Homemade English Muffins

On day 22 of the lockdown in Rome, here are a few more observations: 

-Time is different in quarantine. I'd have expected the days and weeks to drag on when confined to my apartment, but strangely enough, they seem to pass incredibly quickly, which I guess is a good thing. In that same vein, I've found that its hard to keep track of what day it is -- they all seem to run together, probably because one day isn't so different from the next. An email from my workplace with an update on the virus informed me that today was Tuesday, to my great surprise. 


-Though time passes quickly in quarantine, you naturally have more of it on your hands, once you cut out things like your morning commute, or trips to the gym, or aperitivi. More time means the opportunity to do things like take on longer baking projects (homemade pizza!), read that book on food writing you got for Christmas, and best of all: finally, finally revamp your blog, something that you've mentioned in various blog posts (here, and here, and even here) for a solid two years now. Prepare for a new look in the next week and a half FOR REAL this time (importing six years worth of content to a new platform is no easy feat, my friends).

-It would seem that people have all opened bakeries, or pizzerie, or both right in their own kitchens -- supermarket shelves are devoid of flour, with everything from 00 to bread flour to semola nowhere to be found (with a little investigating I learned that apparently it is delivered in the morning and disappears within the hour). The same goes for yeast. Though it's a bit of a pain to get your hands on these ingredients now, I'm happy to see more people baking and bread-making -- welcome to the club, everyone!


-For all of you who are in the no-flour camp: allow me to direct your attention here. For the rest of you who have bought up all the said flour and yeast (you know who you are) this post is for you, and more specifically for the reader who responded to my query "What do you want to learn to make/any requests for particular recipes?" and asked for homemade English muffins, having become fond of them when studying in the U.S. 

English muffins and I go way back; like Eggo waffles and Life cereal, they made for a quick breakfast. The bread drawer in my childhood home always contained a six-pack of English muffins, usually the jumbo-sized plain ones but sometimes the cinnamon-raisin or whole wheat ones, too. Our brand of choice was Thomas, whose muffins boasted trademarked "nooks and crannies," referring to the craggy holes in the English muffin that were perfect for collecting the melted butter they were served with. Good times. 

(Side note: With more time on my hands lately, I began to wonder seriously about the name "English muffin." Think about it: this baked good is nor English {I checked with many a Brit} nor is it a muffin, not even close. My guess is that these were named English muffins by Americans who compared them to the British crumpet, but aforementioned Brit friends have commented that these seem quite different to the crumpet. A mystery to ponder in quarantine, along with French toast and German Chocolate Cake.)

So! Here's how to make your own English muffins if you a.) have extra time on your hands and can afford waiting around for dough to rise, b.) miss this American breakfast staple, or c.) are just looking for a way to use all that flour you loaded your shopping cart with this morning. I'll cut to the chase: things you've baked yourself often have a way of outshining their store-bought counterparts, and these are no exception. They're soft and fluffy and impossibly tall, with lots more flavor than the English muffins I grew up eating, with lots of those famous nooks and crannies (move aside, Thomas). They made the house smell amazing, and I very much hope this reached our apartment's hallway for anyone venturing out, as the smell of baking bread always has a way of lifting people's spirits.

These English muffins are also excellent with peanut butter (if we want to go all out American), or Nutella (if we want to keep it more Italian) or marmalade or jam. If you're more of a savory person, these are also delicious with an egg on top, cooked however you like. Go forth and bake (these,) and the then serve them with whatever your heart desires, and then tell me all about it -- a message from someone who has made something from the blog always brightens my day, but now more than ever.

A couple of notes: These can stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days; they can also be wrapped in plastic wrap, sealed in a zip-top bag, and frozen for up to 3 months (just thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and toast before serving). To get muffins that are uniform in size, I suggest weighing the dough; to make 16 muffins, each portion weighed 84 grams. This recipe can be easily halved if you don't want to make so many; just use 1 egg that is on the smaller side (I used my last egg from a container of medium eggs). 


Looking for other homemade bread recipes? I've also got this pizza bianca, this piadina, this focaccia, this challah bread, these bagels, and this schiacciata con l'uva.


HOMEMADE ENGLISH MUFFINS
Recipe from Baked By an Introvert via Laura in the Kitchen. Makes 16 English muffins. 

