How I keep my brother's memory alive through my mom's English muffin recipe
There is a baking tradition in my family that I have only recently acknowledged in the past few years: There absolutely must be homemade English muffins for breakfast on Christmas morning. Where did this time-consuming custom come from? Certainly not from me — the person who is completely challenged and laden with anxiety whenever a recipe requiring yeast is involved.
My mom began this tradition because my brother Matt would often ask her to make these lovely bread delicacies for special occasions. I don't remember ever having eaten homemade English muffins as a child, but my mom informs me that she would often make them on butchering day to feed the hungry laborers/workers/pig-slayers... I'm not sure what the correct job title for that particular task should be, but I think you get the point.
Hungry men require the need for lots of yummy carbs.
When reminiscing about my brother a few weeks ago, I decided that I needed to learn how to make English muffins. I used the logic that if my mom could do it, then I certainly could as well. My logic often fails, especially when smacked with a healthy dose of reality. My mom can practically make bread in her sleep and is gifted with the talent of being a yeast whisperer. I, on the other hand, do not possess that skill set. I tend to be yeast's worst enemy and can kill it by just glancing in its general direction.
Despite my fear and uneasiness, I chose to forge ahead and bake English muffins. After asking my mom for a recipe, I soon realized that I would be on my own in this endeavor. Her recipe consists of smooshing two recipes together, while following neither one, and God forbid she actually writes any of the directions down for future use. Basically, she bakes bread exactly how I cook.
So, on my own, I warily came up with my very own unique recipe, and was presently surprised when it not only turned out to be edible, but also left me wanting to shove several very large, very carb-laden, very yummy English muffins into my mouth all at once.
This past year of "firsts" without my brother has definitely been a learning experience. I'm pretty darn thankful it's finally over, but am still aware that just because I've moved on to the "seconds," things won't necessarily get any better. What I do know is that I have learned to embrace whatever life has to give.
In the past year, I've been to Savannah for St. Patrick's Day, while also celebrating what would have been my brother's birthday. I even somehow managed not to break from tradition when faced with traveling to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for CigarFest, which was always one of my brother's favorite yearly events. While donating hundreds of his cigars to Cigars for Warriors, I broke down in gigantic sobbing tears, somehow finding laughter and happiness through the same tears.
When given the opportunity, B.O.B. Bob and I chose to take our first beach vacation without Matt this summer, when we joined several friends at a beach house in Corolla in lieu of our traditional vacation on Hatteras Island. Later on in the summer, I even seized the opportunity to travel to New York City on my own to audition for a television show. After the one year anniversary of Matt's death — on which we traveled to my childhood home town to visit his grave — B.O.B. Bob and I even found time to take a trip to Cancun, where I was finally allowed to relax and breathe before facing the holidays yet again.
It's true that holidays are hard when faced with the loss and memories of loved ones, but they also serve as reminders of how much those same people meant to us. While Matt can't be here to enjoy these special made-by-little-ol'-me English muffins, it doesn't take away from their enjoyment. I'm filled with joy just thinking about how much he would have loved them, smothered in butter, with a huge spread of apple butter or preserves on top. He would have been delighted that I am carrying along the family baking tradition, as well as forgiving me for the fact that they don't exactly compare to the ones my mom makes.
I even wonder if perhaps he would have liked my muffins more than hers, but knowing him he wouldn't tell me even if he did. That boy would never freely give such a compliment. He knew it would go to my head.
With a new year looming in the near future, I've decided that my New Year's resolution this year will be to make more bread as well as embracing every moment that life has to give me. I foresee several occasions in which I will be in my kitchen, tears running down my face, flour covering the floor, cat prints running through that very same flour and non-risen bread in front of me.
I refuse to let that deter me though. I will press on, because that's what life is about sometimes. Pressing on.
Jumbo English muffins recipe
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- All-purpose flour
- Yellow cornmeal
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Mix the warm water and yeast together, then set them aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, butter, honey, sugar and salt. Whisk everything constantly, just until the butter is fully melted. Remove the pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool until lukewarm.
- In a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, mix the milk and yeast mixtures together for 1 minute on medium speed.
- Add 1 cup of flour and mix for 1 minute on medium speed.
- Add the remaining 2 cups of flour and then mix for 10 more minutes.
- Use your hands to oil a large glass bowl with olive oil, and use your oiled hands to roll the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp napkin or cloth towel.
- Allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size. This will most likely take between 1 and 2 hours.
- Dust your countertop and hands liberally with flour. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead for a few minutes. Roll the dough out until it is 3/4-inch thick. Sweep any excess flour off of the counter and then scatter cornmeal on the countertop coating each side of the dough with the cornmeal. Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut out circles of dough and then place them on a Silpat- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover and allow to rise again for 1 to 2 hours.
- Add olive oil to a large skillet over low heat. Fry the English muffins until they are thoroughly cooked. This should take approximately 10 minutes per side. I covered my English muffins with a lid during frying as well.
- You will need to use a spatula to push some of the flour down into the mixing bowl during the first few minutes of kneading.
- Make sure to check on your muffins every few minutes to make sure they are not cooking too fast.
- Fry the English muffins in a mixture of olive oil and unsalted butter.
- Serve with small-batch strawberry refrigerator preserves or horseradish candied bacon.