The best type of muffin? English, clearly. Debatable? No, not at all. No other muffin has the sheer magnanimity to be paired with just about anything and still taste superb. Sweeten them up, savoury them down, or just scoff them as they are – they epitomise the well-brought-up child who plays well with others. With not a selfish bone in their boneless bodies, these things are the diplomats of the baking world. English, what.
What’s more, they require very few ingredients to make (certainly not any exotic ones – except polenta), and are as easy as they are efficacious. Actually, what I like most about these things is that you don’t even have to open your oven – everything is done in real-time on the stove. And that, my friends, produces a sense of satisfaction that no amount of money can buy.
White bread flour (300g)
Caster sugar (15g)
Unsalted butter (15g)
Fast-action yeast (6g)
Oil (for greasing)
A skillet or cast-iron pan
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Whilst it’s not strictly necessary to measure everything out into small bowls as I have done (see Step 2, below), it’s one of the easiest, most sure-fire ways of tricking yourself into feeling like a pro. Really, it’s uncanny. In all seriousness, at the preparatory stage all you really need to do is soften the butter (and cut it into small chunks), and lightly whisk the egg. That’s it!
2. Mix: Basically tip everything except the polenta (and the oil, of course) into a large bowl and give it a good mix until it forms a soft dough without bumps (or clumps of butter).
3. Knead: Dust a countertop or chopping board with flour and plonk your dough on top. Wash your hands, roll up your sleeves, and get kneading. A good 5-10 minutes of solid pummelling should do the trick. Re-apply flour to the surface if it gets a bit too sticky. You’re done once the dough is soft, smooth, and stretchy.
4. Prove: Using a piece of oiled kitchen towel, lightly grease the inside of a large mixing bowl. Chuck your dough inside, cover it with cling film (or anything more creative – a plate would do), and let it prove for about an hour or so. This is to allow time for the yeast to work its magic, and for the fermentation process to begin.
5. Roll: After about an hour, the dough should have roughly doubled in size. Or gotten bigger, at the very least. Dust your counter with flour and polenta (about half the ration), and tip the dough onto it. Roll it out until it is roughly an inch thick.
6. Cut: Using a straight-sided cutter (approx. 8cm in diameter, or however big you want your muffins to be), or the lid of a large jar (as I did), cut out your muffins. Sprinkle the rest of the polenta on top, and leave to prove for another 30 minutes or so.
7. Griddle: Wipe your skillet or cast-iron pan with the lightly oiled kitchen towel, and pre-heat it on a low flame. Keeping the flame low, slip the muffins into the pan. Griddle for about 5-6 minutes on each side.
8. Cool and serve: Once done, leave them to cool and/or serve. They go particularly well with tea, poached eggs, butter, and jam or marmalade. Although preferably not all at once.