dusting

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Stir in (or mix in on low speed with paddle attachment) the butter and ¾ milk until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still loose flour in the bowl, dribble in some of the remaining ¼ cup milk. The dough should be soft and pliable, not stiff.

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter and begin kneading (or mixing on a medium speed with the dough hook for about 8 minutes), sprinkling in more flour if needed to make a tacky, but not sticky, dough. It should pass the windowpane test. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment (let rise) at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.

Wipe the counter with a damp cloth and transfer the dough to the counter. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Shape the pieces into boules (see this helpful video).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, mist the parchment lightly with spray oil and dust with corn meal. Transfer the balls of dough to the sheet pan, spacing them about 3 inches apart,. Mist them lightly with spray oil, sprinkle them loosely with cornmeal, and cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap or a towel.

Let rise at room temperature for about 60 minutes more, until the pieces nearly double in size and swell both up and out..

Heat a skillet or flat griddle to medium (about 350), also preheat oven to 350 with oven rack on middle shelf.

Brush the pan with vegetable oil or mist with spray oil. Uncover the muffin rounds and gently transfer them to the pan, sliding a metal spatula under them and lifting them to the pan. Fill the pan so that the pieces are at least 1 inch apart, not touching. Cover the pieces still on the sheet pan with plastic wrap. Cook on each side for 5-8 minutes, until they are very dark golden brown. Once the muffins have been cooked on both sides, transfer them to to a sheet pan and place the pan in the oven immediately. (If you can’t fit all the muffins in one pan, you’ll have to do two batches.)

Bake for 5 to 8 minutes to ensure center is baked.

Transfer baked muffins to a cooling rack and cool for at least 30 minutes before fork splitting.*

This is the key to getting good nooks and crannies! With a fork, perforate the muffin all the way around until you can split it open.


  1. I loved this blog!! The "splash eggs with bacon grease" brought a tear to my eye. Seriously! They are great that way, arent they? Sorry that you have to hear him sing though. :)

  2. My wife suspects she may have gotten the wrong brother.

  3. Thank you for writing such a warm, wonderful and entirely accurate essay about my second favorite person - ME! I think you may have inspired me to write a companion food blog, detailing my meaty, greasy, asparagus-free, Boston-based cuisine. I shall call it CULINOSCOPY.

    I loves you heaps.

  4. Lovely muffins and really a lovely post. I hope you carry all these feelings with you throughout your marriage.

  5. Aww, so sweet! Such lovely photos, thanks for sharing.

    Print this up so you can scan it many years down the road on a not-so-good day. It's good to have reminders!

  6. Wow, we are married to the same guy, except my husband sings 80s songs, often from British bands, in a very bad British accent. *shudder*

    Love your blog, and your writing. You looked especially beautiful on your wedding day!

  7. Awww. Paul sounds lovely, and is lovely through your eyes. Such a happy newlywed post!

  8. Beautiful bride, happy couple, wonderful words! Enjoy all the lovely nooks and crannies ahead.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your husband. We go through 10 English Muffins a week and I've been wanting to try making them myself. Will give your recipe a try!

  10. As Paul's mom, I had all I could do, not to cry after reading this. I am so happy Paul and Sara found each pther, and they appreciate each other the way they both deserve. He has always been good to me, and I know THAT is Paul. I love you both very much! I know I'm going to enjoy these buns!

  11. Aww.. love your tribute to your hubby. So sweet. Making these muffins doesn't sound easy to me, but I'd really like to give it a try. I'll let you know if I do.

  12. Stef - You can do it! Just follow the steps, and have confidence! I'm getting over my fear of baking bread, so if I can do it, you can do it.

    Diana, Kate, Lorna, Aimee, Dana - Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm hoping to hold on to the Newlywedness as long as I can.

    Marilyn - Well said, as usual.

  13. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous: the muffins AND the bride. Seriously, this post gives me such nostalgia: my mother used to make homemade English muffins for my English-muffin obsessed Dad every single week while I was growing up, and it always seemed to me like the greatest and simplest act of love. Good for you, and for your sweet husband. Many years of happiness and muffins to you both.

  14. If every dog he's met liked him back, there must be something right about Paul. Love your blog. Very pretty.

  15. What a fantastic post! It made me want to rush out and grab my own husband's hand. When you love someone the way you do - with honesty and laughter - it just doesn't get old, it gets better.

    Blessings x x x

  16. Mmmm!! I had my doubts about these when I was kneading the dough, but I finally decided to throw it in the mixer with a dough hook and it passed that brilliant window pane test (that test makes me think I know what Im doing)!
    These turned out soft, yet textured, and slightly crunchy on the outside when toasted ^_^ So delicious! I'm definitely going to make these again!
    What a lovely tribute to your hubby :)! I wish you two the greatest of happiness in the coming years together! <3