Ingredients:

2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
3 tablespoons (60 grams) honey
2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) active dry yeast
1 large egg
4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter, melted
5 cups (650 g) bread flour (manitoba flour in Italy)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) salt
Cornmeal or semola for dusting

Instructions:
1.) In a small saucepan, heat the milk and honey on the stove over low heat until it reaches 105-115ºF. Remove from heat, stir in the yeast, and set aside for 5 mins. Whisk in the egg and melted butter.
2.) Add the flour and salt to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, or if you don't have a standing mixer, a large bowl. If you're using a standing mixer: with the mixer on low speed, gradually pour the milk/egg/butter mixture into the flour. Without: stir in the milk/egg/butter mixture with a wooden spoon until a dough starts to come together. 
3.) If you're using a standing mixer, continue to beat the dough on low until the flour is incorporated, stop and scrape down the sides and bottom as needed. Turn the speed up to medium and mix for about 4 minutes, until the dough is smooth and sticky. Without: turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, noting that it will be quite sticky, and knead it for five minutes, add a little flour to your hands and to the surface as you go. In both cases, once your dough is thoroughly kneaded, scrape the dough out into a lightly oiled bowl. Brush a little oil over the top of the dough. Cover and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
4.)  When the dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto a floured work surface, and divide it in half. Divide each half into 8 equal sized pieces. You should have 16 dough balls. Roll each piece into a ball and flatten the ball into a disk. Place the disks on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper that has been dusted with cornmeal. Sprinkle more cornmeal over the tops. Cover with a lint-free towel and set in a draft-free place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
5.) Preheat the oven to 325ºF -- you will cook the english muffins in the oven later on. While your oven warms up, heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Gently lift each disk with a plastic spatula and place it on the skillet -- handle the dough with care so you don't deflate it. Cook the muffins for about 2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned on both sides. Work in batches. 
6.) Once you're done cooking the muffins on the stove, it's time for them to cook in the oven -- place the muffins back on the baking sheet and bake them for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked throughout. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack and let them cool completely. 
7.) Time to eat! Split the English muffins with a fork (or slice with a knife, but fork-split means more nooks and crannies) and toast them in a toaster until the edges are lightly browned and crisp. Serve warm with your favorite jam or butter. 
 





























Homemade Nutella

We're on day 14 of the complete lockdown in Italy, or rather, it's been two weeks since life as we knew it here (daily commute, morning cappuccino, trips to any other neighborhoods and all) was put to a halt, turned upside down. In my last post, I mentioned how I was grateful to have my sister with me, not to mention the decent-sized balcony we have that allows us to get some sun -- the weather in Rome has been beautiful -- and to take in the evening 6pm flashmob, usually a booming rendition of Italy's national anthem. As the quarantine continues -- most likely stretching way past April 3rd -- we're all feeling out of sorts and a little down, so, if it's any consolation in what is otherwise a dark time, here's a few more bright spots this week from my side,  ok? 

Last year Olivieri 1882 -- a bakery in the town of Vicenza -- won best colomba in ALL of Italy. If you're not familiar with colomba, it is a fluffy, sweet, dove-shaped cake (dove=colomba in Italian), topped with almonds and pearl sugar. It is sort of the Easter equivalent of panettone and pandoro, and I look forward to it every year. Easter in 2020 will be a little different, but master baker Nicola Olivieri himself was kind enough to send us a colomba to enjoy this year, again making room for a little normalcy to creep back in in such a strange time. Good to know as well: for every colomba sold, Oliveri 1182 donates a sum to their local hospitals battling COVID19. For anyone who would like a colomba this year (and an effing delicious one at that), you can order an Olivieri one here. Important: Olivieri 1882 ships to the States, if you're a reader in the U.S!
Thank God for the inventions that are Skype and FaceTime! A day in lockdown is always much improved by a call from a friend, and -- I think this is becoming the running theme in this post -- makes things feel a little more normal. This has been everything from morning coffee with my BFF Lavinia, a quick "how are you holding up?" with my cooking buddy Sarah, a group call with Cipro Dorm/Bruzzese Bunker, and a weekend chiamata with my friend Kristin and her adorable 7 month old son. Being in quarantine means that you have time to call and check in with people you haven't in a while, but have been meaning too, and I've found that in these first 14 days I've reconnected with people who I love, care about, and miss, and am able to focus on them fully without the distraction of what is usually a busy schedule. I've also realized how incredibly grateful I am to have my friends here in Rome, who are all going through the uncertainty of a lockdown as well, and I truly believe that our group chat on Whatsapp (thank God for the invention that is Whatsapp as well) full of funny videos, jokes, recipes, and overall support for one another -- will keep me sane in all this. 

