Pili Rodríguez Deus/ March 9, 2021/ British cuisine

Reading Time: 5 minutes

#Pili’sBritishBakeOff – March

Spring is in the air, though a very nippy one. A toasted English muffin or some eggs benedict could be the way to gather energy before or after a brisk walk to enjoy the blossoming cherry trees like this beauty.

Cherry tree in blossom | Pili Rodriguez Deus

My #PilisBritishBakeOff challenge to learn about British baking history using Regula Ysewijn’s cookbook Oats in the North continues. I baked English muffins and made eggs benedict for the first time ever last weekend, and it was a success! Regular orders were booked!

What is an English muffin?

English muffins cooling on a rack on the dining table

Borrowing Ysewijn’s description, a “griddle-baked yeast bun, cooked until golden brown on both the top and bottom while the sides remain delicately pale and ideal for tearing open”. As with Scottish scones, you tear English muffins open with your hands rather than a knife, which would make them heavy.

In the UK, people simply call them muffins and there’s no confusion with American muffins, I guess, in context. In translation, depending on one’s audience or text, one would need to make the English or American bit explicit.

Are English muffins bread?

The ingredients in my English muffin recipe are dried yeast, full fat milk, strong white bread flour (oops, I think I used plain white…), sugar, eggs, salt, and semolina for dusting. Does it sound like bread to you? We don’t usually put milk and sugar in sourdough bread, so muffins are more like a soft bread. The Merrian Webster describes them as “bread dough rolled and cut into rounds, baked on a griddle […]”. Compared to scones, made with a lot more butter, I’d call them bread buns.

Are English muffins the same as crumpets or scones or baps?

No. Crumpets are another type of British griddle cake with a cratered surface, as Laura Siciliano Rosen (Britannica via My Library) beautifully puts it. They are traditionally toasted and spread with butter, which seeps nicely down the mini craters. You’ll know I have a soft spot for volcano images if you’ve read my post on the translation of a molten cake recipe for my dissertation. Siciliano Rosen says crumpets are baked on one side only, leaving the moist sponge-textured side to absorb the butter. As I’ve never made them, that’s useful info! I have, however, eaten the commercial ones and they are nice, if a bit yeasty.

To learn about scones, read my articles about tattie scones (a type of flat bread) and sultana scones (a type of cake) if you have not yet done so.

Sultana scones | PiliRodriguezDeus.com

Baps are yet another type of bread bun. In fact, YouGov has an article on the many names for bread buns in the UK, so get a cupper, get cosy and get reading! According to research by Dr Laurel MacKenzie, there’s a North/South divide on how British people describe everyday items such as bread and the evening meal, not surprising for a translator used to regional differences, particularly one brought up in a bilingual region (of Spain) like me. I confess I’m not bap-mad. They’re dry and floury and too soft, but here is a recipe for baps from Serious Eats if you want to try them.

How do you eat English muffins?

I received various suggestions: from the traditional jam, just butter, scrambled eggs or ham and cheese, to French cravings for jam or Nutella, to personal variations of eggs Benedict (poached egg with slices of avocado, ham or smoked salmon). At home, we had them with scrambled eggs for Saturday brunch (very nice), with organic raspberry jam for an evening snack (divine pairing), and in eggs benedict for Sunday brunch (delicious).

Scrambled eggs on homemade English muffins | food translation specialist

What’s “eggs benedict”, Pili?

Well, for me, it’s a traditional breakfast served in hotels and some eateries in the UK which I tended not to order because it sounded heavy. That will change. It’s basically eggs and ham (or bacon) on a toasted half muffin with hollandaise on top or, as the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, “a poached egg is laid on a slice of ham sautéed in butter, coated with hollandaise sauce and garnished with a slice of truffle”. We had ours with crispy organic coppa ham (no oil needed for frying), no truffles, and it was… a treat!

Homemade eggs benedict with  homemade English muffins | culinary translator

But eggs benedict originated in the US. The Larousse Gastronomique summarizes and says this dish is attributed to several hotels, but closely associated with Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans, and it might have originated on a Benedictine dish of poached egg on top of puréed salt cod (yum!).

Encyclopaedia Britannica goes into more detail. According to one theory, the dish originated in New York during the late 1800s. LeGrand Benedict, a frequent patron at Delmonico’s Restaurant, could not find anything anything she wanted on the menu and asked the chef to create something, the result being eggs Benedict. In another story, is was a Mr Benedict who ordered the first eggs Benedict at the Waldorf Hotel in 1894. Whichever the case, the chefs continued to serve the dish, which became popular.

The Britannica article’s author thinks the popularity of this dish might stem from its ingredients, easy to substitute for regional ones.

How do you translate English muffin to Spanish?

I think we’ve agreed they’re a type of bread, but, when you see all the different types of British buns I have up my sleeve, you’ll really start wondering how to differentiate them.

Are English muffins healthy?

It depends. For example, scones use a lot more butter. The proportion of sugar in my recipes from Oats in the North is 5 % for muffins and around 10% for scones. What you eat with them also makes a difference. Sultana scones (with sweet sultanas) topped with generous dollops of clotted cream and jam are more of a special treat. By comparison, English muffins and eggs benedict sound rather healthy.

How English muffins are made

Can English muffins be made in an oven?

In my recipe, they are toasted on each side on a cast iron frying pan for 5-6 minutes and finished in the oven for another five, but, if you continue reading, you’ll see that’s not always the case.

Do I need English muffins tins or rings?

Although English homes might own these culture-specific moulds, I used a plating ring to cut mine, which did the job. My rings were half a centimetre smaller, so I got an extra muffin!

Recipes for English muffins

Many of you will want to have a go yourselves and some will have dietary requirements. Here are recipes for all.

How to make hollandaise sauce and eggs benedict

Why don’t you have a go at making eggs benedict in the weekend? You have eggs benedict recipes on BBC Good Food, including a recipe for eggs benedict Florentine, a variety with spinach and sauce Mornay, if you want some Popeye energy.

I really enjoyed making the hollandaise. Here is the recipe for hollandaise from BBC Good Food that I used (I halved the quantities.).

Making the muffins was rewarding too as Ysewijn’s instructions are very good and the dough was very elastic and a pleasure to work with. Have fun and keep your eyes peeled for my next bake!

@pilirodriguezdeus – text and images


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