I'm cooking every day, which always makes me ridiculously  happy. This was actually the case pre-pandemic -- this isn't a very surprising bright spot, I guess -- but I think one of the reasons why it cheers me up so much is because it makes things feel like they are as they were and as if it's just another weekend where I'm working on recipes for this blog. After all, its easy to distract yourself (at least fleetingly) from what's going on outside when you're frying slice after slice of eggplant, or rolling out pasta by hand, or making a batch of those pecan sticky buns you hadn't had time to get around to until now (recipe soon). In this same culinary vein, I've also started a little poll, i.e “Are there any recipes in particular you’d like to learn to make/see on the blog”? Requests have been for everything from "plant-based recipes!" to "pantry-friendly recipes" to "easy desserts" to more specific things like potato gnocchi, parmigiana di melanzane, and homemade Nutella, or rather the star of today's post. 

So! let's start with the obvious: making a homemade version of Nutella means getting a dose of that famous chocolate-y hazelnut goodness without all the other stuff that goes into the store-bought version; it's super simple to make, and it's only got a handful of ingredients, all of which are pantry-friendly if you too are in lockdown. And the taste! It's more intensely chocolate-y than your typical Nutella -- pure cocoa powder and dark chocolate here, no distractions in between- with undertones of roasted, slightly smoky hazelnuts. It's smooth and dreamy and perfect on toast, or on a banana, or if you're us, just out of the jar. Adding this to the Bright Spot list in this quarantine. Stay safe everyone!

A couple of notes: I bet this could be made with peanuts, almonds, pecans, or any other kind of nut in place of the hazelnuts. This stays in the fridge, covered, for a month, but should be brought to room temperature to make it more spreadable. The recipe can easily be doubled if you want a bigger batch. Finally, the recipe as written called for 1/2 teaspoon of salt, which I think could've been decreased; here I recommend a generous 1/4 teaspoon to be on the safe side, and then you add as you see fit. If you've only got milk chocolate on hand, I think that could be added to the mix (instead of semi-sweet) with good results too. 

Looking for more chocolate-y recipes? I have these Brownie Cookies, this Brownie Pie, these Fudge Brownies, this Hot Fudge Sauce, this Pecan Chocolate Pretzel Pie, this Cioccolata Calda, this Chocolate Tartthis 1940s Wacky Chocolate Cake, this Wellesley Fudge Cake, this Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake, these Chocolate Lava Cakes, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, and this German Chocolate Cake

HOMEMADE NUTELLA
Recipe barely adapted from Crunchy, Creamy, Sweet
Makes about 1 cup of nutella. 

Ingredients:
4 ounces (112 grams) hazelnuts (buy them skinless if you can)
1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar 
2.5 tablespoons (25 grams) cocoa powder 
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 rounded teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (25 grams) finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate 

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Place hazelnuts on the sheet. Roast for 10-12 minutes until they are lightly browned and fragrant, watching to make sure they don't burn. Remove from the oven and transfer onto a clean kitchen towel. Let cool until safe to the touch. If you have hazelnuts with the skin on, rub them hazelnuts with a clean tea towel until the skin comes off.

Place the hazelnuts in a food processor and process until finely ground. Scrape the sides of the food processor bowl as needed. Process nuts until the start to liquify (this can take about 5 minutes, especially if you have a mini food processor like mine). Stop the food processor as needed to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the powdered sugar and cocoa and process until well combined. Next add the oil and vanilla (process until smooth) then the salt and process for 5 seconds or so. Next, add the chocolate and -- you know the drill -- process until smooth. You may need to add more oil if the mixture clumps up. Taste and see if the Nutella needs more salt or vanilla (mine was alright, but up to you!) and that's it! Scrape the spread into a jar and there you have it.